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Star Sports Derby - Towcester 500m - £175,000

Rising Brandy (T2) and Dorotas Wildcat (T4) balltle all the way to the line in heat 8


WHOOPS JACK set the standard in the first batch of heats of the Star Sports Derby at Towcester on Thursday with a fastest-of-the-night return as Peter Cronin’s dog underlined the strength of the Irish challenge for this year’s £175,000 Classic with an impressive victory, as Irish-trained runners landing five of the nine first-round qualifiers over 500m.


Cronin landed a double courtesy of last year’s Shelbourne Gold Collar champion and Crossfield Will. Whoops Jack showed a cracking burst to early pace to soon have his rivals at full stretch before holding the eye-catching Greenwell Jean in heat six in 29.33sec (-20), while Tralee and Shelbourne winner Crossfield Will caught Black Zack in 29.56sec (-20) in heat nine.


“Both dogs ran well,” said Cronin, who has gone close to English Derby with the likes of Crokers Champ and Tynwald Bish. “Both will improve and Jack, especially. He’s only had one sprint trial in three weeks, but he’s got this electric burst of early pace and is a natural break and early pacer from the outside, so hopefully the draw is kind to us from here on in.”


Cronin’s compatriot Pat Buckley, another Irish trainer to have gone close to English Derby glory in recent years with Droopys Roddick and Mind The Net, sent out littermates Borna Gin and Scottish Derby third Borna Account to win heats four and five in 29.36ec (-20) and 29.38sec (-20) respectively to kick-start Buckley’s campaign. He has a powerful team this year.


The Graham Holland-trained Lenson Blinder (29.49sec -20), another Irish-based winner, made a winning debut for new owner Len Ponder in heat three as he caught long-time leader Bubbly Turbo close home, while Carol Weatherall’s quietly-fancied Calico Brandy hit the front down the back straight to win in 29.56sec (-20).


The night had started with Mark Fenwick’s 25-1 outsider Foxwood Boom landing a surprise but deserved victory in heat one as he led early to win in 29.74sec (-20), while there was another shock in heat two with the elimination of Droopys Expert, the All England Cup champion crowded out of contention behind the Dean Childs-trained Droopys Giorgio (29.84sec).


However, race of the night was undoubtedly heat eight where unbeaten Monmore Puppy Derby champion Rising Brandy came through a terrific buckle with Dorotas Wildcat to claim gold in a race where Scottish Derby runner-up Dropzone bowed out, the Matt Dartnall-trained winner winning by a length in 29.51sec.


Winning trainer Dartnall said: “That was a great race and a good performance, but he had to produce something like that to win - it was a hot heat. It was also great to watch for everyone I’m sure. Look, he done us proud again. He’s a young dog with lots of ability and is gaining experience with every run. It’s great to be involved in the second round, that’s all that matters at this stage.”


Mick Livesey, head of greyhound racing operations at Towcester, said: “That buckle between Rising Brandy and Dorotas Wildcat said everything about the Derby - and the sort of quality this great race provides us. We had a good crowd here on what isn’t a racenight for us generally, and they roared the winners on. It was a fantastic atmosphere and a great way to start the event.


“The Irish make this event, and there were plenty of smiles from our visitors. But I thought the home side did pretty well - of course our own trainers like Kevin Hutton and Matt Dartnall, but I think Rab and Liz will be happy enough with their Greyhound of the Year, King Elvis, who ran a great race before being picked up late by Lenson Blinder, who’s run a blinder for Lennie [Ponder]!”