Our columnist returns with news of the Golden Jacket and this weekend's awards ceremony
Jonathan Hobbs with his latest column

Jonathan Hobbs on the Golden Jacket and GBGB Awards

A very different Golden Jacket

It was the Ladbrokes Golden Jacket, but not as we know it.

No crowds, no champagne breakfast for connections of the finalists, but nevertheless a high-class of morning of greyhound racing at Crayford for one of the great races in the GBGB Calendar.

Well done to Stuart Maplesden for landing the biggest win of his career to maintain the fine traditional of Hove trainers in the event.

Stuart, who cut his teeth with Claude Gardiner and then Doreen Walsh, whom he took over the licence from, sent out Punk Rock Mutley to land the £17,500 first prize.

He now follows the likes of Derek Knight, Brian Clemenson and George Curtis as Hove handlers to have won Golden Jackets.

Matt Christelow, Punk Rock Mutley’s owner, shouted him home - albeit from the sofa - and certainly enjoyed the occasion if a video doing the rounds is anything to go by. Matt won the big race, but lost his voice in the process!

It was a morning of shocks given the Nick Deas-trained outsider Woodcocks Akia won the supporting Peter Bussey Memorial Trophy.

Both were big prices, although should they have been?

On reflection the pair ran storming races to qualify the previous weekend given both were wide runners on going clearly not in their favour after the snow and below-freezing temperatures caused a not-unexpected bias.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but with better weather and conditions this weekend both Punk Rock Mutley and Woodcocks Akia were always going to raise their game as seeded runners on a more level playing field - and so it proved.

Not many of us thought that would still be good enough, but it was - so well done Stuart and Nick.

Well done the Crayford track staff who, under pressure to fix a hare breakdown in the glare of a high-profile meeting broadcast live on SportyStuffTV/RPGTV came up trumps with flying colours and the track was able to catch up time.

Poignant success for Final Moon

Still on Crayford, well done to Kim Billingham for her success with Final Moon in the Welcome To Hope Jeal Trophy.

Kim was also represented with Greenhill Jack in the Peter Bussey and, while out of luck there, his appearance on the card in the name of Ian and Nicola McGinnis is absolutely worth a special mention.

Greenhill Jack is the last greyhound to have Ian McGinnis’s name on the racecard - left on intentionally by the GBGB at the request of his wife Nicola.

A great greyhound man, Ian sadly died in March last year - and greyhound racing lost a real friend and leading owner having been involved with a host of top-class trackers including the likes of Sidarian Blaze and Rockburst Pearl.

Classy Avastorm begins new career

Good luck to Avastorm in the breeding paddocks after Mark Wallis’s bitch signed off in the best possible style in a supporting race on Golden Jacket morning at Crayford.

A real star for Imperial Kennels, the November 2016 daughter of Storm Control and Catunda Yvonne won the Ladbrokes Golden Jacket Consolation Trophy over 714m in her final race - and, typically for consolation finals, in a quicker time than the main event itself!

Micks Little Gem winning the 1,048m contest at Crayford on Saturday morning was also a high point. She’s a real star for Michelle Brown and the team - and winning the 12-bend maxi-marathon for the second time running was a treat for all.

Deserving winners at GBGB Awards

Mention of Imperial Kennels, a belated congratulations to all at Imperial Kennels for Aayamza Royale’s Greyhound of the Year success at the recent GBGB Awards.

Winner of the TV Trophy and Cesarewitch and third in the St Leger, the Ayamzaboys Syndicate-owned runner becomes a rare stayer to win the coveted award - and the first marathon star since Spiridon Louis’s 2007 triumph.

Farloe Tango was the last six-bend star to be crowned Greyhound of the Year in 2013 and, before him, Lenson Joker (2008).

But in terms of marathon performers, Aayamza Royale joins a select group which even the brilliant Scurlogue Champ is not actually part of, strangely enough.

However, a glance at the record books shows you a certain Ballyregan Bob denied him the honour - the world record-breaker being still one of only two greyhounds to win back-to-back Greyhound of the Year titles in 1985 and 1986.

The other one? Westmead Hawk, of course - in 2005 and 2006.

Still on the subject of the awards - and continuing the Westmead Hawk/Nick Savva link - a fourth Best Dam victory for Skate On really was a celebration of British breeding.

Owned by Brendan Keogh and trained on the track by Liz and Ran McNair, this former star sprinter and Oaks finalist has become one of the great modern-day dams with her offspring winning a host of major prizes - including Greyhound of the Year and British Bred Greyhound of the Year titles.

And Queen Jessiej has followed the likes of King Elvis and King Sheeran as a GBGB Awards winner having scooped not just the British Bred Greyhound of the Year honour but that of Bitch of the Year for 2020.

Jessiej heads strong Winter Derby challenge for the McNairs

On Saturday, the Produce Stakes champion and Oaks runner-up lines up in the Ladbrokes Winter Derby Final at Monmore and arrives there having been one of a clean sweep of winners for the McNairs in the weekend’s semi-finals - littermates Queen Lilly and Queen Jessiej being joined by King Louis. A superb achievement.

The Westmead dynasty - immortalised on DVD! - certainly revolutionised British breeding, but the Kings and Queens of Liz and Rab McNair have taken it on again.

Whether Queen Jessiej wins Saturday’s Ladbrokes Winter Derby Final depends on how the race pans out, of course, but hopes will be high after a fastest-of-the-night effort at the weekend.

It promises to be an outstanding night’s racing on Saturday given the Ladbrokes Winter Derby Final shares the stage with the Ladbrokes Puppy Derby Final - and the youngsters actually hold sway in the pecking order on the night given a first prize of £12,500 for the longstanding and famous puppy competition.

Teeing up victory, potentially, is the Lee Westwood and Andrea Wylie-owned Dannid, trained by Matt Dartnall. He powered home in the semis and will have his supporters in a very competitive decider.

Supporting finals grace the card at Monmore and good luck in particular to the connections of Bubbly Dave in the six-bend decider.

It was great to see Paul Young’s dog make a successful comeback to the track with a cracking victory after a long spell off through injury. Even now he’s had just four races in the UK but has made a real splash in a short space of time in terms of races run having made the final of the Summer Classic at the Wolverhampton venue last year.

Best wishes to Gemma Evans

Finally, good luck to Gemma Evans who last week took over the licence from Ernie Gaskin at Romford.

Daughter of the much-missed Yvonne Gaskin, Ernie’s wife who sadly died last year, Gemma saw the likes of kennel favourites Droopys Aoife and Newinn Liz register her first open-race wins on Friday.

Ernie Gaskin, after such a traumatic 2020, is taking a back-seat for the foreseeable future but will still hold a kennelhand’s licence.

It means the Gaskin name which has resonated for so many years given the success of Ernie’s late father and his own major triumphs will not be lost to the sport and will be carried on through his work and that of Gemma’s.

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