Three Category One finals, the semi-finals of the bet365 Hunt Cup, and the heats of the Brighton Belle were the pick of last week’s greyhound racing action. Elsewhere, there was further controversy surrounding the slow opening sprint and stayers traps at Oxford. Paul Blake reviews last week’s action and key talking points.
Ominously, Droopy’s Fidget clocked the fastest time of the year in the Steel City Puppy Derby on Saturday evening. Completing the 500m circuit at Owlerton in a blistering 28.35sec, owners Paul Allen and John Gilson have a serious greyhound on their hands. The Nathan Hunt trained white and blue bitch justified short odds (8/13) in a brilliant example of front running to win by 5 1/4 lengths from Mark Wallis’ Givemeabreak who had a clear run himself. Wallis’ black Jun21 puppy will need to improve considerably if he is to get anywhere near Droopy’s Fidget over 500m in future races.
Earlier in the day at Crayford, hurdle specialist Ricky Holloway, bagged another Champion Hurdle with Lenson Doolin scooping the £10,000 prize and breaking the track record in the process. The GBGB hurdler of the year left the field for dead and won by a remarkable 12 1/2 lengths over the 380m Hurdle circuit. Holloway’s 1-2-3-4 in the final illustrates his total domination of the division. To his credit, Tony Collet was able to disrupt the monopoly, finishing fifth with Borna Rhythm.
In the 12:24, Ladbrokes TV Trophy final, Ower Smasher left herself just a little too much to do in pursuit of Jimmy Fenwick’s front running stayer, Bellmore Sally. The 2022 and 2023 winner of the Premier Greyhound Racing (PGR) Golden Jacket added the latest renewal of the Ladbrokes TV Trophy Final to the trophy cabinet in emphatic style. The marathon 874m trip is a real test of stamina. The winning time of 56.78sec (calculated) is still some way off Burgess Borna’s track record of 55.89sec (calculated), which was set on Boxing Day 2014, but this was a great performance neverthless.
Last year’s winner of The Brighton Belle, What’s Up Eva, progressed to next week’s semi-final at Hove, winning her heat comfortably by 2 3/4 lengths. In the second heat, Lively Lauren led from the second to qualify alongside Stellas Fruity and My Girl Bella. Fabulous Azurra made light work of the third heat at a short price before No Rush turned the form book on its head to win the fourth heat ahead of favourite Havana Bale Out in the fastest time of the competition so far (30.05sec). My Girl Mia qualified well for Seamus Cahill in the fifth heat, a race that saw Selsey Bullet miss out on a semi-final berth after being baulked at the first and crowded three quarters. Another to miss the semis will be Antigua Sugar. She could only manage fourth in her heat behind Gatling Gun, who won well from the outside trap.
Next week’s semi-final draw sees Fabulous Azurra and Lively Lauren drawn in Traps 3 and 5 respectively in the first semi-final. The second semi pits No Rush and Havana Bale Out against each other again. Whats Up Eva will fancy her chances of making the final from Trap 2. The third and last semi-final may favour the inside traps with Seamus Cahill’s My Girl Mia in Trap 1 and Droopys Request in the blue jacket.
The semi-finals of the bet365 Hunt Cup sparked further controversy as the Oxford stayers traps opened slowly causing Low Pressure to be seriously hampered and lucky to avoid injury. Amid widespread criticism on social media, Oxford announced that “with immediate effect, the starting mechanisms used to operate our sprint and stayers races will be removed and no longer used. Next week’s £10,000 bet365 Hunt Cup Final will take place as planned using tried and tested traps which will be transferred from our sister venue, Harlow. In the meantime, all 253m and 650m races and trials will be suspended.”
A spokesperson for the GBGB added in a statement that “We are aware of the incident at Oxford Stadium yesterday evening and have been in close discussions with the track’s management team regarding the integrity of the traps in question. Greyhound welfare must always remain the highest priority and the traps have therefore been withdrawn with immediate effect. We will continue to work closely with the stadium as they take measures to ensure that, now and going forward, everyone involved can have full confidence in the systems in place.”
On the track, Elizabeth McNair trained the winner of both semi-finals of the bet365 Hunt Cup. Havana Top Note and Havana Lover won in identical times with the latter likely to start favourite in Saturday night’s final.
This week, there are three more CAT1 finals to look forward to. At Sunderland, on Friday night, The Arena Racing Company Grand Prix final is at 8.52. With £12,500 to the victor, Mark Wallis will be hoping that Coonough Crow can follow up on her semi-final win from a challenging trap draw.
The action continues on Saturday at Oxford with the Hunt Cup due to go off at 9.29. On Sunday afternoon (4.08), Drive On Lad will bid for a hat-trick of wins in the KAB Maiden Derby Final at Towcester. The Brighton Belle semis kick off at Hove at 7.56 with the first two in each of the three races progressing to the final on the 29th April.