NOT for the first time, Liam Dowling is most definitely the man to beat in an important final at Tralee track. This time, the very prominent Ballymacelligott trainer/ breeder is bidding for a prize of €1,500 in an A1 525 sweepstake put in place by friends of Crumlin Hospital and he will be doubly represented in the final this Saturday night by two impressive semifinal winners, Piu Di Pep and Motorbar Dreamer.
Liam doesn't own either of the two finalists, which makes for a bit of a change, and, in fact, the certain market leader, Piu Di Pep, is the property of a Spanish man, Javier Jarne, of Zaragosa. That's how wide his remit runs.
Piu Di Pep (Vans Escalade - Coolavanny Blue) was running from trap 5 in the first semi-final last Friday night and, after being upstaged by In The Meantime in the previous round when no offers were available about him, he more than made amends this time at odds of 5/4, bombing out of trap 5 and subsequently dominating to the extent that he had nine lengths to spare at the line from Jeffs Scolari.
The time was a scorching 28.69, which leaves him with quite a bit in hand on time in Saturday night's final.
The gallant Derrymore Leader was third, a length and a half behind Jeffs Scolari, but, as there were three semi-finals, only two qualified.
Liam Dowling immediately followed up by winning the second semi-final with Motorbar Dreamer (Green Heat - Polar Floss), owned by Patrick Lynch, of Trim.
This fellow was also a 5/4 favourite and, from a trap 1 draw, he was always going to oblige as well. He led off the first bend from In The Meantime and, as was the case with Piu Di Pep, the only thing to be decided after that was his margin of victory - which proved to be four lengths over Facebook Kate, which didn't have the clearest of runs on the back straight and finished well to deprive Scart Scolari of second place by a head. The time was 29.03.
In the third semi-final, the evenmoney favourite was Robbiesgoneagain, but he got caught up in first-bend traffic problems from a trap 6 draw and was eliminated. In sharp contrast, 3/1 outsider, Pearlinthesand (Send It Porter - Send It Lauren), which Pat McMahon trains locally for Tim Moynihan, took a flier from trap 4 and led off the first bend from Boher Express.
It was always going to be between the front two, despite the best efforts of Robbiesgoneagain and Saleen Dion to get back into the race, and Pearlinthesand stuck it out determinedly at the head of affairs to score by a length from Boher Express in 29.17.
There is no problem in coming to a conclusion about the likely outcome of the final this Saturday night. Quite simply, the vote has to go to Piu Di Pep. The draw is (trap order): Boher Express, Facebook Kate, Motorbar Dreamer, Piu Di Pep, Pearlinthesand, Jeffs Scolari.
Also featured on last Friday night's programme was the final of the Castleisland Community College A3 570 Sweepstake (winner, €700) and this was won by Fastaway Frankie (Head Bound - Killonaghan Lark), owned by Liam Costelloe, of Croom, and trained by Neilus O'Connell.
Fastaway Frankie might have finished runner-up to Jolly Lillie at the semi-final stage, but he was still sent off the 5/4 favourite from a trap 1 draw. As it turned out, Jolly Lillie was the leader from Fastaway Frankie and Tailteann Agent rounding the first bend after a very smart start from trap 4, but it wasn't easy to call it between these three greyhounds at the third bend, where very little separated them.
Fastaway Frankie had actually shown the best pace into the third bend, but Tailteann Agent appeared to have established a decisive advantage turning for home, being two lengths ahead of Fastaway Frankie at this stage. However, the 570yds trip proved to be just that bit too far for Tailtann Agent and he was actually beaten into third place on the run home, with Fastaway Frankie powerfully claiming victory by a length and a half from Jolly Lillie, with a short head back to Tailteann Agent. The time was 31.79..
The night acted as a fund-raiser for Castleisland Community College and young students, especially, generated a very good atmosphere. They participated in a relay race with teachers and parents and that was a splendid side attraction.
Everybody at the track, of course, was afforded the opportunity to salute that great Irish Leger winner, Cashen Mafuma, which was taken on a parade of honour, and, in a very nice gesture by the track management, the joint owners, Padraig Rowan and trainer Chris Houlihan, as well as breeder, Danny Gallagher, received presentations.
Other winners last Friday night: Senans Star, 29.24; Millabbey Glen, 18.13; Glenduff Dazzler, 29.47; Cape Impact, 29.23; Melodys Bolt, 29.26; Willhecomeback, 17.94; Hedge Fund, 29.17.