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John Smiths Grand National and the Kent Derby - Central Park 480m - £8,000/ £7,000

RAZLDAZL RAIDIO (pictured above setting a new 540m hrudles track record at Crayford in February), runner-up last year and the red-hot ante-post favourite, set the standard in the John Smiths Grand National heats at Central Park on Wednesday on a night when the Kent Derby heats shared centre-stage at the Sittingbourne venue.

 

Ricky Holloway's prolific-scoring hurdler, the 2016 Champion Hurdle winner, was led from the boxes by Crayford’s Fridays Sean but hit the front off the second bend and went clear impressively to score by almost eight lengths in a brilliant 29.12sec to improve his record to 36 wins from 53 starts.

 

“That’s a huge relief,” said Holloway. “He’s the fastest hurdler I’ve ever had and his numerous track records prove that. I’ve come here with something to work on throughout the Grand National, so this run would have helped bring him on.

 

“He’s favourite for the Grand National, but you always need that slice of luck. I’ve won it with Jos Cigar and Mo’s Bullet, and remember not thinking Mos Bullet had a prayer back in 2015 - but he came through and won it.

 

“Raidio is a different proposition entirely. He’s a champion, as is Ballymac Manix, and it’s great that they’re both back again - they're old rivals now, but that's great. We all love the competition and roll on Wednesday for the semis now.”

 

Razldazl Raidio was completing a double for Holloway and owners Stella Wilson and David Jensen in the heats after Razldazl Star, an open-race stayer on the flat, came through strongly to defeat leader and 2015 runner-up Julius George.

 

Novice Droopys Stephan stayed on for third here, with the winner posting 30.30sec, while Ballymac Leo made all to score impressively in heat two for David Mullins and David Sullivan by four and a quarter lengths from Mystical Jude in 29.64sec.

 

Ballymac Manix (29.70sec), the defending champion and the GBGB Hurdler of the Year, rolled back the years to kick off his defence with a terrific last-gasp win in heat three to be the middle leg of a Seamus Cahill treble on the night.

 

This year’s Champion Hurdle winner weaved his way through to collar Mystical Charlie, nabbing the Crayford raider by a short-head in what was a blanket finish, given in behind Insane George and Gowlane Georgie dead-heated for third.

 

They will run-off on Saturday, after which the draw for Wednesday’s semi-finals will be made. The first three in those two eliminators will make the £8,000 decider which is live on Sky Sports from Central Park on Tuesday, October 3.

 

The Kent Derby final will be another showpiece on the night with the £7,000 event having also started on Wednesday with six heats over 480m with the Cahill camp doubling up courtesy of Droopys Gold and Crossfield Giles 

 

Droopys Gold was fastest on the night in heat three as the Puppy Classic third improved his record to 12 wins from 18 starts as he made all in 28.88sec for the Schilly Money Syndicate, winning by five a half lengths.

 

Liz McNair was another handler at the double in the Kent Derby heats with Shaneboy Russell (29.10sec) and King Kid (29.06sec) landing the spoils in the first two heats, both scoring for the KSS Syndicate.

 

Arc finalist and Scottish Derby-semi-finalist Black Zack made an impressive return to the track for Richard Rees in heat four, coming through strongly at the third bend to strike by a head from the fast-finishing Silverhill Conor in 28.90sec.

 

Steel City Cup finalist Cappoquin Jack led off the second bend to win heat five after an injury to Droopys Harrison, who broke down when in front. The winner, trained by Richard Hanikanai, went on to score from Droopys Baggio in 29.14sec.

 

Crossfield Giles won an exciting heat six to complete the Cahill treble, the Crossfield Seven-owned runner always handy and edging out Droopys Who and Bentekes Bocko, both of whom kept on, to score in 28.97sec by a neck and half a length.