Greyhounds: Best is Derby top dog

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The Independent Online
THE WORLD CUP has comprehensively smothered most of the alternative sporting attractions this month, but dedicated punters should be aware that the coming weekend brings not one, but three different Derbys to compete for the betting pound.

The Irish Derby at the Curragh on Sunday, which gives City Honours a chance to reverse his narrow defeat by High-Rise in the original at Epsom, is an obvious highlight, but its claims might be disputed by the Geordie nation, which will be at Newcastle for the Northumberland Plate - the Pitmen's Derby. The biggest roar of all, however, will surely be at Wimbledon - the stadium, that is, not the Lawn Tennis club - as the hare trundles into life before the final of the Greyhound Derby.

The punters crammed into the Plough Lane grandstand can be sure that, whatever the result, the race they will witness will be almost unique in the history of the sport. Six traps will snap open at around 10.30 on Saturday night, but only five dogs will tear towards the first bend, thanks to an extraordinary incident in the second of last Saturday's semi- final heats.

Greenwood Flyer, the ante-post third favourite for the Derby, came off the final bend full of running and needed only to pass the leader, Tullerboy Cash, to win the heat and book a place in the final. As she did so, however, she turned her head and aimed a nip at Tullerboy Cash. The muzzles worn by all racing dogs ensured that she could do no serious damage, but her offence of "aggressive interference" was enough to guarantee disqualification from Saturday's final.

When a fourth-placed dog was promoted to the final in similar circumstances back in 1968, it ran out the winner, much to the annoyance of those who had backed the runner-up ante-post (indeed, by some accounts the White City stadium was almost demolished by furious punters long before the bulldozers finally moved in a few years ago). As a result, the rules of greyhound racing do not allow the fourth dog home in Saturday's heat to be promoted to the final, and the race will now have just five runners for the first time since 1975.

Fortunately for the competition, one of these is Toms The Best, who is one of those rarities in four-legged betting mediums, an animal who lives up to his name. Toms The Best won last year's Irish Derby, in the process ending the attempt by Some Picture to complete an unprecedented Triple Crown of the Scottish, English and Irish Derbys. Success on Saturday would place him among the legends of greyhound racing, and he is a firm favourite at around even money after a brilliant performance in the first semi-final.

Ascribing intelligence to dumb animals is a dangerous thing, but observers at Wimbledon could do little else. A slow start from trap five seemed to have left Toms The Best with an impossible task, and he was two lengths behind the fifth-placed dog at the first bend. From there, however, he seemed to find every scrap of space possible by heading for the inside rail - the aficionados call it "track craft" - and was on the heels of the leader at the third bend. He quickened again to run out a two-length winner.

A similar performance on Saturday will prompt scenes of wild celebration in the bars at Wimbledon (where they do not require much excuse to throw a party). With just four rivals to beat, Toms The Best is that much less likely to encounter traffic problems, although none of his opponents can be described as a rank outsider.

At the draw for trap positions yesterday, connections of all the runners seemed to get the boxes they wanted. Toms The Best, in four, has the vacant trap on his inside, while Tullerboy Cash is in one, although this is a trap which has never produced a Derby winner at Wimbledon. Jaspers Boy is the nearest rival to Toms The Best in the betting, and at the start, in five, and would take some stopping if Tuesdays Davy, in six, were to miss the break.

For most dog devotees, however, the only serious question is what will finish second.

GREYHOUND DERBY: (Wimbledon, Saturday): Trap 1: Tullerboy Cash; Trap 2: Honour And Glory; Trap 3: vacant; Trap 4: Toms The Best; Trap 5: Jaspers Boy; Trap 6: Tuesdays Davy. Ladbrokes: 4-5 Toms The Best, 100-30 Jaspers Boy, 6-1 Tuesdays Davy, Honour And Glory, 10-1 Tullerboy Cash.