Vans Viking leaves it late before asserting authority

The semi-finals of the Connolly’s Red Mills Irish Laurels attracted a large crowd to Curraheen Park on Saturday night, and all who attended were treated to superb heats, in each of which the three qualifiers were covered by less than a length.

Vans Viking leaves it late before asserting authority

The Graham Holland-trained Vans Viking was a well-backed 2-1 chance in the first semi-final, but gave his supporters palpitations by leaving it late to assert his superiority.

Champagne Jackie is a bitch with a fantastic turn of pace to the bend, and she used that ability to lead around, with former Juvenile Classic winner Farloe Calvin in chase. The early leader held sway all the way to the homestraight, at which point she was challenged on both sides.

Farloe Calvin charted his move along the rails but the Ann-Charlotte Ernlund, Sweden, owned Vans Viking was also in full stride and with a powerful surge along the outside, he got up late to earn a half-length victory over Farloe Calvin, in 28.38, with Champagne Jackie a short head away in third.

Although second favourite, Vimmerby was very well supported in the second semi-final and the Johnny Kavanagh-trained, John Somers, New Ross, owned runner also obliged - but only just.

The 7-4 chance didn't break as well as we've become accustomed but ran a really determined dog to get through a wall of greyhounds and into second place behind Nellies Flyer at the first turn.

With a fine turn of pace, he then took over and moved a length clear down the back. He edged further ahead around the final bends, but the brilliantly consistent Nellies Flyer was not done and battled back determinedly to force a photo finish.

The consensus was that her late lunge had reaped reward but the photo showed Vimmerby to have held on by the most slender of margins, in 28.44.

Outright favourite Sidarian Blaze caught the eye with his backstraight pace but was short of room at the third turn. He stayed on well to claim the last place in the €30,000-to-the-winner decider.

The other feature on the card was the final of the Richard 'Dixie' Neenan Memorial A3 525 and Follow Us, owned by Cliona Murphy, Rathcormac, made all for a wide-margin victory over litter brother Barnfield Jet.

The October '12 son of Scolari Me Daddy and Spade Hawk led early and pulled away for a stylish eight-length victory from his sibling, in 28.84.

Three semi-finals of the Droopys Stud A2 575 opened proceedings and Rushmoor Derry went fastest, taking the first of them in 31.16 for trainer Liam O'Callaghan and the Rushmoor Syndicate, Rusheen.

Tyford Tip, who won the Laurels Consolation in 2013, made virtually all to take the second semi-final for Anthony Dwyer and the Back Of The Bus Syndicate, winning readily in 31.40.

Chloes Gina made every yard to take the third semi-final for trainer John Duggan and owners Brendan O'Callaghan and Rose Elphick, recording 31.26.

In the first semi-final of the Irish & European A1 525, the Johnny Linehan-trained and Mary O's Bar Syndicate, Ballincollig, owned Millroad Air made up for his narrow first-round defeat by making virtually all the running. The 4-1 chance held his position to the turn, and withstood the late move of Drive On Vick by a length, in 28.54.

Hooverville was the first leg of the Graham Holland double when making all to take the second semi-final for owners Graham Ashe and Shaun Gresham, Sussex. Two runners tumbled out of contention at the first bend, and the winner, who was in front at the time, raced away to a three-length victory over Super Soprano, in 28.59.

The semi-finals of the Connolly's Red Mills Bitch A2 525 bookended the Laurels semi-finals, and trainer Tom O'Neill was successful in both, winning with Tyrur Maxi and Blackwater Spark.

The former, a litter sister to Champion Stakes runner-up Tyrur Nathan, led early and pulled away to win by four lengths, from Berudenotto, in 28.92.

Blackwater Spark, owned by Jim Ahern, Ballyhooly, posted the same time when leading late to beat long-time leader, Slipping Top, by three parts of a length, in 28.92.

With all six greyhounds capable of times very close to 28.00 seconds, the Laurels final is wide open, but bookmakers have put in Sidarian Blaze the favourite following his unlucky defeat in the semi-finals.

On first inspection, the scene would seem to be set for Farloe Calvin to make a bold bid from what is an ideal draw along the rails. Owen McKenna's dog wasn't right when contesting the Laurels in 2013, but is back close to his best now. Odds of 5-1 seem very generous, and are unlikely to be available on track on the night.

Darragh Morrissey, who trains Champagne Jackie, has had a great year with his Curraheen raids, winning the Barry's Tea 750 with the record-breaking Woe Katie, and adding the Greyhound & Pet World A1 525 with Graigues Kaino. He respects but doesn't fear any of his rivals.

"I don't know if I'll be welcome down here much more if she wins, but I haven't worn the Kilkenny jersey yet, so I think I'm okay," he joked. "She'll be wearing it next week, though," he added, alluding to the orange jacket which his bitch will don in the final.

Local representation rests with another bitch, Nellies Flyer, who is trained by John Kiely, near Mount Uniacke, owned by Mick O'Driscoll of Killeagh, and bred by Tadgh O'Loughlin.

She's been a terrific servant to connections, reaching seven finals, including the Munster Oaks, the Puppy Oaks at Harold's Cross, the Cork Oaks, and the Guinness Trophy, also at Curraheen, in which she was beaten just a short head.

Her owner has a busy week ahead, which he's grateful for as it will help him keep his mind off the final.

"I'm delighted to have a finalist, and she's not out of it," said O'Driscoll. "This is her seventh final and, apart from her first one, in Youghal, she hasn't had much luck in them. But she's a great bitch, she has her draw in trap six, and if she could produce her best break and get around in front, you never know what could happen. It's just a thrill to be there."

Graham Holland has two chances of winning his third Laurels since 2009, having previously been successful with Sevenheads Bay and Knockglass Billy. Sidarian Blaze is outright favourite, while Juvenile Classic winner Vans Viking posted the fastest time of the competition to date with his 28.01 run in the second round.

Johnny Kavanagh's Vimmerby is unbeaten in the stake, and showed his versatility with a really determined display off a missed break on Saturday night. Off-course bookmakers make him no bigger than 7-2, though he was available at 11-2 on track, post-racing on Saturday.

Laurels final trap draw and best prices: 1. Farloe Calvin (5-1), 2. Sidarian Blaze (15-8), 3. Vans Viking (11-4), 4. Vimmerby (7-2), 5. Champagne Jackie (14-1), 6. Nellies Flyer (w, 20-1).

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