By trainer Paul Hennessy’s own admission, Priceless Sky is not very well known on the Open Race circuit but heading into Saturday night’s semi-finals of the Kerry Agribusiness St Leger, he’s vying for outright favouritism with Derby winner Skywalker Puma and former Puppy Derby winner Sparta Maestro.
He has been one of the revelations of the competition and his 29.44 victory in last weekend’s quarter-finals sets the standard.
But his apparent rise from obscurity is not so much down to a sudden improvement in form, rather a result of the recent resurgence of Kilkenny track.
The Gowran handler tends to start off his greyhounds at his local circuit and such has been the success of the schedule at Kilkenny, reasons to travel further afield have been few and far between.
“Under Tom Kinane, Kilkenny has returned to something like it was in my childhood when Jimmy Kinahan was manager,” said Hennessy. “The betting ring is very strong, the racing very competitive and we’ve got some great competitions.
“In just his fourth race, Priceless Sky won a race there in 28.97. We thought he’d be an ideal dog for the Red Mills Champion Juvenile, which was introduced this year as a mid-season competition for puppys. It was a red-hot stake and he went all the way to the final.
“He finished third behind Skywalker Puma, who, we know, went on to land the Derby. Allen Master, who finished fourth, was a finalist in the Laurels, while our Liveanddangerous was fifth and he went to the semi-finals in Cork.
“The standard of the race was a terrific boost for the sponsors, Red Mills, and also, obviously, for the track itself.”
Priceless Sky went on to run-up the Langton House Hotel Derby at the track before “cutting loose” in two rounds of a valuable stake around Thurles. Connections forfeited the chance to continue in that stake for a tilt at Classic glory in Limerick and, at this stage, it looks like their decision has been vindicated.
“He isn’t the best of trappers but he has brilliant acceleration to the bend,” added Hennessy. “He’s running out of his skin at the moment but we’re not taking anything for granted as the other dogs have more experience at the top level.
“We’re just keeping our fingers crossed that his run will continue for another couple of weeks.”
Track regulars who travel to Clonmel-Kilsheelan Coursing Club’s meeting this weekend will recognise the name of Barefoot Allstar when he goes to slips for his first course. Trained by Hennessy, he landed some hefty bets on Laurels final night at Curraheen Park in 2011 and went on to win the Scottish Derby earlier this year.
But the brilliant early pacer hasn’t enjoyed a lot of luck since his Shawfield success and his trainer is using this exercise as an opportunity to freshen him up.
“Bryan and Kathleen (Murphy) are sporting owners and they agreed that the best way to freshen him up was by running him in a competition up the field,” said Hennessy. “We thought the change of scenery might be a little treat for him.
“We did it with Barefoot Bullet as a young dog and he went on to contest two English Derby finals and an Irish Derby final.
“I also remember that Arthur McLaughlin ran Mr Pickwick in a Surplus Eight in Donegal before he gave him to me, and he went on to contest three Laurels finals, winning two of them, and also won an Easter Cup.
“The plan is to run Barefoot Allstar in a couple of courses and then leave him off with the intention of bringing him back for next year’s English Derby.”
The English and Irish Laurels winners could be on a collision course after trainer Barrie Draper revealed his desire to run Tuesday night’s Belle Vue Laurels winner Farloe Warhawk at Shelbourne Park on the Night of Stars.
As a winner of the Red Mills Irish Laurels, Martin Murphy’s Knockglass Billy is guaranteed a place on the card and he and the English raider could provide a real clash of the early-pacers in the 525.
Both dogs were winners at Shelbourne Park on Derby final night, Knockglass Billy seeing off all-aged company in 28.41, while Farloe Warhawk skipped clear of a field of pups to win in 28.23.
Youghal track begins the countdown to one of its biggest nights of the year when the Rising Unraced Stake and the Red Mills Southern Sprint get underway at the track tomorrow.
The Unraced Stake unearthed one of the real stars of recent years when Rising Hawk, then owned by sponsor Damien Fleming, won the 2010 running. Under his new name, Taylors Sky, he went on to win the 2011 English Derby, the Ladbrokes Gold Cup, Henlow Derby and was a finalist in English Derby in 2012.
There can be no promise that such a superstar will emerge over the next three Friday nights but perhaps the most interesting entrant is Taylors Sky’s half-brother, Rising Brave, who makes his debut for Fleming in tomorrow night’s third heat.
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