Champ Matt bids for historic Derby double
After all the build-up, the 2016 Boylesports Irish Derby will commence at Shelbourne this evening with the first nine heats of the Classic. But we'll have to wait until the penultimate contest of the round late on Saturday night before the red-hot favourite Clares Rocket makes his Derby debut.
With 126 greyhounds ready to contest the first round, Clares Rocket is one of the shortest-priced favourites to win the Classic. He is quoted at 5-1 by the sponsors with most of the other firms going even shorter at 4-1.
Two runners have been withdrawn from tonight's heats in Cable Bay and Holycross Tipp. However, Declan Carey reports that he has reserves available but they cannot be confirmed until the official weigh-in.
The major name in this opening session is Ballymac Matt which is bidding to become the second greyhound to successfully defend the Irish Derby title. The first was, of course, the legendary Spanish Battleship which won three Derbys in 1953, '54 and ''55.
Ballymac Matt was an impressive winner last year when beating Farloe Blitz. Three more of last year's finalists were in the original draw but Cable Bay's defection leaves three bidding to reach successive finals. The others are third-placed Farloe Rumble and fourth-placed Peregrine Falcon.
Ballymac Matt contests Heat 7, where he is opposed by the exciting puppy Priceless Brandy and Coolavanny Wendy. They are entitled to run big races but Ballymac Matt can reign supreme again.
Race against time
Peregrine Falcon will make his bow in Heat 5 and it has been a race against time to have him ready following his Wimbledon exertions, where he was an English Derby finalist. Early pace should settle this race in his favour.
One of the most exciting prospects in the Derby is the Michael O'Donovan-trained Laughil Luke which goes in Heat 9. He was the winner of the Derby Plate last year and has been brought along tenderly this year. He has won his last five races impressively and is undoubtedly one of the fastest dogs in the Classic.
We have come to expect a few winners, or more, from Graham Holland each night and he can strike with an early double, courtesy of Rural Hawaii and Sidarian Pearl in the opening two heats. Another worth noting is Peter Cronin's Ela Alecko in Heat 3.
The race of the night can be Heat 6, where the market will be extra lively. Droopys Awesome deserves to be favourite on his superb run behind Clares Rocket in the Champion Stakes but Holycross Leah, Sober Call and Vancouver Colin make this a dangerous contest.
A young tracker that could make quite an impact is the Pat Buckley-trained Droopys Smasher and she is nominated to lead home Skywalker Luke and Slippery Snowy in Heat 8.