Greyhounds - Vimmerby to show way in red-hot Laurels
If the first round of the classic was any guideline then the 2014 Red Mills Irish Laurels is going to be a red-hot affair.
There were a number of high-class performers last weekend. The times were electric, indicating that the 28-second barrier will be under serious attack in the weeks ahead.
Fastest with a brilliant 28.11 was the Johnny Kavanagh-trained Vimmerby, and the draw suggests that the Enniscorthy tracker will be the one to beat in this evening's Heat 2 of the second round. The inside runner Newinn Expert has been withdrawn in-season and I understand she has a date with Kinloch Brae.
This means that Vimmerby (8.28) will have nothing on his inner and he can win the early battle with the likes of Burgess Rumble and Cabra Buck to lead into the back. From there he should win.
Following the withdrawal of Crokers Champ, Graham Holland's Sidarian Blaze (9.43) has shortened as long-odds favourite and he has been blessed with a trap one draw in Heat 7. It will make his lot a fair bit easier, as in Midtown Raffa, Burgess Oscar and reigning champion Lassa Expedition he faces formidable early-paced performers. Sidarian should win.
Holland also has high hopes with Vans Viking (8.58), a much better starter than he looked last week. Lemon Miley is the danger.
Darragh Morrissey has double hopes with Champagne Jackie (9.13) and Indigojack (9.58) while Owen McKenna has dreams of a third Laurels win after Farloe Calvin's (8.43) winning return from a lay-off .
Following his runaway victory in the opening round, Vulturi (10.28) is odds-on favourite to win the Billy Mulvaney Memorial 600 at Shelbourne and he has shortened even further due to the withdrawal from the other semi of Deanridge Pennys.
Vulturi has anything but a favourable draw but he is an adroit track and he can pick a safe path through the field around the bends before launching that powerful burst from halfway. Shopping Basket and Native Hut look the main dangers.
Niall Dunne's Fast Fit Lexus is the likely early leader in the first heat but he will be hard pressed to hold the challenges of Gerry Merriman's Highview Premier (10.13) and Barefoot Agent.
Highview Premier is a much improved performer and was a good second last week after encountering trouble. He is strong over the trip and that may be crucial.
Shelbourne will open its gates early this evening to facilitate racegoers who wish to watch the replayed All-Ireland hurling final on TV. The Kilkenny-Tipperary clash starts at 5.0 and will be shown on the screens.