Following two thrilling semi-finals on Saturday last, the 2014 Kerry Agri-Business Irish St Leger comes to a most anticipated conclusion tonight with a mouthwatering final line-up that will draw down the curtain on a Classic renewal that has offered all that is good in the sport and maintains this wonderful competition’s status as one of the most prestigious prizes in Greyhound racing, very much intact!
In a truly remarkable performance twelve months ago, Irish and Limerick Oaks winner, Locnamon Bridie ensured greyhound immortality with a dominant final display.
She made the bend in front from trap 3 and powered to a commanding lead on the back-straight where even Tyrur Sugar Ray failed to make inroads against the breath-taking bitch who registered a three and half length victory in a brilliant 29.34.
There was again a strong challenge by the fairer sex this year in a bid to emulate the great bitch and tonight will see Borna Central carry the flag as the last bitch standing.
This year’s event was sparked into life when in our opening session of round one action Droopys Nidge set a blistering new standard for the 550 yard trip by dominating heat 8 in a new track record time of 29.29! He would subsequently exit at quarter final stage but such has been the quality throughout the competition that even his elimination could not detract from what has been a sizzling month of Leger fireworks from the onset.
Others to leave an indelible mark on that opening night were Pat Buckley’s Paradise Silva who scored a dominant heat 4 win in a slick 29.62 while Gerry Holian’s Emers Superstar looked at home now back at the Limerick circuit when displaying devastating early pace before taking control of heat 6 off the second bend for a nine length win in 29.66.
The concluding two heats of night one action sent local patrons home with a smile as James Roche’s Ballyana Foxtrot firstly scored an impressive early paced victory in heat 10 when leading throughout for a two and a half length verdict over fellow finalist Vulturi. Heat 11 then went to Tim Gilbourne’s powerful bitch Cloon Glory who took up the running off the second bend to lead home Hannibal Rising by one and half lengths in 29.97.
With the luxury of a fourth qualifying place gone, three of tonight’s finalists along with some of the competition’s main protagonists signaled their respective intentions with brilliant round 2 performances that threw the competition wide open as the new track record holder felt the classic heat despite getting the better of Burgess Oscar in an epic heat 5 tussle.
The pair fought out a thrilling buckle all along the back-straight with Nidge just getting on top approaching the line for a half length verdict in 29.62 over the Cork raider who would influence the outright betting market following this game display.
Another close affair on the night saw Liam Dowling’s Vulturi, just mow down Metro Jack in the shadow of the post for his first heat win by a shorthead in 29.84 before Ballyana Foxtrot went back to back in another dominant display when one and a half lengths in advance of Big Bang in 29.75.
Also remaining unbeaten was Emers Superstar with his early pace carrying him to a seven length win over tonight’s finalist Castleivy Crash in a fast 29.58. General Wolf then took the penultimate heat, leaving a very good impression when stretching to a twelve length verdict over Elevenerife in 29.74 despite not hitting the front until early in the back-straight.
The fastest performance of the night however was reserved for the concluding heat where Paradise Silva made a fast start from trap 1 and this powerful runner galloped relentlessly to a ten length verdict over Cloon Glory, again registering a slick time of 29.52.
Our quarter final heats saw two runners score hat-tricks of Leger heat wins when firstly Paradise Silva again made a smart start for a first bend lead in heat 2, recording a six length win over Castleivy Crash in 29.59 with Stone Boy King qualifying behind them and reaching his third big Limerick semi-final having reached the same stage in 2013 in both the Leger and Kirby Memorial.
This immediately preceded another brilliant display of early pace by Emers Superstar when he again led throughout heat 3 but not before being forced to repel the eye-catching and sustained challenge of General Wolf by just a head in 29.58 as the latter once again impressed with his back-straight pace, Borna Helena followed these home, a further four and a half lengths adrift.
The opening quarter final of the night went to Vulturi who was now warming nicely to his Leger task and the strong stayer showed clever track craft for a daring third bend run on the rails when overtaking early pacesetter Cloon Glory, Burgess Oscar and the struggling track record holder Droopys Nidge for the gamest of victories in a thrilling heat.
Burgess Oscar followed him home at a three length deficit in 29.82 with the same back to Cloon Glory in third as she consigned Droopys Nidge to fourth and his Leger exit to boot. The concluding quarter final was a heat to savour where Michael Dwan’s Borna Central produced one of the most memorable moments of this years’ event when recovering from significant first bend bumping to scythe through a high class field from last position off the second bend before mowing down Hawaii Kinsale on the line in 30.12.
This exhilarating success meant we would have three bitches in the semi-finals but the heat also saw a gutsy display by Ballyana Foxtrot who failed to lead for the first time in the competition but managed to negotiate his way into a battling third qualifying place, an effort that could prove crucial in the final script of this Leger!
So often the semi-finals of major events can prove a stumbling block for big outright fancies, for classics are rigorous tests of resilience and the ability to safely negotiate early rounds whilst retaining top form in readiness to produce your racing best when the chance comes your way can be a potent weapon.
So it proved for Denis O`Malley’s 12/1 shot Castleivy Crash in last weeks’ opening semi-final when he found his best split of the competition from trap 4 and tracked early leader Cloon Glory to the opening turn.
He showed good pace to overhaul the lead entering the third bend as 2/5 favourite Vulturi began to close on the heels of the leading duo but was inconvenienced by a tiring Cloon Glory at the corner, leaving Castleivy Crash to record an impressive one and a half length win in 29.78, the best run of the youngster’s career to date. Three bitches went to traps for this heat and following the heroics of Locnamon Bridie in 2013, it was only fitting that at least one of these would advance to attempt to emulate her great feat.
It was Borna Central who claimed the third final place and will have added yet more admirers when again overcoming a poor draw in trap 6 to recover from fifth place at the second bend to be only a half a length behind Vulturi at the line.
The second semi-final was an eventful affair where Emers Superstar just shaded favouritism at 7/4 with his trap 1 draw over fellow unbeaten runner, Paradise Silva who had a treacherous draw in trap 5. The former missed his break and his Leger aspirations were tenuous in the opening strides as both Burgess Oscar and Ballyana Foxtrot made fast starts from traps 4 and 6 respectively.
They led at the first bend with James Roche’s local favourite negotiating the turns much more smoothly for a back-straight lead that would see him safely advance in 30.03. The story in behind was much more complicated but Burgess Oscar held his second position entering the back-straight with Emers Superstar using his early pace to challenge for third ahead of the menacing General Wolf who was flying on his outer.
However, with Burgess Oscar occupying the rails position at this point, Emers Superstar switched for a run on his outer and a bump between him and the advancing General Wolf shuffled both backwards into a veritable dog fight for the third qualifying place.
This duo were still in advance of a closing Hawaii Kinsale and Paradise Silva entering the closing bends but despite suffering all the predicted traffic problems from his trap 5 draw the game Pat Buckley charge crucially found a rails run and denied General Wolf a final berth by a half a length, in a cracker!