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AND then there were six. Not perhaps the six Williamhill.com Derby finalists we expected seven days ago, but Saturday’s line-up for the £125,000 decider over 480m at Wimbledon is exceptionally worthy all the same and could be a history-maker to boot.
Why? Well the most open Derby final in history, according to the betting at least, was four years ago when 5-2 joint-favourite Loyal Honcho ended Seamus Graham’s search for the Holy Grail with fellow market leader Tyrur Laurel back in fourth.
As I write on Thursday evening, 3-1 the field is still available and, even if a gamble does develop, there has to be a serious prospect of that record being equalled at least.
I’ll admit to initially feeling a little flat after the semi-finals because you never want to see a track record holder go out and the absence of Razldazl Jayfkay allied to the elimination of kennelmates Razldazl Bugatti and Razldazl Rioga deprived the final of Dolores Ruth's participation.
Ruth’s passion for the Derby is infectious, but that passion comes from knowing just what an achievement it is to win it and her search for a second title to sit alongside Shanless Slippy’s 1996 success will have to wait another year. Let’s all hope it is still at Wimbledon.
In truth, such had been the high quality of the 2012 Greyhound Derby with so many big guns surviving that there was always likely to be one night of major casualties. As it turned out, a dozen into six just didn’t go.
If winning is the ultimate, then just making the final is also a fantastic accomplishment, at least the equal of landing any other Category One title in the calendar in my opinion.
It was with that in mind that the great and good of greyhound racing, along withthe media, decamped to London’s Zetter Hotel in Farringdon on Monday for the Greyhound Derby lunch where the connections of the six finalists were rightly lauded and feted.
Sponsors Hills once again pushed the boat out and afantastic time was had by all, with the sheer pride felt by each of the six sets of connections plain for all to see. At the start of the biggest week of their lives for many, in greyhound terms, it is a chance to relax and savour where they have got to.
Of course, it all gets a bit more serious as the week goes on and the nerves are sure to be jangling now, but three of the trainers involved have already got the t-shirt for winning the premier Classic, headed of course by Charlie Lister OBE.
Already the winningmost trainer with six successes, he is bidding to emulate fellow finalist Nick Savva (four wins overall) in becoming only the second handler to win three Derbys in a row, while Mark Wallis has the 2009 victory of Kinda Ready on his cv – remember he caught Lister’s Fear Zafonic in the final strides, otherwise there might be another historic achievement on the horizon for the Newark maestro.
But don’t run away with the idea that the other handlers lack credibility – Matt Dartnall’s Farloe Ironman [surely an apt name given that MD completed this year’s London Marathon in 3 hours 9 minutes at the first attempt] is a third finalist for the young handler who is clearly going places, Michael O’Donovan sent out Judicial Pride to win the 2000 Irish Derby having reached the Wimbledon semis that year, while John Gardner has bounced back into the game after 25 years to get one-man-and-his-dog Coolavanny Bert to the ultimate stage.
Who wins? I’ve changed my mind so many times already this week that I’m still not certain what my final decision will be. It might help if Doctor Dolittle was on hand and could ask Judicial Ruling how his shoulder felt.
I’ve read criticism of the supporting card but that’s misguided in my opinion. It’s unusual to see a first round elimination, Caribbean Rich, in the invitation but that was always going to be a hard fill in the absence of four Irish-trained semi-final eliminations and Bob Hall’s dog has gone from strength to strength in recent weeks anyway ahead of this clash with big guns Bubbly Phoenix, Boher Paddy and Jaytee Pedro.
The legendary Jimmy Lollie’s sprint appearance means the last two Greyhounds of the Year are on view, we have the reigning Oaks and St Leger champions in Silverview Perky and Aero Majestic, while the puppy clash between Farloe Warhawk and Jordans Chris could be the race of the night.
It’s greyhound racing’s meeting of the year, see you there!
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