It has been reported the unveiling of a new sponsor for the Laurels is imminent, and the incoming backer has signed an initial one-year deal.
The stake, run under the banner of Red Mills for three years until their deal finished in 2014, has a new slot in the calendar and will get underway with first-round heats as soon as April 11. The final will take place on Saturday, May 9.
The Irish Greyhound Board’s annual awards will take place at Curraheen Park on Laurels semi-final night. It’s a great idea to have the ceremony at an IGB track, particularly so now the catering is run by the board and, thus, all profits will go back to the industry.
I’m a little surprised, however, the decision has been made to make it black-tie affair, as I’m not sure that paints the right picture in current circumstances. It seems almost detached from what is happening on the ground.
You can argue that sometimes it’s good to step out of the norm and make a special effort for something which is quite important within the industry. But, at the same time, it puts it beyond the reach of many followers who may have liked to have taken the opportunity to attend, given the location and the convenience.
Given what will be on offer, tickets are reasonably priced at €50, but the added cost of black-tie dress is hardly within the bounds of those people for whom one of the biggest concerns right now is whether or not third place prize money will still exist in a couple of months time.
It may have been somewhat more palatable in better times and may again be in the future, but, right now, I’m listening to many people who are finding it hard to swallow.
On the racing front, the quality of greyhound the Laurels will attract is somewhat uncertain but it’s hard to deny it’s been a very bright start to the year in Cork.
That continues with the Hennerty Sales Cork Oaks which attracted good field for last weekend’s first round. Most of the higher-class bitches survived first cull, making for strong quarter-finals on Saturday night.
A number of bookmaking firms have priced up the competition and, purely on value grounds, last year’s runner-up, Cloon Glory, proved irresistible at 20-1.
There’s plenty of Cork interest in this weekend’s final of the Dandelion Bar and Nightclub Easter Cup at Shelbourne Park, with Coran Sky and Gaytime Hawk still in the mix for the €25,000 winner’s prize.
Both greyhounds are trained by Graham Holland, who has brought plenty of success to his Cork owners in the past, with Laurels winners Sevenheads Bay and Knockglass Billy, and former national record holder Leeview Jet immediately springing to mind.
Coran Sky, owned by Paddy Crowley, Fermoy, began his career in Youghal, making a winning debut in 29.47. He has been a great servant ever since, winning 14 of his 27 races, including last weekend’s semi-final.
He’s bred to be competitive in classics, being out of Rising Lyric, who is a litter sister to former English Derby winner Taylors Sky. The latter also began his career at the East Cork track, being one of very few to break 29.00 on debut. Both were bred by Youghal supporters Damian and Noel Fleming.
Gaytime Hawk is owned by Deirdre O’Connell, Blarney, and began his racing life at Tralee, but gained his first success, on his third career outing, in Curraheen, winning in 28.63 and following up with a 28.43 victory a week later.
He was behind Coran Sky last time, but prior to this stake posted a brilliant 28.29 over 525 yards at Shelbourne.
With a number of surprise exits in the last couple of rounds, it’s an open-looking final, though Slippery Fred and Sidarian Blaze top the market.
Over in Limerick, it’s quarter-final time in the Kirby Memorial, for which the unbeaten Droopys Braedon, from the kennels of Robert Gleeson, is outright favourite.
The Red Mills Unraced Bitch Stake at Newbridge has attracted a very strong field once more and, despite there being two rounds remaining, the immensely promising Droopys Streak is already odds-on favourite.
Fraser Black’s bitch recorded a stunning 28.28 last weekend, from what could have been a very tricky draw on the wide outside. The October pup is out of a lightly raced, unbeaten litter sister to Droopys Jet and has clearly inherited all her relations’ talent.
Pre-competition there were also positive mentions of Badminton Maid and David McGrath’s bitch has been backed into second favourite, at 13-2. Out of Kildallon Maid, she’s related to numerous winners, including Royal Diva. Although a July ’13 pup, in taking her second round heat, she became the eighth member of her litter to win a race. These unraced bitch stake really do attract top quality.