KEVIN O’Brien was left cursing the nature of the draw as Clona Blaze finished third in the final of the Irish Greyhound Derby at Shelbourne Park – but he believes that the local dog will be back stronger in 2019.
Drawn in trap six, the two-year-old put in an immense performance to come third as 12-1 outsider Ballyanne Sim took victory in one of the fastest renewals ever. O’Brien was proud of his charge, though rueful at what might have been.
‘I was very confident beforehand,’ he says, ‘I thought that we could win.
‘The night before the race though, there was torrential rain and on the drive up to Dublin I was worried to see how the track was running.
‘In 13 races before the final, all of them were won by dogs from traps one to four, none of the wide seeds were performing and Graham Holland said that the track was very slow on the outside.
‘The dog that won, our dog beat him by five lengths in the quarter-final. We hadn’t been too concerned about him and neither were the bookies! I knew he had early speed but didn’t think he had that kind of clock in him.
‘You could tell by the times that the track was running fast. Clona Blaze got out like he wanted him to but it was too heavy going on the outside and he wasn’t able to pull him in. A time of 29.52 was phenomenal, it would have been good enough to win 95 percent of derbies, but that’s dog racing.’
Kevin’s father John, a county SFC winner with Clonakilty in 1952, was present at the race, something which delighted him.
‘He kept greyhounds in Clon and London, so that’s where the bug came from, I guess,’ Kevin says.
‘I was delighted he was able to make it, it was great to have him at the final. Just to get there, never mind win a prize, was fantastic in his eyes.’
Looking ahead, Kevin sees no reason why Clona Blaze can’t continue his progress.
‘Well rest him for a while and then enter him in the Night of Stars in November,’ he says.
‘The plan is to take him to the English derby early next year and then have ready for next year’s Irish derby. He only turned two on August 18th so he was one of the youngest dogs in the final. He should get faster and stronger, fingers crossed he can stay fit.’
It all points to progress though, and O’Brien is delighted.
‘Last year, Clona Kid reached the quarter-finals, so things are heading in the right direction,’ he says.
‘We have three pups coming up and one looks very promising. I want to thank my wife Gillian for putting up with me all through it and the Holland family have been absolutely brilliant.
‘The town has been fantastic, there were signs up and the support was great, it would have been great to bring it back for the town. We’ll have another go!’