We’re at the midway point of the Greyhound racing calendar now and how quickly time has flown by. It feels like only yesterday the sport’s small, but dedicated following watched Angela Harrison land an impressive double in the Essex Vase, and since those cold nights in Romford all the talk had been about the English Greyhound Derby — perhaps the most prestigious race of them all.
A gruelling six-week journey and a competitive 500-metre final at Towcester’s state of the art track in Northamptonshire are what’s required to win the whopping £175,000 of prize money as well as etching your name in the history books. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, a full crowd had been unable to attend the race for the last two summers — both while the race was briefly relocated to Nottingham and for the first trip back to Towcester in 2021 — with Deerjet Sydney and Patrick Janssens-trained Thorn Falcon winning their respective races.
Indeed, Janssens managed both first and second places in last year’s race, with kennelmate Kilara Lion fast out the traps. It meant the Belgian was one of the favourites for those making a greyhound bet on Betdaq despite how hard it is to retain a title, with only four dogs winning back-to-back derbies in the race’s 95-year history.
This year had a different feel to it though, with a full crowd finally back at Towcester and the qualifiers seeming to be amped up a notch as a by-product. Thorn Falcon never really got going and missed out on the final, alongside all of Janssens other dogs. It meant the Belgian, as well as Greyhound Trainer of the Year Mark Wallis, would not be present on the track.
That left space for yet another Irish trainer to reign supreme in the Derby, and while Peter Cronin looked to land a maiden title for his Waterford Kennel with 9/4 favourite Kildare, it was actually Graham Holland-trained Romeo Magico who landed first place in the final, finishing with an impressive time of 28.95 seconds — the fastest on record since Dorotas Wildcat’s win in 2018.
The offspring of former Category One winner Magical Bale, Romeo Magico hit speeds of 38 miles an hour as he saw off both Kildare and overachiever Mickys Barrat, who finished third, leaving the two-year-old to secure victory, with Holland singing the dogs praises at the end of the race.
“It’s fantastic, the pinnacle of my career and something me and my family have always dreamt about,” said Holland. “Romeo ran an amazing race – it was always going to be difficult when he missed the break.
“Greyhound racing is a unique sport to be involved in – we can’t afford to celebrate a Derby win too much as our dogs always come first.”
“We enjoyed a small celebration and Saturday will live in our memories forever.”
While a life ambition has been fulfilled for Holland, Paul Hennessy will be disappointed with his efforts. The Irishman, who boasts two Derby wins to his name already, was hoping to land the hattrick to add to his plethora of achievements in the sport, but will have to wait until next year where anticipation will quickly build again after the upcoming Sussex Cup at Brighton and Hove, followed by the Champion Hurdle at Central Park in Murston.