It is without doubt the dream of every owner in racing to find a greyhound good enough to contest the Irish Greyhound Derby and some lucky few do get to realise that dream.
We have already profiled some of this year’s syndicate owned contenders and heard of the extensive preparations in readiness for a Derby assault but the story of College Paradise and the Metinthehalfway Syndicate sets out a new template for syndicate’s seeking a classic runner as thirty minutes before the opening round draw, they didn’t even own him!
Now preparing to contest the second semi-final of the 2016 Boylesports Irish Greyhound Derby, Larry Keane of Ballymacelligot in Co.Kerry tells of the last minute scramble to buy the dog in time for the draw. Asked if it was true that he was bought just one hour beforehand Larry replies, “It was even closer than that, twenty-five minutes! The draw was on the Monday at 12 noon and we had him bought at 11.35!”
College Paradise (Paradise Madison/Boreenmanna Girl) was formerly owned by Frank Culloty and began his career with an exceptional display in A2 stake victory at Tralee when clocking 28.30 in the final. A run to the semi-final of the Produce Stakes followed at Clonmel before adding further Open race victories at Tralee and these smart efforts had caught the eye of the shrewd Shane Dowling, as Larry explains.
“Well Shane had been kind of watching the dog all along anyway and liked him, they have his sister in the kennels. He spotted him for sale on the internet and was immediately interested. There’s eight of us in the syndicate and we’re all from Ballymac bar Pauric McCormack but there was five of us met up in the Halfway Bar on the Sunday night and Liam Dowling says to us, get a few lads together and we’ll buy him!
“Ah sure every week since has been like a dream. I went to collect him on the Monday morning so he only really had three days with Liam before the first round. Getting through that night in fourth place was big result. But he was being trained by Mossy O’Connor and we have to give him great credit because he arrived Derby ready.
“He’s a tough, cool and sober dog though, nothing phases him. He jumped into the van the first day, you’d swear he was in it all the time and the same when he was kennelled up. He seems like he would settle anywhere.
“With the eight of us in the syndicate, the money wasn’t too much for him at all and as Liam said at the time, we bought him to have a bit of craic. That’s how all the lads see it and sure it proves you don’t have to break the bank, it’s not all about paying fortunes but you do have to get a bit of luck and thankfully we have got that so far in the Derby.
“He’s improving every night and in fairness, we have a good draw again for the semi-final. He’s a dead railer and if he can get a clear run for trap 1, well then we’re in with a chance to make the final. But if he gets knocked out, he gets knocked out. There won’t be any of us disappointed with him and he’ll still have the consolation on final night. All the lads are of the one mind, dogs are there to be enjoyed. There’s none of us in it to get rich, we all go out the one gate in that regard.”
College Paradise is without a heat win in the Derby thus far but has, as Larry asserts, improved with each run. He appeared to be a threatening presence when looming large behind Roxholme Barkley on the back-straight in the opening quarter-final last Saturday until a third bend stumble cost him any win claims. His was an admirable effort to retain second place when back on an even keel and in a Derby where many more fancied runners have faltered, his 50/1 quote at this stage does appear rather generous.
“Ah we only have a small few quid on him at fancy prices from the start, it wouldn’t break the bookies if he won. We’re just delighted that he’s still there at this stage. Sure it’s like a fairytale, we couldn’t honestly ask for any more.”
The complete syndicate along with Larry consists of Liam, Shane & Jane Dowling, Derek O’Brien, Joe Galvin and John Rice, all from Ballymacelligot with Pairic McCormack of Kildare. All are seasoned greyhound owners with the Dowling training team seeking back to back Derby victories in 2016 having guided current champion Ballymac Matt to the semi-finals also.
“I haven’t spoken to Liam since Sunday but he was happy enough with both dogs at that stage. It would be great if he could get both in to the final and in fairness both dogs have been improving through the Derby. Our fellow was bought on the strength that Liam was going to be training him and you couldn’t be in a better place.”
Of the syndicate, only Paddy McCormack has been making the trips to Shelbourne for each round which is admittedly less arduous than the long trek from Co.Kerry and Larry will again watch College Paradise from home this week.
“No I’m not going to go up this week either. I’m not going to jinx it now! We’ll change nothing. We’ll be there for final night, whether in the big one itself or the consolation but we’ll let Shane off with him again for this week.”
As with most owners in the event, survival from week to week in the Derby is the primary concern and Larry had not even considered the possible trip to Shelbourne Park this coming Monday for the Derby lunch, should College Paradise advance. “Ha, that had never even entered my head, I better warn the boss that Monday could be out of it!”
Although not a member of the syndicate, our closing conversation remembered the exploits of Larry’s father Jerome Keane who not only trained The Limit to Coursing Oaks victory in 1965 but also trained Ask Clare who was runner-up in the 1991 Irish Greyhound Derby to Ardfert Mick. At 91 years young, Larry exclaims that Jerome is as invested in the fortunes of College Paradise as much as any runner that went before and will too be watching with bated breath from Kerry this coming Saturday evening.
Another syndicate formed from long standing friendships, it is quite unique in Derby terms when considering the last minute rush to purchase this classic contender. As Larry intimates, there is a story behind every Derby winner but his would be one of the more unusual should it come to pass that College Paradise lands the biggest prize of all.
We wish the syndicate and all extended connections a safe passage through the semi-final whatever the outcome and only the very best of sporting luck.