THE banner headline in this column last week asked if a Kerry greyhound could win the Greyhound and Petworld Kingdom Derby at Tralee Track on Saturday night and, to the great joy of Ballymacelligott trainer, Liam Dowling, and his son, Shane, the answer was most definitely in the affirmative.
Their dog, Ballymac Bull, to which is attached a remarkable story, strode to magnificent victory in the astounding time of 28.15, which was only a single spot outside the track record of 28.14 which was set in September, 2004, by the flying machine known as Deerfield Mover.
Shane Dowling, a 20-year-old student who is pursuing a degree in multi-media and will soon be beginning a 14-week work experience stint with Radio Kerry, is the owner of Ballymac Bull, while his father, Liam, who has won greyhound classics on both track and field, is the trainer/ breeder.
Ballymac Bull, an October '06 whelping by Ballymac Maeve out of Ballymac Minnie, blew out of trap 6 in the Kingdom Derby final and he was a decisive leader from Compass Smash at the first bend, with the other finalists in all kind of trouble behind them. Ballymac Bull totally dominated thereafter and he finished five lengths ahead of Compass Smash, with the only other Kerry runner in the field, the Cahersiveen-owned Fermoyle Honcho, coming from a long way back to take third place.
Afterwards, trainer Liam Dowling revealed that Ballymac Bull had broken a toe when competing in a novice sweepstake at Galway earlier this year and, while out of racing action, he was mated with no less than six bitches.
"That's how highly I rated him even then," said Dowling. "He is as good as I ever had and the plan now is to keep him at home and have a crack at the English Derby. Some people thought that I was a bit mad to run an A1 greyhound in an open sweepstake, but I knew he was well up for the challenge and it's marvellous to win on your own patch and to be proved right into the bargain."
For Liam Dowling, this victory was right up there with the Coursing Oaks which he won with Ballymac View and the National Produce Stakes which he won with Green Heat and, for son Shane, it was also a night he will never forget.
"From Day One, I knew that this fellow was going to be something special," said Shane. "He was, would you believe, clocking 28.50 as a pup. Yes, it was a set-back when he broke a toe in Galway and he was off for three or four months, but I knew that he would come back and prove himself to be something very, very special, which he has certainly done tonight. It says it all for him that he has come within a spot of a remarkable track record and I think that just about anything is possible for him in 2009."
Shane Dowling collected € 10,000 for the victory of Ballymac Bull.and, on a wonderful night for Tralee Track, total prizemoney amounted to € 40,000. This reflected very highly on the major sponsors, Greyhound and Petworld, of Abbeyfeale, as did an array of trophies that will never be surpassed.
IGB Chairman, Dick O'Sullivan, was present to pay his own tribute to Greyhound and Petworld, particularly Dominick Magnone and Kathleen Murphy, and he also heartened all the doggy people present by telling them that prizemoney for 2009 at Bord na gCon tracks will remain the same as in 2008, despite the nationwide (and worldwide) recession.
On Last Saturday night's brilliant supporting card, the € 2,000-to-the-winner Joan O'Connor Memorial Sweepstake, over 570yds, was won by Canary Delight, which Con O'Connor trains in Abbeyfeale for Killarney joint owners, Jim Healy and John B McGough. Canary Delight upstaged more fancied rivals when scoring by a length and a half from Shines Vieri in 31.45.
An even more valuable purse of € 2,250 was at stake in the final of the Dave Cremin/ Greyhound and Petworld Sweepstake and this was claimed by Moyvane owner, Pat McElligott, who saw his dog, Lystoll Eagle, stride to a magnificent sevenlength victory over Perles Bay in 28.74. Lystoll Eagle is trained in Tarbert by Patrick O'Connor.
Other winners on the night were: Ballinorig Gift, 29.01; Kilcurra Hawk, 28.09; Ballybunion Tagg, 30.99; Broadacres Kenny, 28.53; Compass Mikey, 28.50; Evons Murralli, 28.64; Kilkenny Lonjack, 30.89; Knockane Mitzi, 30.31.