At any host venue around the country, the feature events of the season can create hugely exciting atmospheres as they welcome talented runners and their connections from kennels nationwide. Doing battle for outright glory, the ultimate victor is certain to receive all due adulation from appreciative patrons, ready to hail their new champion. But, when reaching final stage with local connections still holding realistic claims of victory, it is quite understandable then to find regular patrons together as one in support of their counterparts as they attempt to keep the big prize on home soil.
Such will be the case this coming Saturday evening at Limerick Greyhound Stadium as we prepare for the final of the 2017 Con & Annie Kirby Memorial Puppy Stake where Rathnasnare Champ (Ballymac Vic/Corcorans Milly) will carry the hopes of his Limerick based owners, the Pull Like A Dog Syndicate.
“Francis Murray with Rathnasnare Champ”
Examination of any classic finalist would reveal a story of endeavour with immense depth and all would have a tale to tell but in the case of Rathnasnare Champ we have a runner that embodies so much that is good about greyhound racing as he now seeks to fulfill a lifetime’s ambition for seasoned greyhound racing participants while also attempting to deliver success in the sport’s newest classic for syndicate members who have reached this stage with their very first greyhound!
Well known to all at Limerick through family runners who bear the Tally Ho prefix, Paddy Wall is at the helm for the Rathkeale based syndicate and he tells of the excitement amongst an enthusiastic group of owners who certainly make their presence known when their brilliant early pacer hits the front at Limerick.
Admitting that excitement is high he declares, “I was hardly able to sleep on Saturday night after the semi-final, it’s a dream. Of course we’re absolutely delighted to reach the final and if we could get the line pulled back about a half a length at Limerick, he would have a right chance!”
Blessed with exceptional early pace, Rathnasnare Champ has been caught on the run home having led in all four of his Kirby heats so far but it was that early pace which attracted the shrewd Wall family when purchasing their aspiring champion in October of last year.
“It was my dad Richard who put me on to him in the first place. He would study form, at Limerick especially, and it was a 525 yard race where he was just caught by Ballymartin Boss which encouraged us to buy him. That dog was flying around Limerick at the time but Champ posted a 4.03 early split on the night which is exceptional. He was young at that stage and you could expect him to get stronger in time so we bought him from Tom Keating and Sean Fitzgerald at that stage.
“I have to say, they had him very well done, he had a greaat start in life and was ready to continue his improvement. They are lovely people and they were all there with family at Limerick the other night cheering him on which was great, they’re delighted for us. Francis Murray agreed to train him for us then and Francis Junior in particular has really taken him under his wing. They have done everything right by us from the first day he arrived to them and I couldn’t praise them enough.
“He was initially bought to run at Shelbourne Park as most of us work in Dublin and we could have a bit of craic with a good dog for a few nights out but the Kirby was always in the back of the head at the same time. His first race for us was in Dundalk though and I still don’t know how he got beaten having been in front in a 400 yard sprint but still, he had lots of time to mature and he was always going to stay better in time.
“He won a good sprint at Shelbourne then in January, followed that up with a win at Dundalk but he struggled then in a 525 at Limerick in the middle of February although we found after that he had done some damage to a shoulder muscle. That needed work to heal which wasn’t ideal timing as it was leaving almost a month without any serious work before the Kirby. Fair play to Francie though, he campaigned him to perfection, there was four to qualify the first night and he scraped through in fourth with a run that he badly needed at that stage.”
Rathnasnare Champ hit the front in that opening round heat
and those in attendance got their first notice that this was to be one the best supported runners in the event as the Pull Like A Dog Syndicate supplied the first big cheers of the 2017 Kirby. There may be only five members but they make the noise of many more and the final roar is certain to be something special if he can hit the front again.
“Well there’s myself and my dad Richard, Paul O’Connor who I went to college with and remains a good mate, Alan Tuohy and the ghost, Dinny O’Connell, because he only turned up for the semi-final! For those three lads this is their first greyhound and I don’t know how I’m going to convince them that it’s not like this every time!
“Ah it’s great to hear the cheering. Sure Francie thought we were going to stop the dog one night in Dundalk with all the roaring he could hear from the middle of the track but that’s nothing compared to what it will be like this week. It would be hard to put a number on it but I’d say we’ll have over a hundred people there, it will be crazy!”
Improving from his first round, Rathnasnare Champ has been beaten by a half length or less in his three subsequent heats when finishing second and his early pace has been one of the stand out features of the entire competition. His task in the final is straight forward, he must lead and attempt to defend that lead in the home-straight.
A natural student of the game, Paddy’s reply when asked if Champ could win the final from Trap 1 this week was, “Yes! Definitely he can win. If I thought he couldn’t lead, I wouldn’t think that and if you lead you obviously have a chance. He probably has a 28.50 run in him and that could get it done if things fell into place. I can’t say how good or bad Trap 1 is for him. He had it twice in his early career but it is obviously a totally different proposition at this stage, we’ll have to wait and see!
“But it is a dream and especially when Limerick is your home track. I think now we will try to have a dog for the Kirby every year and take the approach that if you throw enough darts, one of them will stick eventually! We really got the Kirby bug a few season’s back when Tally Ho Lee won his second round heat and had us dreaming before he got knocked out in the quarter-final but everyone at Limerick would know our kennels and we’re as happy to win a graded race on a Friday night as an Open race on Saturday if we could have the dog to do it so to be in a Kirby final is huge for all of us.
“The closest we have come to a classic was Our Tally Ho who was third in the final of the Oaks at Harolds Cross in 1981. She was owned by my aunt Collette who now lives in England but messaged me shortly after the semi-final to tell me that she had her flight booked to come home for the final this week!”
Having grown up with racing at the Markets Field and now regulars on the Dock Road, Saturday’s final opportunity is a thoroughly deserved reward for Paddy and all the Wall family who reflect so many family racing endeavours within the sport. It was a move out of the ordinary for them when purchasing Rathnasnare Champ for this is Paddy’s first greyhound that was not family bred and to have this level of achievement with good friends in their first ownership venture is a wonderful story of success on so many levels.
Paddy is right when he exclaims that Ratnasnare Champ can win. It will take a huge effort however and he must lead at the opening bend but if emerging in front at the top of the back-straight, prepare to cover your ears because aside from the raucous cheers from his owners and supporting connections, Champ will also have every regular patron of Limerick supporting a local finalist who would reflect their own racing ambitions in so many ways.
While wishing all runners the very best of luck for a safe passage throughout the 2017 Con & Annie Kirby Memorial Puppy Stake Final on Saturday, it is fair to say that there will be a slight bias among the packed attendance for the local dog in red!