In many ways, the opening night of the Derby developed much as expected. We had previously flagged up how the Irish tend to arrive all guns blazing and Team Holland set the tone with a four-timer headed by the defending champ Romeo Magico.

A traditional slow starter in every sense of the word, some punters may recall that his most laboured performance last year was in the opening round when he laboured through in third. Thankfully he kicked off in a comparatively easy opener but still made hard work of it; his 4.32 sectional was the slowest of the night’s qualifiers.

Kennelmate, joint ante post favourite, and still (for another 24 hours) track record holder Swords Rex was the night’s quickest winner though only just. His 28.93 was challenged by 28.94 (twice) and a 28.95.

It has been another fabulous start for the Irish with 10 wins (from 27 runners) in the 31 heats. Surprisingly, there were fewer than a year earlier where Irish runners landed 15 heats (33 runners).

There was also a double for Damien/Brandan Matthews with Undulation, suggesting she might love the circuit even more than her mum, the brilliant Unlock Unlock. The ability doesn’t necessarily translate to running styles though, check out her early pace – though the first bend steering could improve a bit.

One of the most noticeable features of the opening round were the number of empty traps. There were seven vacant boxes at the trap draw which rose through various reasons to 19 spread throughout the 32 heats.

Last year, the competition filled and although there were four withdrawals, reserves took their place meaning there were no vacant traps throughout the entire first round.

The night’s only shock was the elimination of Rioja Joey who failed to recover after sprawling from the boxes and eventually finishing last.

It is worth noting that the track definitely appeared to be slowing up by the latter stages with the last four races being assessed as -10. Not ideal, but nowhere near the variation that became a feature of Towcester vers.1.0.



AS I SAY wins heat 7 29.01 Photo: © Steve Nash

BALLYHIMIKIN MEL wins in 28.95 Photo: © Steve Nash

MAREE CHAMPION wins the “all qualify” three runner heat 4 in 28.94 Photo: © Steve Nash

ROMEO HANZO leads at the first bend – going on to win heat 3 in 28.94 Photo: © Steve Nash

SIGNET GOOFY (t4) leads at the first bend to win heat 8 in 29.29 from Savana Hero (t6) with Ballymac Finn (t1 rails) also qualifying – from this difficult early position behind the badly crowded and partly hidden Jeopardy Dawg (blue dog t2) Photo: © Steve Nash

Derby reigning champ Romeo Magico with Nic Firmager and Rachel Holland Photo: © Steve Nash