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Lucy Rhodes 9th Feb 2011 - 17:49

Bring On The BEGS - Lucy's take on the William Hill Springbok

Bring On The BEGS - Lucy's take on the William Hill Springbok

The closest I've ever come to greyhound racing has been a couple of heady evening stints at Owlerton in Sheffield, followed by a compulsory night out, during my student days.

Those days being long gone, I am excited to be involved in the behind-the-scenes action with my first trip to the hallowed ground of Wimbledon in the more professional role of PR Executive for sponsors William Hill.

I had often imagined what Wimbledon - the epicentre of greyhound racing - would look like, with a fairy-tale vision that the hallowed gates of Plough Lane would be golden, leading to the positively palatial ivory towers of canine central. It's not quite that, but there is a great buzz in the air, and the atmosphere builds as the punters begin to filter in.

I lol at the ‘Paw Bar' - or should that be poor, normally what I am after a night at the dogs. But I am here to be educated and am straining at the leash, so to speak, to get started. Previously, my normal procedure was to whack on reverse forecasts TTC and sit back and savour the fantastic greyhound racing excitement - and of course the pork and stuffing cobs (baps, for the less northern of you). Here, it is all hands on deck as myself and Jennie Prest (Hills sponsorship manager) unload the car of trophies, dog jackets and newly pressed promotion girl outfits, and Jennie talks me through the evening and presentations.

It's a nice touch that the ill-fated Rayvin Giovanni leads the parade for the opening Sky contest, the williamhill.com Puppy. Treating his fans to one final farewell before he heads over the Irish Sea to stand at Dunphy stud. The stripes is fancied by some to secure the first, Mountjoy Moon trained by Mark Wallis. This will be only her fourth career appearance, and boasts bags of potential. Mountjoy gets out well, and leads until checked at the third turn when T5 takes it up - to a cheer from the crowd. Aherlow Shaw doubles-up on his Monmore win in good style, with long-time leader Mountjoy a half-length runner-up.

Jennie comes charging up to me in a bit of a fluster. I thought it would be slight nerves with her appearing on Sky later in the evening, but no. Much worse than that. She's somehow managed to shut her car boot with a bag strap wedged somewhere, so said boot will now not in fact open or close properly, and the lights will not go off. Despite the aid of five friendly men who were handily in the vicinity. The RAC is being dialled as I type. It's not a good night for her - the stitching on one of her shoes has also split and the box with the paraders jackets fell apart earlier when we were carrying it - oh, the glamorous life of PR!

The speedsters rock up next to contest the William Hill - The Home Of Betting Sprint, where Sleeping Urban heads the market. I am told that this infamous fellow thwarted Greyhound Of The Year Jimmy Lollie's open-race rout by a head in December, has been consistently plying his trade in top company, and will apparently be hard to peg back in his bids to reap more SW19 gold.

The hare is on the spin, as they say. After a load of first-bend argy-bargy, King Lee shows good early toe to miss all the nonsense and goes clear from halfway. Boom. It's all over in a matter of strides as Elizabeth McNair's representative gets one back for the stripes. To the tune of over five lengths to Brooklyn Bandit.

Martha the waitress provides me with a plate of Wimbo's finest pork belly. As soon as I catch sight of the crackling I know I'm on to a winner. Drool. Must halt with the food talk lest people start thinking this is a Dave Ord blog.

Race number four looms rapidly and it's time to get the timber out for the williamhill.com Hurdle. Trap two Junior Mac is a shortie in the betting at 5/4. Owned by ‘Let's Get On Large'. A team after my own heart. Although I hope they didn't abide by their namesake as it is the four-dog who takes it up at the first turn, before fending off a strong challenge from habitual late-arriver Sizzlers Spirit by a half-length.

I proceed to scan the racecard for more amusing syndicate names. I don't have to look far as, lo and behold on the next page, ‘The Ministry Of Hound' own the canine housed in the coffin berth - Ministry Magic. Amazing. But it appears he needs more than magic tonight, as he just cannot reel in the leading Destroy The Camp, who digs in superbly for Mark Wallis, redeeming the trainer's near-miss in the first.

William Hill Derby Antepost 25/1-shot Razldazl George encountered trouble in the early stages, filling the bronze position.

From one Razldazl to another, Irish raider Alice dons the red in the sixth instalment, the williamhill.com Ladies. It's all about Freedom Emma here though, the William Hill Oaks heroine is ‘hard to oppose', with the 4/7 available saying it all.

The heavy fav leads for the most-part, but those provberbial chickens shan't be counted yet punters. Or indeed those banknotes. Westmead Melanie ranges upsides down the run-in and it's handbags at dawn with Nick Savva's bitch getting up to collar the Oaks winner right on the wire. In the words of an old boss, ‘you can't eat value', but I'm glad this was one fav I didn't pile into. Wonder if the earlier-mentioned syndicate have any fingers left. The shorties aren't doing so well tonight.

We're over the stayers' trip next for, funnily enough, the William Hill - The Home Of Betting Stayers. The cahola looks to be in the bag for, yet again, the wide, as Droopys Audrey gets away to an absolute flyer and is looking to make all - until ambushed late on by Useful Asset. Nailed. Another smasher of a conclusion. Connections are overjoyed.

The action builds in uber-swift fashion. God knows how I used to get a pint, get a bet on and go to watch the race in the space of twenty minutes. The penultimate of our sponsored events greets us, namely the williamhill.com Standard, where it's all about Razldazl Jayfkay. The fourth sibling of Delores Ruth's clan to line up on the card, and according to the grapevine, the best of the bunch. This dog is meant to be an absolute machine. The Irish handler goes so far as to say he's the fastest dog she's ever put on a lead. Quoted at 25/1 for the William Hill Derby, he's touted as the real deal.

But here comes Saint Jack. The striped hound gains the advantage at the first corner, and no matter much Jayfkay serves it up, the leader is not for budging, Brendan Harris' boy grittily fending off the fav by three-parts of a length. The Harris team are in raptures. "We only have two dogs", says Mrs H, "This one's such a character - we'll be treating him to his favourite evening piece of cheese. He starts slavering at nine o'clock - he knows when it's cheese time!" It struck me how passionate connections were about the sport. And the dogs really are treated like one of the family. I'm a greyhound novice, but it's hard not to get carried with the enthusiasm.

Despite the near-miss, William Hill cut Razldazl Jayfkay from 25/1 to 20/1 for the June showpiece.

We've reached the big one. The glittering highlight of the evening, the obstacles return in preparation for the William Hill Springbok Final 2011. Reports declare it's Toems Champ's race to lose, and the hound is hot fav to maintain Seamus Cahill's great record in the high-class hurdling event.

The lights dim. The hare spins.

This is certainly an apt night for 20/1 outsider Zenas Romario to finally get his act together at lid-rise, having been leaving chance in the boxes in recent times. He gets out to a blinder, and proceeds to lead until the fifth hurdle when T4 Clonkeen Theo comes with a late blast.

‘...he does finish, this lad', are the words of trainer Jason Foster, and boy, that's what he does. The duo are neck-and-neck at the second-last, locking horns down the straight, but the four-dog digs his heels in at the finish to swipe the trophy from under the nose of Gemma Davidson's lad. The market leader crowds late on and never recovers, finishing out the money. The William Hill Springbok 2011 is awarded to Messrs John Baughurst, Jason Foster and Clonkeen Theo.

Exiting Plough Lane, I am once again staggering - although inebriation not the cause nowadays - I am simply exhausted from an exciting and hectic night. But I'm very much looking forward to immersing myself more in to this wonderful sport and getting to know the great characters involved. Bring on the Derby!



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