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…
We had tea with Laddie and his family last night. In 2005, as Faith’s Lad he started a 7/4 favourite in his heat for the 1st round of the William Hill Derby @ Wimbledon (biggest open greyhound race of the year) but sadly went out of the competition after missing the break, getting crowded on the 2nd bend and finishing last.
No matter, he is a very happy lad now and I love him. His family love him even more. He stands a good bit taller than Rudi, but is perhaps not quite as fast as he was back in the day. That’s allowed, it’s called the good life.
Laddie lives in an extremely artistic environment. Yesterday’s delights included an original bill for hay from the 1730s: bushels and cart loads…
Creaking stools, chalkcloths, ink wells, empty clock cases, stick insects and an original Viking v Monks epic featuring a pair of ** for eyes on each corpse. Marvellous.
I managed to create my own impromptu installation with some decorated, yet drying (for the last week) slate fragments by getting four of them stuck in my hair at once.
From the back I must have looked like a Christmas tree.
Of course, it’s not quite so bad on the deliver so little front during the football close season, unless you are Milwall or Swindon fan, but most of you will get where I’m coming from with this?
The hopes and dreams (or wishes and horses) factor is multiplied at least tenfold on a Saturday. Hopes for sporting triumphs, a big win on the nags, the lottery, bingo even and of course the chances of a Big Night Out if you have any energy left after a working week (or money after paying a gas bill).
I find myself suddenly gripped today with an urge to go to Newmarket, but I am going to sit on that off-piste urge until it gives in. Saturdays are not great days for punting – too many races to get your head round and not enough iron discipline in constant supply either.
Today, instead, I will carry on reading a book: Hackney, that Rose-Red Empire by Iain Sinclair. This book, for a Hackney refugee like me, is like gold dust. On the page I am turning into streets I know like the back of my hand but I am discovering small creases on the palm that I have never noticed before. It is a delight.
Sinclair has written about, Stephen Gill’s photography of Hackney in the book and through a circuitous route I ended up at his website last night – the link goes directly to the Series of Disappointments collection, but I loved the Hackney Wick market photographs too.
These feature the rough house market that used to take place every Sunday morning a few minutes walk from our last London flat. It was not a market such as you would recognise, taking place on the dusty dirt of the old Hackney Wick dog track and car park. It had a definite air of frontier bandit country. We went once, intrigued by the thousands of people returning laden with blue carrier bags. The Guv’nor, as streetwise as you get, bought a radio with no insides. That’s the kind of place it was. And of course, you wouldn’t be taking it back.
So here are my radios without innards for today. At least I know they won’t tune in to nothing from the outset.
Lord Shanakill 3.30 Haydock
Mureb 5.05 Newmarket
Dazinkski 4.45 Haydock
And as it’s Greyhound Derby final night I am making a mental note to back the winner (T2 Lyreen Mover out of Lyreen Diva) and then buy this book. I miss dusty old Hackney and I miss the Lowlife.
Ballymac Ruso is the main danger IMO. Tissue prices have Ballymac Ruso fav as he has played such a blinder through the heats and his consistency deserves nothing less. However Fear Zafonic has finally got his favoured red jacket by the rails. Although this is statistically disastrous box for Derby finalists he has been inconvenienced throughout the competition by not being in T1. Tonight he can make it pay and I think as the evening wears on and people think on Charlie Lister’s ability to get his dogs peaking and pinging on the big nights, he might start favourite.
Ballymac Ruso, drawn next door in T2, also has ferocious early pace but as he is predicted to take the middle line my money is on Fear Zafonic to hug the rails, lead up to the first and then nothing should catch him…
Of course if it was always that straightforward I would be blogging this from a yacht somewhere so we won’t really know until 10.12 tonight, but I am happy to nail my red jacket to the mast now 🙂
Most of the best racing is on the weekends, which is a pain because I am at my busiest with family life then and cannot devote the time to looking at the cards. So I mainly bet during the week. I am sufficiently self-absorbed to have noticed that this post will be the On Wishes and Horses 100th blog post so whilst I was planning to do a “How we should Reform Parliament” post I have put that on ice to let you know that I have the 2000 at the Curragh down to three colts, purely on account of the heavy going and miling propensity. They are:–
Delegator again, although he should not be overly inconvenienced by heavy ground, he has never travelled to race before and I think he had the hardest race of those to line up so far this season. I think he may well place but I am not overly confident of a win.
Mastercraftsman, he can improve on his effort at Newmarket and should go on the ground. He has Murtagh in the saddle and I do not imagine he was given a hard time when his chance was gone three weeks ago. Possible winner, very likely to place.
Rayeni, unraced this season and a little to find on ratings with the other two. He is by Indian Ridge, a sire whose progeny usually go well on this going so providing he makes the anticipated improvement between his 2yo days and this afternoon we might expect him to be up there at the business end. As his trainer also trains the English Guineas winner we can be sure he knows what he has and what he needs to beat. In fact he said in the Racing Post today that this colt is being called up to replace Arazan who was the intended runner but has missed work due to a temperature. Oxx accepts Rayeni will have to improve but agrees he will go on the ground – do not underestimate the importance of this factor!
I also looked at the Temple Stakes a 5f Group 2 sprint I used to enjoy at Sandown on the Brigadier Gerard Stakes evening racecard which has been rehoused at Haydock – why I don’t know. I always thought it perfect at Esher. Anyway, that gripe aside, they also have heavy ground there which will suit Reverence very well. This old fella is probably operating somewhere below his prime now but the trainer Eric Alston says they “have never really had him better”. I can also be tempted by Captain Gerrard who may be sharper now having not quite seen out 6f at York last week. In truth though, as you can never rule out the Nicholls runners (there are two) and the filly Look Busy will be fine with the ground as will the 3yo Total Gallery it will have to be a no bet race.
I want to go on into the Greyhound Derby semis too but time is against me so I will settle for saying a win double on T2 looks good to me. Fear Zafonic has the draw one nearer the rail than last time at 9.25 and although we can’t guarantee a clean run from 2 he did so well from 3 the last thrice I am happy to go with him. In the 9.40 I like Lister’s other contender Farloe Reason who runs as fast as his kennel mate. So it’s a Trap 2, Charlie Lister win double for me 🙂
Good luck to all!
Both involve going pretty damn fast and although I am well used to the canine velocity, me on a skinny-wheeled hybrid going about 20 miles an hour is a new (and somewhat alarming) experience.
If you have delved in this blog more than once you may know I am cycling with The Big Issue Foundation to Paris this July over three days. That’s the theory anyway. To date, in order to stand half a chance of completing the feat, I have been training on the existing bike, an urban number with intermediate tyres. I have now upgraded to a Chris Boardman comp hybrid which is a lighter frame, narrower tyres and a harder ride. All of a sudden I am coming upon things in the road a lot quicker. My reaction times have to be the equivalent of a drivers, without the protective encasing of hard metal. All I have between me and the menacing tarmac (sorry Graham Greene it is an adjective :-() is my cycle helmet and an awful lot of thin air rushing past.
Yes I feel vulnerable. I consider it like this though, if there were 5 other bikes upsides, all plotting an oval course at speed then the chances for carnage would be far higher. Which brings me to the dogs plotting their way round Plough Lane in the Derby. A dog which can trap fast and avoid trouble i.e. use its noggin, is what we want in a Derby dog. Alternatively you can have a dog with no early pace, which avoids all the first bend squishing and then can roast the others down the back straight and off the last bend, but again to do that, they need a noggin on them. So, yes, we are looking for not just raw speed but canine intelligence, the sort that saw the devastating Westmead Hawk win three Derbys in the most spectacular of fashions.
I must admit I’ve not seen enough of this year’s remaining Derby contenders to make any kind of educated judgement but I have noted a few dogs and am looking forward to tonight’s heats which sees the a/p favourite Fear Zafonic (T3) in a hot heat with Dotland Hit Man (T6) and Barnfield on Air (T2) @ 9.30 pm. Tactically we will see what Fear is made of, he’s not in his usual 2 berth and being the in the 3 trap means he is going to have to be super-quick to get across to the rail. Barney on his left and in his way is coming back slowly and has not been showing his own super-early of late so I am just going to cross my fingers and hope they can sort it out amicably (after you sir) and that we avoid any messy business at the first bend. If there are shenanigans the most likely to benefit is Dotlands Hit Man who could glide round seamlessly in the stripes.
Last night’s heats were cracking by the sound of it. In the oldsters heat Toosey Blue beat Lenson Express and it is great that those two are through to the next round. Charlie Lister’s Bandicoot Tipoki is incredibly young to be doing what he is doing right now and so damn fast too. I really wonder if he can go all the way, no doubt he is an incredible raw talent but he may need a bit more experience before he can truly read a race and avoid trouble. Boherna Best also scorched home as did Wise Thought. So most of my little Westmead Hawk lads have been eliminated but not to worry, this year’s Derby is shaping up to be very interesting indeed.
Given that Loyal Honcho couldn’t win last year (due to his advanced age), but did anyway, who would entirely discount those lads Lenson Express and Toosey Blue, both whelped in April 2005, to at least continue their march towards the final?