Jamie, a friend and contributor on the comments here, asked me yesterday about the English Greyhound Derby which starts this Friday night at Wimbledon. Specifically, he wanted, not unreasonably, a dog or two to have an interest in through the competition.
Well that got me thinking a bit. First I thought: I have absolutely no idea. Then I thought: how did that happen?
Used to be, I followed the dogs properly. One New Year the Racing Post’s dog man Jim Cremin sent me a bottle of champagne for a short piece I wrote proposing Spiridon Louis as the 2007 Greyhound of the Year. The six-bend Spiridon Louis went on to take the title over four-bend sensation Barnfield on Air. That was four years ago for goodness sake. Where has the time gone, I wonder? Now I can’t even come up with one vaguely hopeful ante-post dog!
Back in the day I went to Wimbledon to see the great Westmead Hawk in the preliminary heats, before he took his second Derby title in 2006. Going to the dogs at the Plough Lane track is a proper cage fighting atmosphere, nothing like the much-missed art deco class of the Stow. Now I have watched this victory plenty enough, it might even have been on the blog before, but watching it again I still cannot get over how the dog reads his way through the race.
Drawing Trap 4, as Westmead Hawk had, is simply asking for trouble. If you want to back a skimpily priced favourite in a dog race (The Hawk was 4/7F for this gig) you would want to take the Red Jacket, Trap 1 on the rail. You would be backing the One Dog to ping the lid, grab the rail, job done. Or, you might take the Stripes of a Wide Runner to at least stay out of the potential for general scrummaging on the bends and then pick up off the last. You would not, unless you were backing Westmead Hawk, especially want the Trap 4 where all kinds of squeezing, bumping, baulking and checking of runs awaits the Mid runners.
And then you watch this race and he sets my heart in motion every time.
The Hawk traps fast, about level, then he comes into the rail, but no he’s back out wide, and then he makes his move and blasts his run through the middle of the Orange and Blue Jackets to win by three-quarters of a length on the line. And the last bit is my favourite, not on the line, but the bit where he powers into that nearly non-existent gap between two tightly-packed greyhounds, and then there is nothing else but the hulk of his shoulders devouring the track until he noses through the laser beam, certain in the knowledge that he is the fastest dog in the land.
Ah, I was gone for a moment there… When I was lucky enough to see Westmead Hawk a few weeks before this final, he made it even tighter on the line, but he was still there when it counted. And now I have my own dog who runs in the belief that he is the fastest dog in the park, but is so nervous that when gets tired he, rather than fronting up to his invited pursuer, hides in a shrubbery and waits for me to rescue him.
So Joe, I ain’t got no dogs just yet for you but, when I do, there is a good chance their dad will be this lad…