Blake makes early start to Derby defence
The turnstiles will be clicking early at Shelbourne on Thursday with racegoers ensuring they are in for the first race when reigning BoyleSports Irish Derby champion Laughil Blake will begin his defence in the very first heat of this year's classic.
There was a general sense of relief at yesterday morning's draw when the name of Laughil Blake was in the drum following his injury doubt. Then there was a gasp when he was one of the first dogs drawn to contest the opening heat where his opponents will include the formidable duo of Ballybough Mike and Slippery Fred.
In light of Laughil Blake's sizzling early pace and an ideal trap six draw, Michael O'Donovan's champion will be expected to lead all the way and to launch his defence on a winning note.
At the start of the draw racing manager Declan Carey confirmed that a full entry of 144 dogs had been received and so there will be two cards of full Derby action on Thursday and Saturday, with 12 heats each night.
Thursday's card is particularly attractive as it will feature three of the top four in the Derby betting. Ballymac Matt, winner of the Gain 600 and runner-up in the Marshes International at Dundalk, will meet last year's winner of the 600, Greenwell Hulk, and the young starlet Jaytee Jet in a hot Heat 9.
Then in Heat 11 we will have a very hot favourite in Owen McKenna's English Derby final favourite Farloe Blitz which scorched around Shelbourne in a trial last week and should race into a big lead in this contest.
The other member of the top four, Graham Holland's Oaks heroine Ballydoyle Honey, will be favourite for Heat 18 on Saturday when she will actually meet up with two of her kennel companions, Calzaghe Clampett and Hovex Prince.
A dog which probably deserves to be a member of the top four is Holland's Sidarian Vega and he goes into action in Thursday's second heat where he will wear the red jacket and will face such as Champion Stakes runner-up Budgie Bypass and Consolation Derby winner Laughil Bolt.
Apart from Laughil Blake, the only 2014 finalist in the draw is Liam Dowling's Vulturi which will contest Heat 13 on Saturday and will meet another fancied Kerry runner in Secreto.
The final of the Bar One Racing Irish Sprint Cup will be run at Dundalk on Sunday and the David Kennedy trained Trinity Forest is being quoted the 13/8 favourite by the sponsors.
The dog, owned by young Taylor Kearney from Carbury, has been a revelation since he turned up at Dundalk and has won five races on the trot over the 400 yards, including all four heats of this classic.
The Bar One betting reads: 13/8 Trinity Forest, 5/2 Catherines Drico, 5 Hillcroft Hero, Slipalong Hero, 8 Blenheim Cracker and Trewmount Blue.