After five intense weeks of competition, the final of the Star Sports/TRC Events & Leisure English Greyhound Derby takes place this Saturday at Towcester.
The thunderstorms stayed away from the area last Saturday night but a highly charged atmosphere will permeate the Northamptonshire circuit as the six remaining greyhounds chase the £175,000-to-the-winner first prize.
Deerjet Sydney sits on the cusp of racing immortality and victory for Pat Buckley’s charge would see him become the first dog to win back-to-back Derbys since the mighty Westmead Hawk (2005/2006), and the first to do so at different venues.
Following a rare defeat for the reigning champion last weekend and the elimination of Knocknaboul Syd, the resulting impact has blown the race wide open and each runner has its own story.
Liam Dowling and Graham Holland have won multiple Category 1 races in Ireland though success has passed them by in the English showpiece.
Dowling hit the crossbar with Ballymac Tas (2019) and Ballymac Vic (2013) and he has two major chances in this year’s renewal with Ballymac Wild and Ballymac Fairone.
Holland, who was born in Wiltshire, moved to Ireland in 2002, but this is a prize that he has long coveted and he will rely upon Newinn Session.
The home team still have two in the final with Kilara Icon and Thorn Falcon representing champion trainer, Patrick Janssens.
The Belgian-born handler reportedly fell in love with the Derby when visiting Wimbledon in 1985 and gave up a career working on the railways in his native land to follow his dream.
Let’s take a closer look at the finalists…
A leading ante-post fancy for the Derby in 2020, Newinn Session was similarly touted ahead of this year’s competition and while it’s fair to say that he hasn’t looked completely in love with Towcester; that may be down to memories of a collision with the rails during the opening round.
Highly regarded since arriving on the scene as a precocious juvenile, he was the only dog to inflict defeat upon Easter Cup hero, Knocknaboul Syd, during that series, and he’s looked very much the complete article in parts.
For all his foibles, the market misread him badly last week and he deserves much credit for cracking out in 4.18 from what is widely viewed as an unfavourable draw. Connections will be philosophical about receiving that jacket again though last Saturday’s effort was a big step in the right direction.
Some may have believed that last year’s Derby was not a vintage renewal given the absence of a number of the big Irish stars but Deerjet Sydney has silenced those doubters and the champion arrives into Saturday’s showpiece with four victories from his five starts.
Eliminated in the early stages of the Easter Cup, that may go some way to explaining why he arrived at Towcester as a general 25/1 chance, but he staked his claim in this year’s competition when slamming leading English hope Tenpin by almost five lengths.
Last week’s assignment was always going to be a potential banana skin from the red jacket but a third was good enough to progress. A winner from two in last year’s final at Nottingham, tonight’s draw should suit and he’ll be a tough nut to crack if making an uninterrupted run to the inside rail.
Liam Dowling had a predictably high quality entry lined up for his annual raid on the Derby yet the youngest dog remaining in the competition managed to largely escape under the radar.
Belying his relative inexperience, there’s no shortage of class in Ballymac Fairone’s pedigree. A son of the 2015 Irish Derby winner, Ballymac Matt, he is from a repeat mating of the litter that produced multiple Grade 1 finalist, Ballymac Cooper. Only making his debut in March, he hinted that he could be something special on his second start when thrashing a decent field at Shelbourne Park by nine lengths.
Dowling believes he may be a better dog next year, but there was much to like about the way he dominated in his semi-final, and he is a previous winner from the trap. The manner in which he was prepared to win ugly during the third round suggests he is no fair-weather performer.
Salad Dodger (2014) and Astute Missile (2017) proved that it isn’t necessary to win any of the heats in order to pick up the main event and though success in this competition may have eluded him so far, Kilara Lion’s previous form suggests he is far from making up the numbers.
A dual Category One winner in 2020, the punters appeared to have lost faith in him after he narrowly avoided elimination in the third round. Qualification has always been the name of the game and the eldest dog standing secured his place in this lineup by exhibiting the alacrity he realised in the Kent Derby final and belligerently holding his line.
Minor injury issues, by the trainer’s own admission, led to the dog coming into the competition undercooked, but he stays 500 metres with few issues and has proven form around Towcester having secured the Blue Riband under a flawless campaign.
Reaching the final of a Category One competition is no easy feat but as Ballymac Wild has made the final of numerous events in his native Ireland including the Derby, the St Leger and the Champion Stakes, we shouldn’t be so surprised to see his presence on this occasion.
Few would begrudge him a turn on the podium and having been available at 40/1 at the beginning of the competition, the market began to pay closer attention to him after victories in the first two rounds. Possessing a degree of early pace, he has the sort of guile and spatial awareness that is a rare commodity among most greyhounds, and his stamina will not be flagging as the race reaches its denouement.
Saturday’s odds reflect that any railer in five isn’t an ideal proposition, though his record during the Irish Derby was decent from that berth, winning two races and finishing as runner-up to the mighty Pestana on the other visit.
Thorn Falcon started off life as ‘Ordinary Joesoap’ when stepping out for Joe Devlin at Enniscorthy and the son of 2018 Derby winner, Dorotas Wildcat, has proved anything but around Towcester.
Imperious in the KAB Maiden Derby, his wide seeding always made the likelihood of drawing trap six a virtual given but he’s not one for dwelling out in the car park, preferring to cut in at the first bend and use his 39kg bulk to his advantage. Nimble for his size, this has endeared him greatly to the locals.
He accounted for Ballymac Fairone and Kilara Lion in the quarter-finals and while held last Saturday night, he kept on resolutely despite meeting interference at the first bend. Were he to reproduce the 4.15 sectional he registered during the third round, he would hold every chance if good enough.
Reigning champion Deerjet Sydney has avoided the red jacket and his race will hinge on whether he can get to the rails without getting involved with Newinn Session. Thorn Falcon has some work to do on the clock but he can make an impact if turning handy. Ballymac Wild and Kilara Lion stay this trip well and while the former is yet to get a smash break, he’s a big player if doing so. A total of 16 Derby races have gone the way of the white jacket this year and BALLYMAC FAIRONE has the benefit of that location. His heady combination of early pace and determination can prove enough to see him to glory. 3-2-5
King Louis missed the Derby by virtue of being a non-arrival ahead of the first round but he has won well from this draw in the past and Liz McNair’s ace should have come on greatly for last week's reappearance.
Droopys Addition heads to post a worthy favourite but he can miss the kick and there will be no margin for error. Drumcrow Brent performed creditably in the Derby and if he can turn in a handy position, Mark Wallis’s inmate can outstay his rivals.
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