Greyhound Racing: Roar power and quality to give the dogs a good name: Greg Wood on the build-up to a canine contest that will last less than 29 seconds

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The Independent Online
THEY will gather in their thousands at Wimbledon on Saturday to acclaim a new hero, but the focus of the attention will not be a tennis prodigy with a grunt and an attitude problem. The real star of South London this weekend will be blessed with unshakeable composure, lightning reflexes and blinding speed. He will also have a very wet nose.

The hero in question will be the winner of the Greyhound Derby final, the first dog home after perhaps the most concentrated burst of excitement and noise which any sport can offer. As the hare sets off towards the traps, the cheers and yells of an 8,000-strong full house at Wimbledon Stadium will swell into the deafening 'Derby roar', and this year the crescendo may be louder than ever. By common consent, Saturday's Derby final has a mixture of quality and unpredictability which could make it the best for years.

Yesterday's draw for trap positions gave the number one box to Up The Junction, the second-favourite with Ladbrokes at 11-4. Next to him is Moral Standards (11-4), followed by Flag The Fawn (14-1), Callahow Daly (20-1), Moaning Lad (7-2) and finally Ayr Flyer, the 2-1 favourite. 'You can't rule anything out,' Simon Harris, the track's racing manager, said yesterday. 'These six dogs have worked their way through the heats from an original entry of 196, so they wouldn't be there if they weren't very good.'

As with any greyhound race, a primary consideration for punters is which dog is likely to lead around the first bend. Most Derby winners are either ahead or in second place at the opening turn, and the most likely candidate for a quick start this year - hence his position as favourite - is Ayr Flyer, who likes to run wide and is thus almost guaranteed a clear path from trap six. 'He's got a marvellous chance,' Dawn Wheatley, his trainer, said yesterday. 'The Derby roar won't bother him, he's got the perfect temperament.'

Up The Junction is another with excellent speed from the traps, but has a tendency to drift right on the run to the turn which could interfere with the dogs outside him. In a sport where winning times are measured in 100ths of a second, a minor bump in the early stages can leave a runner in an impossible position.

One dog, however, cannot be ruled out, no matter how poor his run to the bend. Moral Standards has been undefeated in the qualifying heats despite coming from several lengths off the pace on each occasion. In Saturday's semi-final he was hampered at the first and third bends, but found astonishing acceleration off the final turn to beat Up The Junction by half a length.

It is the probability of a strong late run from Moral Standards which prompts most experts to predict a frantic finish to Saturday's race. Greyhounds are, after all, remarkably consistent given a clear run, generally running to within a few 'spots' (hundredths of a second) of their usual form. 'Among the graded dogs at the track who run over 460 metres, there's no more than a second between the average times of the best and worst,' Harris said. 'We time them all very carefully and we could hold an inquiry if a dog lost half a second, which in greyhound terms is a huge amount.'

On the subject of huge amounts, Grant Firmager, Up The Junction's owner, has backed his dog ante-post to win pounds 80,000. It is a great deal to have riding on just over 28 seconds of intense activity, but Firmager was talking a fine race yesterday. 'I reckon Ayr Flyer and Moaning Lad will hit each other on the first bend, we will lead up (to the turn) no problem, and Moral Standards won't pick us up like he did in the semi.'

It sounds easy. In the infectious, ear-splitting atmosphere of Wimbledon on Derby night, it will be anything but.

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