There are fewer entries than anticipated, but the quality is as one would expect for this Classic and the winner’s purse remains a hugely impressive €30,000. Add to that a bonus of €2,500 for the bitch which goes furthest in the competition and you have a very exciting first year’s sponsorship for Red Mills.
With 48 greyhounds advancing to the second round, the first four home in each heat will automatically qualify, as will the four fastest fifth-placed greyhounds.
The Dolores Ruth-trained Cuil Cougar, cruelly robbed of victory in the final of the Irish Derby by the tremendous late effort of Skywalker Puma, heads the list of 66 entries and his recent 28.15 solo spin suggests compensation may not be very far away.
He’ll be joined by kennel companion Razldazl Rioga, owned by Micheal O’Muircheartaigh, who will be bidding for back-to-back victories.
Liam Dowling’s Ballymac Vic was favourite for the Derby at the time of his exit at the quarter-final stage but he was an impressive winner at Shelbourne on Derby final night, and his 28.33 prep run offers distinct hope of a sustained challenge for compensation.
The quality runs deep, as explained by racing manager Brian Collins: “It’s a sign of the times that the numbers are lower than in previous years but, nevertheless, it’s a very high-class renewal of the competition and we’re delighted with that.
“You have the Derby runner-up Cuil Cougar, his kennel companion and reigning champion Razldazl Rioga, Scottish Derby winner Barefoot Allstar, Produce Stakes winner Power Of God, Cox Cup winner Quali Hollow, Munster Derby winner Shaneboy Spencer, Derby semi-finalists Newlawn Tock and Killbarry Rover, Irish Sprint Cup winner Cambushmore, Macroom Motor Services Stake winner Cashen Mafuma, as well as Camas Crash, Ballymac Vic, Confident Rankin and Knockglass Billy to name but some of the top-class greyhounds.
“They’ll all be in action on Saturday — you couldn’t ask for more than that. It’s going to be pretty special night and we’re expecting a big crowd. Saturday is the start of what will be a very exciting month.”
Curraheen commercial manager Frank O’Meara added: “This is my first time here for the Laurels and I can feel the excitement building. There has been a real buzz about the place for some time now and we just can’t wait to get going.
“We’re extremely grateful to Connolly’s Red Mills for their sponsorship of this prestigious stake and we look forward to working with them over the next three years. It’s a great commitment from a company that has always been proactive in its sponsorship in this industry and I’m sure we will enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship.”
Michael Phelan, representing the sponsors, is also excited to be part of what remains one of the country’s most prestigious competitions of the year: “We’re delighted to be involved in the Laurels. Status-wise it’s the second biggest race on the greyhound racing calendar — it’s the Derby of the south — and Connolly’s Red Mills are keen to be involved with the best.
“We’re an Irish family-owned company and we’re always eager to give something back. That’s why we sponsored the Champion Stakes a couple of weeks ago at Leopardstown and now we’re heading to Cork for the big event down here.
“It’s going to be a great few weeks and we’re proud to be a part of it.”