Raffa in driving seat in Laurels

Following his semi-final victory and a favourable draw 2014 Consolation winner Midtown Raffa will likely head the market for next weekend’s final of the Irish Laurels at Curraheen Park.

Raffa in driving seat in Laurels

Drawn in a heat with little early speed, the classy sort broke well and had far too much early dash for his rivals.

The Mossy O’Connor-trained 6-4 favourite had opened up an advantage of some five lengths before straightening up down the back, but Drive On Royal broke better than ever and did well to hold second position against the early challenge of Skywalker Echo.

The leader maintained a strong gallop but Drive On Royal is a powerhouse over this trip and she made relentless progress in the closing stages. In a hectic dash to the line, the favourite was all out to hold on by a head, in 28.38, with Skywalker Echo back in third.

The second semi-final was less dramatic, as Knocktoo Garry continued his unbeaten run through the stake with another trap-to-line victory for trainer Neilus O’Connell.

Owned by Nora O’Connell, Ballysheedy, the 7-2 chance, whose early dash has been a feature of this stake, popped out in front once more. He saw off the back-straight challenge of Coran Sky before staying on well to beat Burgess Rumble by a length and a half, in 28.68, with Mimis Ace overcoming a troubled passage to take third spot.

Postman Don, trained by Kieran Lynch for the Rebel Postmen Syndicate, Dublin Hill, bounced back to form with an impressive all-the-way victory in the opener. Seeking a 13th success, he broke well, led down the centre, and moved clear around the opening bends. Dunbullogue Skip stayed on nicely, but the leader proved three lengths too good, in 29.90 (550).

Race two was the first of three semi-finals of the Jerry Hennerty Memorial and Droopys Ecstasy made an impressive winning debut with a trap-to-line effort. Trained by Johnny Linehan for Patsy Burke, Watergrasshill, the June pup led Coolavanny Star to the first turn, and looked in command throughout as he raced to a three-and-a-half-length victory over that rival, in 28.86.

Glenanore Ace, a half-brother to former Laurels finalist Glenanore Dancer, also looked a bright prospect when taking the second semi-final. A nice turn of foot had the Tom O’Neill-trained June pup in front approaching the turn and he moved some four clear down the back. The always-second Droopys Essex finished with a flourish, but the leader held on by a length, in 29.03.

Lemon Oscar posted the fastest time of the round in the third semi-final. The Pauline Lennon, Kilkenny, owned March ’13 whelp quickened up impressively to lead the fast-starting Barnfield Panda into the turn. He then moved into a commanding position, and did enough to hold Huggies Eoin by three parts of a length, in 28.81.

In race five Droopys Strand got up in the dying strides to complete an early double for trainer Johnny Linehan. Whatasetup led around but the winner, owned by Patrick Burke, Waterford, tracked cleverly to turn in second place, some three lengths back. Railing tightly, he challenged along the inside from the last turn, and got up late to win by half a length, in 29.01.

Race six was quite messy, with plenty of trouble at the first turn, but Starcash Annie must be credited for making the most of her inside line to score comfortably. Timothy Field’s bitch was first to rise, and slipped clear as trouble befell her rivals. A proverbial mile clear down the back, she raced to a five-length victory over Dermo Napper, in 28.78.

Gaytime Hawk came from behind to win the William Hill English Derby Trial Stake for trainer Graham Holland and owner Deirdre O’Connell, Blarney. Quietly had to work hard to clear Burgess Four early, but did so at the first turn. He stretched some three clear but Gaytime Hawk moved into second place shortly afterwards, and ran on well to lead early in the home straight for a two-and-a-half-length victory from Ardfert Tee Jay, in 28.41.

Race ten was the first semi-final of the Two Wheel Training A1 525 and Lemon Miley bounced right back to his best with a smooth success for Murt Leahy and owner Pat Scully, Portlaoise. Timing his break right this time, he had too much early dash for his rivals and that sealed the deal as he made all for a four-length victory over Obvious, in 28.29.

Lefanta Sky completed a double for trainer Tom O’Neill when leading all the way in the second semi-final. Owned by John Geoghegan, Cappoquin, he had the pace to hold his inside line against the early challenge of Knocktoo Kingo, and stayed on stoutly to beat Bartlemy King by two lengths, in 28.75.

Trap draw for Laurels final: 1. Skywalker Echo, 2. Midtown Raffa, 3. Knocktoo Garry, 4. Drive On Royal, 5. Burgess Rumble, 6. Mimis Ace.

* Saturday’s card at Shelbourne Park was called off after race three. Rain fell heavily throughout the day, causing a delay to the start of proceedings. When racing did go ahead, three races were run, with the first deemed 80 spots slow, and the next two 1.3 seconds slow. Thereafter the decision was made to abandon the remainder of the card, which was due to feature the second round of the Puppy Oaks which will now be run on Wednesday night

* Laughil Blake, owned by Mary and Paul Jennings, was the big winner in Saturday night’s Irish Greyhound Board annual awards at Curraheen Park, the Michael O’Donovan-trained Derby and Night of Stars winner picking up the Dog of the Year and Supreme Greyhound of the Year awards. His dam, Laughil Lass, who was also responsible for Derby Plate winner Laughil Bolt, topped the poll for leading brood bitch, while Oaks heroine Velvet All Jam, trained by Mike Buckley, was awarded the accolade of leading bitch in 2014.

The newcomer award went to the Pat Buckley-trained, Lenny Ponder-owned Lenson Sanchez, while the ultra-consistent Sidarian Lisa, in the care of Graham Holland, was the leading stayer, and the Peter Cronin-trained Crokers Champ the top sprinter. Kinloch Brae was named stud dog of the year.

Jerry Melia and Noel Mullins were both inducted into the Hall of Fame, while Pat O’Donovan received the Special Merit Award.

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