Thursday 31st May 2012 - Derby
WILLIAM HILL GREYHOUND DERBY WINNER 2012
It's now Thursday and I still don't think the enormity of what Blonde Snapper achieved on Saturday by winning the 2012 William Hill Greyhound Derby has sunk in. The sheer pleasure for myself all our kennel staff and hundreds of punters who flocked to Wimbledon Stadium was plain to see as we all roared home 'Snapper' as he crossed the line 1 3/4 lengths ahead of Matt Dartnall's Farloe Ironman to land the ultimate prize in the sport. For owner Mark Currell you only had to see the joyous tears in his face to see how much this meant to him and as we stood on a packed podium with both our families around us I doubt you would have found two prouder people in the country than us. For Blonde Snapper it was stuff that they write films about. Some 21 months back, after a distinguished puppy career, he was nursing a fractured wrist which would have ended 90% of most dogs' careers. A brilliant comeback after six months off the track where he was nursed back to health was then shattered as he was disastrously knocked out of the first round of the 2011 Classic when almost ante-post favourite. A couple of weeks later, after a blistering 28.32 trial when planning to bounce back in the Derby Plate, he again went lame and his career looked all but over. Some more intense therapy directed by maestro physio Ron Mills saw Blonde Snapper back within six weeks to take his chance in the £25,000 William Hill Classic at Sunderland and against all expectations he smashed the track record when trouncing up in a top class final. We then knew all roads would lead us to a second attempt at winning the sport's top achievement and wow! did Snapper reward us all, the centre stage rightly belonged to him.
The build up to the week had started at the trendy Zetter Hotel in Clerkenwell Road where the traditional Derby lunch for connections of the finalists was superbly hosted by sponsors William Hill. The atmosphere was brilliant mainly due to all six sets of supporters for each greyhound genuinely thinking they could win the Classic. The Derby spread over five weeks with six gruelling rounds of intense competition where not always just speed triumphs. Stamina and a sheer will to win aided with that touch of lady luck are needed in abundance and most of the sport's leading journalists as well as professional punters could not see our fragile Snapper standing up to this severe test. He not only did show all these attributes, he simply thrived on the questions being asked of him. It's not coincidence that certain trainers time and time again judge the rigours of the Derby with their pride and joys to perfection and I am so proud of my team for helping me achieve the impossible and now being a dual Derby winning trainer I enter the record books with a great deal of satisfaction. To be even mentioned in the same breath as Charlie Lister or Nick Savva is indeed the highest praise that one can imagine.
The whole week leading up to the final just couldn't have gone any better. The weather which had been fairly cold and damp for what seemed an eternity suddenly changed and we were treated to sunshine and warmth, something Snapper dearly loves. We had a plethora of winners at Yarmouth on the Wednesday and at Oxford on the Thursday three of our four runners won while on the Friday two of our four open runners also landed the spoils - the kennel was on song. The media had found some of the trainers in the final difficult to open up about their chances and you could sense that the pressure was really on. For myself I just couldn't be happier and had no problem meeting Sky's Julie Collier for lunch on the Wednesday with Mark Currell. Mark had found a beautiful restaurant called Le Talbooth in Dedham near to Colchester. The surroundings were magnificent but clearly for Mark the occasion was taking it's toll on him and a lack of sleep through nerves was clear to see. My kennelhand Gary Crathern, who had taken and paraded Snapper since the second round, was also beginning to realise the enormity of what was about to happen and his nerves were starting to show, some calm words were needed. Gary, a very experienced greyhound man, had only joined us at Imperial Kennels in January but in that short time had fitted in with us like he had been there a lifetime - he and Snapper had bonded which was most important.
Saturday morning May 26th had arrived and as I approached the kennel at my usual time a shade before 7 am I couldn't wait to get to the kennel. I had slept like a baby since getting back at 1 am from a night's racing at Romford and when Gary and Pete were bringing our first lot of dogs out to the paddocks Snapper was absolutely bouncing. All things go through your mind in the week from the semi-finals to the final, not least the shattering thought that he might in some way hurt himself as he exercised in our large paddocks or something silly like he might bang his fragile wrist as jumped on his bed in the kennel but you just have to keep your normal routine and if you try to change anything the dogs soon pick it up. The day seemed to fly by and go like a dream. Pete set off to Wimbledon at 2.45 pm picking Cheryl up from home with our first lot of runners that had to be kennelled from 5 pm while myself and Gary finished at the kennel and while Gary went to get changed and load Snapper along with Ayamzagirl and Jazz Apollo as they prepared for their journey to Wimbledon for second kennelling at 7.50 pm, I went home to get changed and travel down with Sarah and my kids Daniel and Emily as well as my father in law Doug.
As we arrived at Wimbledon at 7 pm I was desperate to get around to the main stand to watch our two bitches Aero Joker and Ballintine Molly in the Ladies race at 7.15. In this brief time the new marquees and stalls situated before the entrance looked fantastic and straight away you felt a real effort had been made by Wimbledon and the GRA. The first person I spoke to having a drink was Racing Post's Jonathan Kay, who looked a lot better than he did a few hours later in the early hours of Sunday morning!! After settling in and watching the race from the restaurant where Aero Joker stumbled and lost all chances while Ballintine Molly flew out the boxes to lead but couldn't cope with the pace of Oaks winner Silverview Perky and had to settle for second place, a couple of races later our Aero Majestic was returning to the scene of his greatest triumph and the 2011 William Hill St Leger winner was being backed as if defeat was out of the question over 687 metres. A flying break had seen him round the first bend with a convincing 2 length lead but just when life seemed all OK disaster struck. Who knows why these things happen but he badly checked and came to a dramatic halt and then trying to run on again you could clearly see something major had gone wrong. Sadly as I rushed around to the Vet's Room on arrival I not only found Cheryl with Aero Majestic but Kelly Macari's runner Mill Pegasus was on the table being strapped up after also breaking down. Aero Majestic had clearly broken his hock and thankfully I can say that he has been to Daniel Doherty on Tuesday who has successfully operated on 'Maj' and we may well see him return to the track later in the year.
With Aero Majestic safely in his kennel I watched Lil Risky, who as I thought got no sort of run in the sprint race as Jimmy Lollie moved wide from trap 1. I went back to the main stand and with a few races before our next runner I could at last soak up the atmosphere and prepare for our last three runners that included Blonde Snapper in the Derby final. The warm night and large crowd was in a great mood and the punters and bookmakers seemed to be having mixed fortunes and as Bubbly Phoenix strode effortlessly to a wide margin success in the consolation final it was time for the prestigious Dorando Marathon - surely our night had to get better. A huge gamble on Bubbly Capel where defeat looked out of the question but Ayamzagirl is a proper party pooper and a smash break saw her turn second behind Aero Gaga. For me the result was never in doubt after and she duly won by one length in 56.03 and at last 'Bella' had won a decent prize she so richly deserved. This win certainly took the pressure of us all and myself, Sarah, Doug and Daniel and Emily moved up to the stand at the first bend to meet our friends Kevin and Helen who are also part of our team now. We had a great view of the dogs coming out of the traps for the final which was now only 10 minutes away.
The parade didn't seem to take long and Blonde Snapper looked in great order and was a lot calmer than I expected with such a vociferous and large crowd and Gary looked at ease with him, all was looking good. The famous Derby roar was its usual spine tingling loudest and as the hare approached I gave it my usual prayer of 'please god just one more time'. For someone as unreligous as myself I'm still not sure why I always think this when the hare is in motion but I do. He must be listening, he has to be, and yes 29.65 seconds later he was definitely listening!! thank you. I have to say that, the same as when Kinda Ready won in 2009, the race is all a bit of a blur for me. I remember seeing Taylors Sky fly out the traps, no surprise there for Charlie, but both Snapper and Judicial Ruling were alongside him as they came level to where I was standing. The next thing was a huge roar for the many Snapper fans that had turned up and were all around us he was in front. Bloody Hell !! he's in front. For a brief couple of seconds our arms went down as trap 1 Farloe Ironman for Matt Dartnall screamed up what seemed to be right beside him (the angle from where we were standing he looked in front) and all of a sudden an army of trap 1 fans had gone ballistic. The crucial third bend came and all of a sudden the striped jacket of Snapper shot forward and it looked as if a he had nicked two lengths. That moment will live in my memory for the rest of my life and I knew he would not get beat now. He may have only had 39 races in his career but I have lived and breathed everyone of them. I know this fella inside out and when he makes that move at the third bend it's race over,. I could now enjoy the last few seconds and picking Kevin up we literally threw each other about in ecstasy. All around me there seemed to be people going mad with delight and why not!
Blonde Snapper crossed the line 1 3/4 lengths in front of Farloe Ironman to land the 2012 William Hill Greyhound Derby and the whole night was captured brilliantly by Sky Sports. Could the night get any better, well it did for us as Jazz Apollo retained the British Bred title he won last year when just getting up on the line to deny Westmead Shaw in 29.63 much to the delight of his owner Stefan Watson.
The Derby celebrations afterwards were sensational and for owner Mark Currell who had put so much into Greyhound racing over the last few years there was no more deserving winner. Mark had come to our kennel a bit disillusioned with the game just over two years ago and put his faith in me and our kennel to resurrect his dreams and mainly through Blonde Snapper and Blonde Fletch he has amassed over £200,000 in prize money and both dogs have now between them won five Category 1 races including the famous William Hill Classic and Grand Prix double at Sunderland last year which would only be topped by a Derby win and yes we have now achieved that dream. I have got to know Mark and his family and can definitely say they deserve this victory more than anyone else in the sport. We partied the night away in style with the help of Julie Collier, who is an absolute star in our industry. Credit where credit is due and the GRA and Clive Feltham did a great job and General Manager Keith Halligan couldn't have been more helpful. We have been assured there will be a big future for Greyhound racing at Wimbledon and that has to be great news for the sport.
All that is left is for me and Sarah to do is say a few thank you's. Firstly to all our staff - Gary, Pete and Sid who are full time, to Cheryl who comes in for four days and to Kevin and Helen who are always on hand to help and my weekend part time staff Ria and Tasha. Thank you to my mother in law Linda who missed the big night to look after the kennels while we were at Wimbledon and for all her continuing support to me and Sarah. Again I would personally like to thank my wife Sarah who has so much to put with being married to me! and for her tireless work in keeping the show on the road behind the scenes. Thank you to Mick and Maureen for doing this brilliant web site. A special thank you to our physio Ron Mills who has been pivotal in the success of Blonde Snapper. Well done to Snappers breeder John McQuillan who must have been hugely delighted by his success and thank you to all the many people who text me ,wrote, tweeted, phoned and e-mailed to congratulate us and I'm sorry if I haven't got back to you. Thank you to Kate Miller PR Director for William Hill (read her superb Derby blog on the Racing Post web site) and her team for their tremendous sponsorship and lastly but not least thank you to Blonde Snapper for making so many people happy.
'Snapper' you are a legend!