Bringing forward Derby could be the answer

Just seven months after Vimmerby was crowned Laurels champ of 2014, there’ll be a new name on the trophy on Saturday night.

The decision, one assumes, to move the classic to this time of year was intended to open up the calendar at the other end of the year, so there would be a break between the Derby, at Shelbourne, and the Leger, in Limerick.

I suspect that may well materialise as a reasonably positive move for the Leger, which has struggled to attract a depth of talent in recent years.

However, such a decision has not been well received by many in Curraheen, and the struggle to fill the Laurels this time, and the overall quality in the first-round entry was certainly disappointing.

It was also somewhat predictable, given the alternatives available to the speedy types to which this track is tailored.

The silver lining, of course, is that there is plenty of local representation in the final, and that, in itself, should ensure a strong attendance and a great atmosphere.

Cork Greyhound Owners and Breeders Association has been vocal in its opposition to the move to April/May from the outset and its secretary Seán Hickey was in touch this past week, wishing to have its voice heard once more.

A strongly worded letter from the association included: “Cork GOBA would like to highlight the complete dissatisfaction and anger within the Cork greyhound community at the changing of the Laurels from its normal slot in September to April. This change was done without any consultation with Cork Owners and Breeders.

“The Laurels cannot compete in attracting the top greyhounds in Ireland when there is a carrot of £250,000 being offered to the winner of the English Derby, which commences in May.

“Along with the English Derby there are three other 525 Classics to be run in a six-week period from early April to the end of May — the Laurels, the Produce Stakes in Clonmel, and the Oaks in Shelbourne.

“It has been highlighted to the IGB that this change to the racing calendar would not work as can be seen by the extremely poor level of entry and overall calibre of greyhound in the Laurels which is currently running.

“Attendances have also been down and one would not know that there was a Classic being run compared to the superb sponsorship and enthusiasm shown over the last three years by the previous sponsor.

“Cork GOBA highlighted the above along with other issues during a peaceful protest on Laurels final night, October 18, last year, to Minister Coveney, Junior Minister Hayes and IGB Chairman Mr Meaney, who gave assurances the change was being made for the right reasons and said they would take on board our members’ comments, but it has clearly fallen on deaf ears.

“Cork GOBA also wishes to highlight the complete lack of respect and interest shown by the IGB and the relevant Ministers to our organisation in Cork, in that we have sent correspondence on numerous occasions, highlighting issues, without even being given the courtesy of a reply.

“Cork GOBA would like the Laurels returned to its original date in the racing calendar or alternatively to a more appropriate one that does not clash with any other major competitions to ensure in attracting the top-performing dogs in the country and restore its value as one of the top Classics in Ireland.

“We would ask the Ministers to step in and take the appropriate action.”

There’s a difficulty in arguing with many of the points raised. As I was assured when I spoke with Mr Hickey, there is no intention to run down or denigrate the achievements of any of the six finalists who have earned their right to race for the €30,000 winner’s prize this weekend.

The bigger picture is what is firmly in focus, and the overall impact on the stake and the track itself.

As said, the Leger will be the main beneficiary when the time comes for the Limerick classic, but there are few in Cork who believe this move has been a success.

A return to the previous dates, in October, may be a solution, but there are other possibilities — none of which include a clash with the English Derby.

The first half of the year at Curraheen has, in general, been very good, with a sequence of open stakes. However, when the Barry’s Tea comes to a conclusion in the middle of next month, that’ll almost be that for the year. There is a huge void in the calendar for the second half of 2015.

Last week, at Punchestown, I spoke with a group of well-informed greyhound racing personalities who believed the Derby could be brought forward a few weeks to allow the Laurels slot in a little more easily between the Derby and the Leger.

That would seem to make plenty of sense. Perhaps it could be a consideration as the future of the Laurels is decided in the coming months.

ENTRIES ACCEPTED FOR YOUGHAL

At Youghal track, manager Johnny McGrath is now accepting entries for the Droopys Stud Champion Stakes A1/A2 525, which has a winner’s prize of €2,500. The race commences tomorrow week, Friday May 15, with the final to be held on the Bank Holiday Monday, June 1.

The two semi-finals of the Lee Strand feature on tomorrow night’s card at Tralee, which is also a fundraiser for Currow GAA. Saturday night’s meeting is a fundraiser for Lixnaw’s Mike Shanahan, and there will be 12 sponsored races. There will also be auctions of a service to Ballymac Vic, Adios Alonso, and a bitch pup out of Madtogoagain, who was the dam of Coursing Derby winner Feel The Pulse.

The Barry’s Tea Open 750 will be hot on the heels of this weekend’s final of the Laurels at Curraheen. First round heats of the €4,500-to-the-winner stake take place on Saturday fortnight, May 23.

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