Greyhounds: King to rule on dog day evening

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IT WAS billed the dog race of the decade but, in the event, Chart King annihilated Deerfield Sunset when the two exceptional Irish barkers met in last Saturday's Greyhound Derby semi-finals at Wimbledon. Chart King is the 8-11 favourite to confirm those placings with Deerfield Sunset (5-4) and put four other dogs in their place in tomorrow night's pounds 50,000 Greyhound Derby Final at Plough Lane.

However, in greyhound racing, as in horse racing, as in - let's face it - life, nothing is as simple as that. Deerfield Sunset is trained by the great Ger McKenna, who has superstitiously kept away from Wimbledon since his dog won his first round race in his absence but, with that well of luck having run dry, is flying over from Ireland to put the finishing touches to Deerfield Sunset's preparation.

Such is McKenna's reputation that, despite Saturday's comprehensive two- and-three-quarter-length defeat, Deerfield Sunset may still start favourite for tomorrow night's 480-metre contest. Moreover, Deerfield Sunset may have God - not McKenna, the one in the Bible - on his side. Deerfield Sunset is owned by the legendary Bryan Dalton, the Roman Catholic priest from Miami, who is straight out of Father Ted. He made his altar server wait by a fax machine ready to interrupt his sermon when the result of the quarter-finals came through. After hearing his dog had won, Fr Dalton claims he went on to give "the sermon of my life".

Chart King, a wide-runner who will race from his favoured trap six berth tomorrow, and Deerfield Sunset, a railer who also has the perfect personal draw in trap one, have dominated this year's Greyhound Derby. The bookmakers bet 20-1 bar the two for tomorrow's six-dog showdown and that includes Pottos Storm (66-1), attempting to be the first Greyhound Grand National winner to win the Greyhound Derby.

A victory for Chart King would be the culmination of a highly unusual Derby preparation. For Chart King, owned and trained in partnership by the brothers Karl and Ralph Hewitt, was not initially considered a Wimbledon prospect. Chart King first came to prominence when twice beating the track record for 525 yards at Shelbourne Park in Ireland on his way to victory in the pounds 10,000 D J Reilly Easter Cup and then netted another pounds 20,000 by winning the Scottish Derby.

After that the pressure to bring him to Wimbledon was overwhelming but, unlike the other contenders, Chart King was initially a day commuter to Plough Lane, flying from Belfast to Heathrow and back again for the early rounds. However, the decision has since been made to have Chart King take up temporary residence to the east of the Irish Sea and, judging by Saturday's display, when he clocked a sensational five seconds dead on the run to the first bend, leaving Deerfield Sunset four lengths in his wake, he has had few problems in acclimatising. Chart King's connections are fairly confident. Karl Hewitt said yesterday: "Chart King looks in good shape and there's every reason to suppose he will reproduce last Saturday's form."

Frankly, it is hard to see how Deerfield Sunset can turn things around. Laid out for the Greyhound Derby ever since his victory in the Irish St Leger at Limerick last October, Deerfield Sunset had seemed to be the dog that had everything - blinding speed from the traps, track craft (the ability to weave his way though gaps to avoid trouble in running) and genuine staying power at the business end of his contests.

Owen McKenna, the trainer's son, said yesterday he felt "Deerfield Sunset got too warm in the preliminaries and ran below par" last week. But Chart King - ironically labelled by some a sluggish starter prior to the event - made Deerfield Sunset look so moderate on Saturday night that even McKenna's magic may not be enough to enable him to turn the tables.