GREYHOUND DERBY: Towcester is ready for its big Derby day
Overpriced lukewarm hot dogs; slabs of rock salmon and perhaps the odd jellied eel tossed in...
Since 1927 when Entry Badge won the inaugural running of the Greyhound Derby at White City, greyhound racing has neither pitched its base nor pinnacle on a fine dining experience, but Towcester now offers a commendable choice.
Racecourse MD Kevin Ackerman can quite rightly reflect with pride and satisfaction as the clock winds down to Saturday night’s Derby final, the first to be staged outside London after a tradition brought up at White City and Wimbledon, while Haringey staged a solitary showpiece during the war in 1940.
Whatever your given take on greyhound racing, the Towcester achievement is astonishing.
Barely two and a half years after its floodlights first switched on and swathes of green light filtered across the county on a sharp December Saturday night, punters will head to south Northamptonshire in droves from all over the country and Ireland to support the 500m event which has hauled the sport up from the pits.
Top of the hierarchy? Maybe that should read ‘hare-archy but we know what we mean.
In the early days of the enterprise Ackerman ambitiously labelled the racecourse ‘The Royal Ascot’ of the greyhound world yet after a relatively short spell it has become Wembley, Twickenham and Lord’s rolled into one.
Racecourse owner Lord Hesketh and Northampton girl and Radio One DJ Jo Whiley are among those who will descend to see whether favourite Clares Rocket can justify the hype or whether other market leaders Tyrur Shay and Hiya Butt can overhaul Graham Holland’s Irish trained star which is unbeaten in all five starts in the competition.
Tyrur Shay will again emerge from trap five, as he did last Saturday.
Long shots are not unprecedented in the Derby final and happen close to home.
Three years ago Bruno Berwick sent Salad Dodger from his Little Harrowden kennels to clinch a 14/1 success at Wimbledon (although he had been backed at 500/1) and in the modern age 25/1 winners have included Kinda Ready (2009), Tartan Khan (1975) and Duleek Dandy (1960).
So there is hope for the others, namely: Droopys Acrobat, Astute Missile and Murrys Act.
Although connections of Clares Rocket know he will burst from trap three on Saturday in a draw made in the immediate aftermath of Saturday’s semi-final, nobody is taking anything for granted, especially as third favourite Hiya Butt will again spring from trap one to try to deliver another pillar to post success, with Droopys Acrobat sandwiched in between.
It is an attitude shared by Ackerman surveying the overall picture of greyhound racing at Towcester.
He said: “There is a lot of hard work still to be done, but our team at Towcester has been tremendous.
“Once you believe in something and move on towards the right result, all the hard work seems to be worthwhile.”
Ackerman’s partnership with Lord Hesketh in delivering the Greyhound Derby at Towcester’s door after the closure of Wimbledon in March did not stem from an historic love affair with the sport.
He recalled: “I was at a greyhound fixture on a night out about seven years ago with a group of golfing mates and without naming names, the service and quality was of a poor standard.
“The food was average at best while the waitress was more interested in texting her boyfriend.
“I thought this was a service which could be improved at Towcester.”
Ackerman added: “One of the real differences with greyhound racing is that everyone predominantly buys into a dog with the dream of winning the Greyhound Derby.
“Of course you are also working on a smaller budget. In horse racing there is a greater variety of targets.”
Sponsor Star Sports has been a big backer of the event and the niche market bookmaker has an MD in Ben Keith who is fully hands-on, flying in by helicopter last week with ITV Racing pundit Matt Chapman from Royal Ascot.
Derby night action starts at 6.30pm on Saturday with a full supporting card including the Plate, for which Kevin Hutton’s Dorotas Wildcat will be a warm order after overcoming a slow start to score last weekend.