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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Nobody’s undefeated. No double entries. The only thing that continually shows up in the 2017 version of the $120,000 Southland Derby is the sire Djays Octane, who can claim fatherhood to half of the eight championship entries when they are loaded into the starting box this Saturday evening. Other than that, it was quite a strange and close battle to get here.

The difference from making the finals to being relegated to the consolation race was a fraction of a point (.86 to be exact) and the difference from 8th place in the championship race to the 16th spot in the consolation race was 5.14 points. While certainly one of the most tense semi-final rounds we have seen in quite some time at Southland Park took place on Sunday, a huge factor in determining that was a single loose wire. That loose wire occurred in the lure motor during one of the races during the third qualifying round, causing a “no race” to be declared as the lure lost power immediately and was caught a quarter of the way into the race. The seven greyhounds involved in that race each received 6.14 points (splitting equally all the points available in the race) causing quite a log jam in the middle. From a technical and mathematical standpoint, nobody was declared out in the semi’s, leading to a great day of racing and quite a few close calls and even a tiebreaker to determine the last spot in the consolation race.

When the sun set and the last race of the day ran, the “greyt eight” moved on to the $100,000 main event coming up on the evening of July 1st, with yet another champion to be crowned in one of the longest running stakes events in the country. Let’s meet the upcoming field for the Southland Derby Championship and preview the big race!

$100,000 SOUTHLAND DERBY CHAMPIONSHIP – RACE 11 – SATURDAY EVENING, JULY 1

#1 - BARTS GIRL (CHARTER KENNEL, INC.) – Third in qualifying points with 47, this black female is the only other greyhound in the field coming into the championship race with two straight victories (Flying Wolf Pack being the other). This rare athlete is a threat on two distances (583 and 660 yards) and has basically been competing in stakes races since February. She competed in the Iron Hound Stakes and one 7th place finish in the 703 yard course probably kept her from winning that event. She made it to the Sleek 16 round in the “Hound Madness” stakes and then easily made it to the championship of the $120,000 Razorback Classic before finishing a disappointing seventh. She is near the lead in a lot of races (as 21 of 30 in the quiniela this year would indicate) but for some reason can’t run the big race she needs in a championship event. Maybe this year’s Derby will finally be her time?

#2 - AKON (PLUM CREEK KENNEL) – 15 victories in 64 starts last year (23.5%) has tailed off to a 18.2% win clip this season so far, but with the exception of the semi-finals round, he has been very close and came within 3 ½ lengths of beating the very good Flying Wolf Pack before. He competed in last year’s Derby, but was eliminated after three rounds, so making his first championship stakes race is exciting news for his owners. He is the second oldest in the field at just over three years old, but still shows signs of his quick early speed. It is in that early speed he will either sink or swim in this race. He doesn’t possess any late speed and it will be tough for him to overcome any trouble in the race, should he encounter it. This inside post position is nice but he will also need to break at or very near the lead to have a chance at victory. In a race where that type of speed is at a premium, he has a puncher’s chance.

#3 - FLYING WOLF PACK (LESTER RAINES KENNEL)– Tied for the lead in qualifying points with 50, this Vince Berland owned entry already has a stakes win under his belt (“Hound Madness”) and has been on a nice roll ever since. He has won six races over the past month or so, three of them during qualifying. HE LOVES THE RAIL, however his nearly unparalleled breaking speed usually allows him to get where he wants to go fast and early. When this greyhound has the lead in the far turn, he has never been caught racing here at Southland Park. So it looks like he is the clear cut champion right? Well, the fly in the ointment occurs when he doesn’t have the early lead. When that happens he tends to just stay in the position he has coming out of the first turn. Bottom line, 26 of 31 starts this year for him has earned no worse than a fourth place finish, with 13 season victories. Bettors are sure to concentrate on this young talent.

#4 - FIESTA PODER (DAVID BLAIR KENNEL) – The Djays Octane sired youngster just turned two last month but has already made the finals of two major stakes races here at Southland Park (the Razorback Classic and now the Derby). It took this brindle male seven starts once transferring in from Derby Lane to make top grade here at Southland, but once he did he hasn’t looked back. Although he finished fourth in qualifying points (42) and had only one qualifying round victory, his other three races have been close and one of them he just missed winning by a nose. He is your prototypical late speed rusher, so don’t look for any flashy start to the race from him. But, once that motor gets running, all he needs is a clear inside lane late and he has the speed to catch just about anyone in this field. The only question left is whether or not he can catch the best on the lead?

#5 - XKT RICK NESS (T & T KENNEL) – His 37 points (fifth) in qualifying may diminish what this greyhound is capable of, but it shouldn’t. Yes, he was in grade “B” just over a month ago after a nearly six month layoff but this is the same greyhound that made the championship race in the Darby Henry Male Sprint Division just this past Fall. His solo win during qualifying could have easily been 3 wins and we may be looking at this greyhound in a totally different light. The bad news is this greyhound almost completely lacks the ability to break quickly which tends to get him into trouble and traffic issues. However, if he gets a clean run, his rush to the turn and late speed make him an interesting play. If you are looking for odds on a dog, and one that just could pull off the “upset”, keep an eye on him. Stranger things have happened.

#6 - BAR GIN (GLORIA DORSEY KENNEL, LLC) – Also tied with the lead (50 points) during qualifying, this Arkansas Bred brindle male did it with two victories and two second place finishes. He is coming into his own right now, as his seven wins this season already eclipses his entire win total from last year (5). Like Flying Wolf Pack, he too has a stakes title under his belt, winning the Arkansas Bred Juvenile Division championship during the Festival of Stakes last Fall. However, unlike Flying Wolf Pack, he hasn’t faced fields this tough and fared well. He had only 2 top “AA” grade wins coming into qualifying, but matched that total in the four rounds of this event. What does that mean? It means he is running hot right now, but with a lack of a quick break and only a moderate closing ability, a lot of things need to go right to find this greyhound at the victory “bar”.

#7 - PJ IAINTMADATYOU (MIKE HARRIS KENNEL) – If this was Wheel of Fortune, you could nearly solve the puzzle by just buying vowels to get his name, but to solve the way things need to happen for this red and white male to win a Derby championship would be a lot harder to come by. As the oldest greyhound in the field, this will be his first stakes finals and what a big stage to be on for that. Along with Akon, he squeezed into the championship race with 35 points (tied for last) which was just .84 more than the odd greyhound on the outside looking in from the consolation race. So what has to happen for this greyhound to take home the goods? He is quite a long ways away from the rail so he must break better than he ever has before, escape any trouble or traffic (especially in the first turn) and hope that if any greyhounds are ahead of him, they aren’t by the name of Flying Wolf Pack, Barts Girl, Fiesta Poder or AMF Dirty Trix. The odds will be there if you want to take a chance, and odd things have happened in a stakes final before. As they say in poker, all you need is a “chip and a chair”. PJ IAINTMADATYOU has just that, a chip and a chair to this event.

#8 - AMF DIRTY TRIX (A RAY KENNEL) – Kennel owner Tom Ferris sure has come to race in his inaugural season at Southland Park and having greyhounds in stakes finals looks to be the norm for him. This greyhound had two wins in qualifying (one was a dead heat) and finished with 35 ½ points during qualifying (good for sixth). However, both his fourth and his fifth place finish were close races (4 ½ and 1 ½ lengths off the win respectively) and his 14 wins on the season is tops in the championship field. He was in the position to win a championship during the Spring Futurity Stakes in early May when trouble in the turn forced a last place finish. He has late speed to spare and although he likes the inside part of the track, outside post positions have been good to him historically. He usually doesn’t blow fields away, but he can make things interesting coming home from the far turn. Does trainer Scott Robinette have another “trix” up his sleeve for this race?

PREDICTION – It is very tough to look beyond the inside post positions here as BARTS GIRL, AKON and FLYING WOLF PACK all should be salivating over their starting posts. Unfortunately all three depend on fast starts as an intregral part of their victory strategy and common logic would seem to indicate that not all three can have the lead at once. AMF DIRTY TRIX is also a force to be reckoned with from the #8 post but may have to do some late work to get in striking position in this race. Betting strategies seem to favor boxing numbers in this race to cover a few contingency factors. #1 BARTS GIRL and #3 FLYING WOLF PACK just have too much talent and speed to ignore, plus they both have excellent starting post positions. #4 FIESTA PODER and #6 BAR GIN have the best mix of speed and closing ability in the group overall but the starting position for BAR GIN is a bit suspect. #8 AMF DIRTY TRIX will likely be in the mix late and it will depend on who is ahead of him that will determine his chances of winning. The wildcard selection here is #2 AKON. Post position is good to great but you never know which AKON you’re going to get. Are you going to get the AKON who is on his game and breaks fast, or are you going to get the one who misfires and fades from the picture? At the end, I’m going to go with the consistent nature of the other greyhounds mentioned and box the #1, #3, #4 and #8 to keep the costs of the tickets reasonable and add the #6 for third and fourth in the superfectas.

$20,000 SOUTHLAND DERBY CONSOLATION – RACE 10 – SATURDAY EVENING, JULY 1

CONSOLATION RACE PREVIEW – BOC’S COVER UP (Bussmann-Balakas, LLC) leads the next best eight in the $20,000 Southland Derby Consolation race to also be held on Saturday evening, July 1 at Southland Park. The “no race” during the third qualifying round was likely a factor in this fawn female’s 34.14 points, which just missed by fractions in getting into the championship race. As a matter of fact, the point difference from 9th through 16th in qualifying was just over 5 points, making it one of the closest cuts in Derby qualifying recent history. DEL SOL KEITH (David Blair Kennel) actually got two wins in qualifying but was hampered by a sixth and an eighth place finish to drop from championship race contention into the consolation event.

Both Bussmann-Balakas (with their other entry B’S CAPECRUSADER) and Magic City Kennel (MONEY CANNON and LAGRO CC NANCE) got two greyhounds in the consolation race while notable name VJ HIT THE BOARD turned a second and three shows into 31 points to earn a spot as well. Robert Thorne Kennel’s FF CHAMPION and Ryan Farm’s SOVEREIGN ISLAND earned the other two spots to finish the field.

Space on the rail/inside will be at premium levels considering seven of the eight greyhounds love that part of the racetrack. B’S CAPECRUSADER gets the coveted red blanket here but will be battling with LAGRO CC NANCE in post two for early control of that rail. DEL SOL KEITH is known to race more towards the middle part of the track and if he can get a quick, clean start to the race could add to his already leading season win total in the field (currently at 11). Unlike the championship race, this field is more loaded with early speed while the greyhounds that can close quickly are the rarer quality to have which will make the race to the first turn that much more important. This would leave VJ HIT THE BOARD to come on late from the #3 post to grab a piece of the superfecta probably catching the likes of MONEY CANNON in the far turn who just might hang on for a piece of the action as well. I like #1, #2, #3 and #5 here in what should be a tightly contested battle.

Shane Bolender