With the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic flowing into 2021 and meaning sporting events had to be held behind closed doors for the best part of half the year, it was fantastic news for greyhound racing when fans were permitted to return to race nights from mid-May onwards — allowing racegoers to enjoy a busy summer of racing, which included the return of the English Greyhound Derby to Towcester in early June.
The lack of additional restrictions for the remainder of the year hugely benefitted the sport, which only had a small following, especially over the action-packed festive period — where we saw Category One racing, including the Olympic, the Eclipse and the All England Cup, taking place up and down the country at venues like Brighton & Hove, Nottingham and Newcastle, respectively.
With the top-level finals set to start afresh from the end of this month, kicking things off with the Essex Vase at Romford, now is the perfect time to look back at last season’s major races and pick out some of the greyhounds and trainers who deserve an honorary mention.
Signet Ace – Winter Derby, Select Stakes and Eclipse champion
Signet Ace started the year off with a bang. The Kevin Hutton-trained dog was the youngest in the Winter Derby Final, one of the first Category Ones of the season, but that didn’t stop him from banking the £10,000 prize at Monmore Green from 6/1 — upsetting the greyhound betting markets in the process. A fantastic turn of pace saw the two-year-old storm into the lead down the final stretch and he went on to win by a comfortable four lengths clear of Amazing Wink and Coolavanny Kyser.
After winning the £7,500 Select Stakes in Nottingham in September, the young greyhound wasn’t done just yet as he rounded off the season with a second top-level victory in the Eclipse back at the Midlands track last month. This time the favourite after going unbeaten in his heat and semi-final, Signet Ace led from start to finish to win by a huge six and three-quarter lengths — helping Hutton secure third place in the Trainer of the Year Championship.
Bockos Jon Jo – Golden Sprint and Northamptonshire Sprint winner
A great shout for sprinter of the year, Bockos Jon Jo landed the prestigious Golden Sprint and Northamptonshire Sprint within the course of just a couple of weeks. Geelo Gold Dust set the pace from the traps in the 400-metre Golden Sprint, but the August 2018 son of Droopys Jet and Moanteen Beauty fought back in contention around the first two bends and challenged the leader down the home straight — eventually winning by one and a half lengths to pocket the £10k prize purse for trainer Patrick Janssens the second successive year.
Despite a record-breaking run in the heat and a fantastic semi-final triumph, the Northamptonshire Sprint was far from a straightforward run for Bockos Jon Jo. 2020 Sprinter of the Year, Shrewd Call, was in command at the first bend, but Janssens’ dog had the pace to close the gap and a slight coming together gave him the advantage in the 270m race before crossing the line by a length and a half.
Thorn Falcon – Maiden Derby and English Greyhound Derby
The reopened Towcester, which was saved from administration, was a happy hunting ground for Janssens last year and that was largely down to the success of Thorn Falcon. An unbeaten run through the event saw Thorn Falcon follow in the footsteps of Kilara Lion (the Blue Ribband) and the aforementioned Bockos Jon Jo by winning a Category One final at the Midlands track — the Maiden Stakes.
However, while that £7,500 victory in May was not to be sniffed at, Thorn Falcon really made a name for himself back at Towcester in July. His kennelmate, Kilara Lion, burst out of the traps and led at the first bend in the hope of causing an upset from 22/1. But Thorn Falcon, at much shorter odds of 7/2, was soon back in contention before leading home his fellow Janssens-trained dog by over three lengths. It was a maiden victory in the £175,000 race for the Belgian handler.