Dog chat: Monlesa has what it takes to outstrip the big boys
The romance of greyhound racing lives on in this year's Ladbrokes.com Irish Derby.
All the mega trainers are strongly represented in the last 24, but also in there battling it out with them is a man who has just four racing dogs in his kennels and is involved in the premier Classic for the first time.
Brian Kirwan is based in Castledermot in Co Carlow and he has had a private licence for the past three years. But in Monlesa Alsation he has the dog that has placed him firmly in the spotlight.
Monlesa was bought by James Hayden during the Produce Stakes at Clonmel and took a little time to settle properly into his new kennel.
But he has hit top form at just the right time: his 29.63 and 29.74 victories have put him right up there with the best of them and earned a sponsor's quote of 16/1.
"We swim our dogs a lot and we put Monlesa into the jacuzzi on Sunday morning and he came out of it bouncing," Kirwan said.
"He is a real good dog and I am delighted with his draw next Saturday. He comes out of the outside traps better".
To achieve a coveted semi-final spot, Monlesa will have to overcome the Paul Hennessy-trained pair of Colorful Champ and Barefoot Bullet as well as the early-paced Tyrur Enda, one of Conor Fahy's four remaining challengers.
All four quarter-finals are quite intriguing. Possibly the hottest is Heat 3, where early-paced machines Tyrur Big Mike and Mesedo Blue will do battle; their connections will be aware of the dangers lurking among the big-finishing team of Kinda Ready, Thurlesbeg Joker, Westmead Grant and Killacolla Glory.
Tyrur McGuigan has the perfect draw in a trappy Heat 2, where all five opponents merit huge respect. The final heat then sees the Pat Buckley-trained duo of Tullymurry Act and Hats My Boy being opposed by Definate Opinion and Dromore Hero.
Outside the Derby, the semi-finals of the Texacloth Puppy Derby will attract a major crowd to Newbridge on Friday, while the meeting of Kiltrea Kev and Cooladerry Fizz in the final of the Suirside 750 will pack them into Clonmel on Sunday.