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Coughing rules Blake out of Derby defence





The biggest story in the first round of the BoyleSports Irish Derby broke hours before the first heat was due to be run yesterday when Michael O'Donovan announced that his defending champion Laughil Blake would not be contesting the opening heat due to coughing.

It was a cruel blow for owners Mary and Paul Jennings and trainer O'Donovan with the dog that had been prepared specifically all year for his defence of the title. He had overcome a recent injury to figure in the draw and then fate played its tricks.

O'Donovan said at lunchtime yesterday: "We were hoping he would survive the first few rounds and pick up full fitness and then this morning he started to cough. It is very disappointing and the sad thing about is that he will probably be fine in a week or two but you just couldn't run a dog with the cough. I have never done it up to this and I wasn't going to start now".

In his absence from the opening heat, it was won by Slippery Fred which took it up before the first bend and went on to win by two-and-a-half lengths from Mimis Ace in 29.89 with Ballybough Mike three-parts of a length third.

Fred's owner Larry Dunne later completed a double when Slippery Snowy dashed to the front off the second bend in Heat 5 and went on to win by eight lengths in 29.71 from Blue Navajo.

Gyp sets early pace

Best run in the early heats was the 29.63 from the Peter Cronin-trained Gyp Rosetti in the fourth heat. A 29.50 winner last weekend, he quickly took control of this race and was a few lengths up on the opening bend. Staying on strongly, he won by two-and-a-half lengths from Scooby The Star.

Graham Holland, who has no fewer than 15 challengers in the Derby, gained his first victory in the second heat as Sidarian Vega was always clear before eventually leading home his staying kennel companion Jo Jo Fantasy by three lengths in 29.83.

The near veteran Skywalker Farloe, now back in the care of Pat Gordon, got up late to win the third heat by a neck from Star Ace in 30.38.

Puppy Oaks final

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Harold's Cross will hold centre stage this evening with the final of the GM Concrete Puppy Oaks down for decision. It is a really open contest but the big three in the betting are likely to be Danesrath Beauty, Ballymac Belle and Badminton Maid.

There is pretty little between this trio on the clock but marginal preference is for Badminton Maid (9.40), a member of that great Brett Lee/Kildallon Maid litter, which is trained by Donal Murphy for David McGrath.