Weblog: At large in the greyhound world
Ladbrokes bow out with an Irish Derby to savour
LADBROKES and the Irish Greyhound Board put on a tremendous show at Shelbourne on Saturday.
Patrick Flynn, the track's sales, operations and commercial manager, told me "The crowd is around the 6,000 mark, some 20 per cent up. We'd increased our racecard order to 5,500, but quickly realised it was going to be packed, so have been running off more. Leopardstown [where there was a tea-time meeting, 3.40pm - 7.20pm, featuring the Red Mills Irish Champion Stakes] in the end has made no difference, though a number came along here after. Getting Aslan [the Irish rock band] to play here tonight on what is their 30th anniversary helped raise awareness enormously."
Shelbourne also maintained admission at 20 euros, students/OAPs 10, having cut it last year from 25.
There was great interest in a best dressed lady prize, which was taken extremely seriously with Rozanna Purcell, a former Miss Universe Ireland winner, eventually judging trainer Marie Gilbert the winner of a VIP weekend to Limerick track. Gilbert was complimented on her elegance and accessories.
As ever there was a host of English visitors in the crowd, one that I was particularly pleased to bump into was Jim Woods, Monmore's racing manager. He looked in tremendous form after a ten weeks spell off due to an illness that included a prostrate cancer scare. However, he's fit again and back at work. "It's fantastic to be here," he said with understandable feeling.
In the Racing Post's Monday Column, I've speculated on who might take over from Ladbrokes given the company's three year deal has ended. There are a number of runners, and others that I've haven't thought of, but I'd put Boylesports and Betfair at the head of my list as to who might take on the premier Irish Classic.
This was described last year as "the richest dog race in the world", though this year's card described it as "the best dog race in the world".
There's a significantly upgraded William Hill Derby - £150k first prize next year - to now consider plus the Macro Meats Golden Easter Egg, over 520m at Wentworth Park in Sydney, Australia
This year's winner, Don't Knocka Him, picked up Aus $250,000, just under £163,000. That competition is restricted to 80 entries so Wimbledon's williamhill.com Derby is the richest open-to-all event.
Skywalker Puma collected 120,000 euros on Saturday in taking the Ladbrokes.com Irish Derby - and ten per cent of that goes to the breeder.
After edging ahead of Wimbledon, straitened times in Ireland have prompted a down-turn, and makes finding a new sponsor all the more important.
I've always believed that the main event of the year is what drives the ownership dream, any pup can end up reaching a Derby final, and it is essential to maintain an eye-catching reward, including that for the other finalists.
But thanks must go to Ladbrokes and the likes of Joe Lewins, who now organises Ladbrokes’ industry, government and regulatory affairs in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and Jackie Murphy, who is head of operations for Ladbrokes Ireland and alongside minister Shane McEntee who presented the trophy on Saturday. Ladbrokes have brought real energy to the occasion, and to see such a big crowd must have felt tremendously rewarding to Murphy and Lewins.
I found getting over even easier than usual, given I generally prefer to drive over nowadays, flying to Dublin this time proved hassle-free. There are many faults at Heathrow, but using the Irish terminal there generally works well.
There used to more differences between Ireland and Britain - for instance the use of differing colour racing jackets. I can't even remember now what they used to be, but always found it horribly confusing. So that change is appreciated.
But of course the Irish now have the Euro, something that might seem less of an advantage today, and there is a mystifying paradoxes over units of measures. Road signs are sensibly shown in kilometres, Britain prefers miles.
And yet at the greyhound track, Britain long ago went metric, using metres for the distances and kilos for the weighing scales.
Shelbourne and the other Irish tracks keep to yards and pounds. I've noticed kids (under tens) in England nowadays talk of their height in metres, and have no concept of what six foot actually represents. Horseracing should bear this mind given its obsession with furlongs. It is getting left behind.
My congrats go to Ray Patterson, owner of the exciting Skywalker Puma. His dad was a former trainer at Brough Park. And I've known Frances and Matt O'Donnell, the successful training team, what feels a lifetime and always admired their professional focus. That was their fifth Derby champion.
My next trip back will be in six weeks for the Connolly's Red Mills Laurels final at Cork on Saturday October 20 (for 96 runners, heats are Friday 21st and Saturday 22nd September), before that there's the Romford Coral Champion Stakes gala on Wednesday, then the Ladbrokes East Anglian Derby final at Yarmouth, followed by Romford's Puppy Cup, the last ever Nottingham Produce Stakes, Henlow's Primus Telecom Derby and the William Hill Northern Festival at Newcastle.
Not much time there for the apathy which, a few months ago, did seem to have gripped the sport. I've noticed there is a lot more energy around, and even though times remain extremely challenging, that alone is welcome news.
**There are some great pics from Steve Nash in Monday's Racing Post. This is his Racing Post Facebook action pic from the Ladbrokes Irish Derby: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=409025615813551&set=a.235920286457419.55714.230056683710446&type=1&theater