Skywalker Puma swoops to conquer in Derby thriller

Skywalker Puma joined some of the greats of Irish greyhound racing at Shelbourne Park on Saturday night as he raced to a magnificent success in the final of the Ladbrokes Irish Derby.

The race provided one of the greatest finishes in the history of the event with Skywalker Puma cruelly denying Cuil Cougar in the dying strides.

The manner of victory highlighted the strengths of Skywalker Puma, who was at his very best on the night that mattered as he claimed a fourth Derby success for Matt and Frances O’Donnell.

Displaying immense power and tremendous track craft Skywalker Puma was a deserving winner of the €120,000 contest. It was a display that belied his relative youth.

Cuil Cougar, as expected, came away racing to dictate the pace to the corner, closely pursued by Coolykereen Imp. More importantly Tyrur Sugar Ray missed the kick, allowing Skywalker Puma room to move slightly wider from trap two.

Despite taking a bump at traps, Skywalker Puma was in a good position at the bend, disputing third place with Razldazl George. Camas and Tyrur Sugar Ray came next, but already they seemed out of the contest.

Perhaps the most decisive point of the race came in the next couple of seconds as the runners entered the back straight. After moving third on the turn from Skywalker Puma, Razldazl George seemed to take a false step on the second bend and lost momentum briefly.

Suddenly Skywalker Puma shot into third spot and,

displaying all his awesome back straight pace, he Puma stalked the leaders at halfway before closing the gap to the third bend. At this stage he moved past Coolyekeern Imp to go second.

Each stride saw Skywalker Puma close the gap on the leader. Cuil Cougar was displaying great courage out in front, but Skywalker Puma was simply too strong. Despite racing wide into the home straight, Puma had the momentum.

The pair were wide apart on the track as they raced to the line. The superior strength of Skywalker Puma was beginning to show however and he joined Cuil Cougar under the shadow of the post.

In a desperate finish Skywalker Puma prevailed by a neck, posting a career best 29.39 in the process. The brave Cuil Cougar ran the race of his life, but the line simply didn’t come in time.

Three and a half lengths back in third was his kennel companion and defending champion Razldazl George.

A delighted winning owner, Ray Patterson, was on hand to accept the trophy from Minister Shane McEntee and Jackie Murphy of Ladbrokes. “It’s a dream come true. I won the Oaks here with Skywalker Queen and she finished second the following year but I always wanted to win this Derby,” said Patterson. “He ran brilliantly and I can’t thank Matt and Frances (O’Donnell) enough for the way they have handled my dogs.

“I suppose I’ve dreamed of this moment since Skywalker Magic ran third to Razldazl Billy in the 2006 Derby here. I’ve now turned 60, but it’s always been in my blood, my dad was a trainer at Brough Park, and this is magical.”

Winning handler Frances O’Donnell was clearly overjoyed also. “That’s the fifth Derby between us. After winning the stake in Kilkenny in June, this became the target. We have no plan in mind as yet as to what next. Ray has been with us for years, 20 years I’d say, he’s such a fantastic and understanding owner.

“It’s seems a lifetime ago since Dolores and myself were with our dad at Harold’s Cross, but it taught us everything, and of course now with Matt, that’s proved a fantastic partnership. We didn’t have any problems with him, the dog has been joy.”

Typically Matt O’Donnell wasn’t shy of a word either, although he was far from surprised by the victory. “That was brilliant, absolutely brilliant. Four months ago I told people this was a Derby dog and I knew all the way through that whatever beat him would win the Derby.

“Puma’s got a head, a true racing brain, can run outside and inside, he’s something special.”

Of course there is a bit of a story behind the greyhound, who was purchased by Brendan O’Neill on behalf of Ray Patterson from Kerry based breeder Paddy Purtill. O’Neill had originally bought a brother to Skywalker Puma, but changed his mind and swapped him for the future Derby winner. It was clearly an inspired choice.

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