Ian Brindle previews the Star Sports English Greyhound Derby final at Towcester - with Dorotas Wildcat taken to land the prestigious prize.
Whilst the horse racing world has its eyes set firmly upon Epsom Downs, Towcester will play host to the final of the Star Sports English Greyhound Derby.
This year’s Derby has proved a score draw between punters and bookmakers. Three of Saturday’s finalists figured prominently among the pre-competition favourites, though the bookmakers gained some relief with the exits of Droopys Davy, Droopys Expert and Droopys Biker.
Epsom has its specialists and the esoteric nature of Towcester has been reflected with half of the finalists trained locally. Mark Wallis is responsible for two of those, and the champion trainer will be bidding for a third Derby winner.
Wallis still has some way to go to match Charlie Lister OBE in terms of honours, and the Newark maestro will be attempting to win the competition for an unprecedented eighth time.
Kevin Hutton and Peter Cronin have previously had finalists, and along with Angela Harrison, they will be hoping to secure their place amongst the legends of the sport for the very first time.
Let’s take a closer look at the runners - with Sky Bet paying 3 places instead of 2.
Trap 1: Bombers Bullet (10/1 Sky Bet)
Bk d Droopys Cain – Headford Hoe (April 15)
Trainer: Mark Wallis (Towcester)
Owner: The Bruiser Boyz
Fastest calculated time: 28.96 (19 May)
Bombers Bullet had one race at Cork as ‘Gunboat Sailor’ prior to joining current connections and acquiring his new moniker. Not disgraced in the Olympic at Hove, he was runner-up in Maiden Derby and the Maiden Gold Cup at Henlow, before stepping up in grade for a tilt at the Scottish Derby at Shawfield.
His trainer has a decent record with apparent outsiders in the Derby so it was a surprise that the dog was available at 80/1 ahead of the competition given he’d ran well in a couple of trials. Those odds disappeared as he posted victories in the opening two rounds before chasing home a resurgent Bubbly Bluebird.
One of the slower starters, he has relied upon his stamina to negotiate the last two rounds. Ironically, he put up his slowest sectional to date in the semi-final and that was to gift him enough time to avoid a melee that unfolded in front of him.
Saturday’s odds reflect the fact that he has two pace angles to his outside. That said, were to be any early crowding, he is ideally placed to prosper.
Trap 2: Bruisers Bullet (5/1)
Bk d Droopys Cain – Clover Bride (May 15)
Trainer: Mark Wallis (Towcester)
Owner: The Bruiser Boyz
Fastest calculated time: 28.85 (11 May)
They talk of ‘horses for courses’ though greyhounds are not immune from such vagaries of form and there’s no better exponent than Bruisers Bullet. Under the radar when progressing to last year’s semi-finals, he’s always appeared to be his trainer’s best hope of winning the 2018 Derby, and the bookmakers were keen to have him onside despite a tepid campaign at Shawfield.
Back on home soil, his colours were lowered in the opening round by kennelmate, Saleen Ash, but he was to get the better of Rising Brandy a week later in his sole victory of the competition. Wider than ideal draws have had their part to play, although the sectionals suggest he’s lost the early zip that characterised his 2017 campaign. He is, however, far from one-dimensional and he kept on well to qualify last Saturday having taken a hefty bump.
Connections will be happy to have Dorotas Wildcat on their outside, and as their charge won an Invitational race from this box last year, there’s an argument to suggest that those current odds have some juice left in them.
Trap 3: Dorotas Wildcat (2/1)
Bk d Ballymac Vic – Droopys Danneel (May 15)
Trainer: Kevin Hutton (Towcester)
Owner: Kevin Hutton / David Usher
Fastest calculated time 28.79 (19 May)
It’s almost a year since Dorotas Wildcat’s scintillating performance in the Derby Plate, and his supporters have remained convinced that the Select Stakes winner was going to be a major player in this year’s Derby. The only barriers being bad luck or a bad draw.
This was certainly the case in 2017, and he faced down a potential first round exit this year with a wide draw and Rising Brandy on his inside. Granted, he lost one of the most memorable buckles of the competition, but he heads into the final with three victories and a further second in the locker.
Track conditions were perfect for his third round success, yet for all the speed he can muster on the way to the first bend, his trapping isn’t the most fluent. Falling out of the traps in the semi-finals before running on at the death. It’s been an emotional time for the Hutton team given a recent theft from the kennels, and few would begrudge them a change in fortune.
The ‘Wildcat’ hails from a litter that has already thrown an astonishing number of Group 1 winners, and an unhindered run to the first bend should make him difficult to beat. The question is as to whether he can get there by defying the draw.
Trap 4: Droopys Verve (m) (6/4)
Bk d Loughteen Blanco – Droopys Cyclone (June 16)
Trainer: Angela Harrison (Newcastle)
Owner: The Conlon Family
Fastest calculated time: 28.76 (19 May)
As the partner of Jimmy Wright, Angela Harrison was a major part of the team responsible for Droopys Buick, and whilst that terrific servant never seemed to take to Towcester, the same cannot be said about this greyhound. The youngest runner left in the competition, he showed fair form in his earlier races; finishing runner-up to Rising Brandy in the Monmore Puppy Derby.
That being all the more remarkable as the kennel had suffered a virus ahead of the race. With no issues during this campaign, the puppy has handled the combination of quick runs without quibble. Knocking on the door of the track record in the third round, and comfortably dipping below 29 seconds during his next two outings.
Exhibiting plenty of bravery to see off the luckless Borna Gin into the first bend last Saturday, he may need to call upon similar levels of resilience to handle the hustle and bustle of Finals night. Were he to crack out in the sectionals he’s posted in the competition so far, he will have a strong say in the outcome of the Derby.
Trap 5: Dorotas Vic (w) (25/1)
Dk b d Ballymac Vic – Droopys Danneel (May 15)
Trainer: Charlie Lister OBE (Doncaster)
Fastest calculated time 29.30 (19 May)
A litter-brother of Dorotas Wildcat, some would have suggested Dorotas Vic wasn’t even the best sibling in the Lister kennel, as it was Dorotas Woo Hoo that was mopping up the big prizes for fun in 2017. Seeing plenty of action during that calendar year, ‘Vic’ was made a hot favourite for this year’s Scottish Derby final, only to come unstuck with a stumble from the lids.
Readily available at 80/1 to take the English equivalent, he is still in double digits ahead of the final. His price, perhaps, in line with the perception of Towcester favours railers with early pace. His campaign has lacked some of the sparkle of others, but it’s worth noting that he popped out last Saturday in his fastest sectional of the competition so far. Charlie Lister’s ability to ‘get them out’ on the big occasion has proved legendary and it’ll be some effort if he can get this dog turning handy on Saturday night.
Trap 6: Whoops Jack (w) (11/2)
Bk d Jacksajem – Whoopsadaisy (Jan 15)
Trainer: Peter Cronin (Ire)
Owner: Larry O’Shea
Fastest calculated time: 29.04 (19 May)
Finals night hasn’t always been kind to the Irish raiders, and with placed runners in 2014 and 2015, Peter Cronin will be hoping that it really can be third time lucky.
Whoops Jack had an inauspicious campaign in 2017, but his trainer has always believed that he could be an English Derby winner and he’s repaid that belief by qualifying for the final in 2018. His semi-final run saw him smashing out from the traps in a blistering 5.09 sectional.
A class act in Ireland, he followed up a runners-up slot in the Champion Stakes with an unbeaten campaign in the Gold Collar. As early pace is his strong suit, he has needed to adapt to the British mechanism, but he has the ability to pose questions by combining brut pace with a tendency to swing sharply into the first bend.
Despite that savage speed, he is yet to register a time below 29 seconds in any of the rounds. However, this is a one-off event, and in a race of this nature, track position can make the clock an irrelevance.
VERDICT: A wide-open Derby reaches its climax with four noted pace influences and two backrunners. Droopys Verve has belied his inexperience and has not put a paw wrong. His connections will be relieved to see Whoops Jack has been drawn out in the stripes. Bruisers Bullet would be a big player if running up to his best but DOROTAS WILDCAT has progressed steadily and he can use his track knowledge to overcome a difficult draw. Bombers Bullet and Dorotas Vic will try to pick up the pieces late.
- The race is due off at 2107 BST and will be shown live by Racing Post Greyhound TV (Sky Channel 431)