THE build-up to the 2012 Ladbrokes Irish Derby commenced yesterday with a lunch at Shelbourne Park, where the connections of all six runners relayed positive reports of their representatives.
It has the potential to be a pretty remarkable final. Five of the six dogs are trained by previous Derby winners, while there is the possibility of Razldazl George becoming only the second dog to win the Derby twice. The previous dual winner was Spanish Battleship, who actually won the race three times between 1953 and 1955.
The last Derby winner to reach the following year's final was Own Pride, who was successful in 1969 and then finished second in the '70 decider.
That gives an idea of the type of task facing Razldazl George, but he has the perfect draw in one and will have buckets of support on the night.
It is a surprise to see George priced up to 5/1 in a place and he is clearly the each-way value of the race. His trainer Dolores Ruth has a powerful second string in Cuil Cougar which is the most likely leader around the bend and would not be easily passed.
The general 2/1 favourite is Skywalker Puma, a powerful young tracker trained by Frances O'Donnell for Ray Patterson. He also looks well housed in two and should get a good run up the inside, but the big question is whether he can be in front of fellow acknowledged big stayers Razldazl George and Tyrur Sugar Ray.
Sharing the honour of being best drawn is Camas in six. Owen McKenna's charge is perfectly housed here and should steer clear of his rivals all the way.
Fast starting Coolykereen Imp could well cut out the running for John Byrne, while Conor Fahy's Tyrur Sugar Ray has a difficult draw, but is one of the fastest finalists and is well capable of landing the top prize.
On Friday night, the full first round of the Bookmakers Puppy Derby will be run at Harold's Cross and there is plenty of quality in the entry for the puppy Classic.
Then, on Saturday, the semi-finals of the Austin Friar Hotel Fair Warrior 400 will be run at Mullingar.