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Byline: Jonathan Hobbs

MARK WALLIS and Mark Currell teamed up to dominate the conclusion of Sunderland's William Hill UK Festival of Racing at a packed and buzzing north-east venue on Thursday.

On a night when the highs and lows of sport were never better illustrated than with the loss of Rotar Wing (see story), greyhound racing joined as one to produce a fitting tribute to a champion of the track, on a night when pounds 67,000 in prize-money was on offer.

Sponsors Hills, rightly lauded for their and boss Ralph Topping's decision last week to increase the first prize for the Derby to an eyecatching pounds 125,000 in 2012, had in 2008 handed over cheques to an owner-trainer combination for a 'Lenson' double for Len Ponder and Tony Collett. Now they did the same with Wallis and Currell - and pair of Blondes.

And what a double it was.

The showpiece race, the pounds 25,000 Classic over 450m, went to Blonde Snapper and thus completed a fantastic training performance by Wallis and his team from their Suffolk base as the two-year-old bettered the track by five spots in in winning in 26.59sec after battling hard to edge past the gallant Lampard.

A notoriously difficult greyhound to keep sound, recent weeks have seen Blonde Snapper, an October 2008 son of Droopys Kewell and Rough Charley, recover from his races better - and Wallis was quick to pay tribute to his team for the part they played.

"We always knew this dog was fast, one of the fastest in the country if you look at this puppy form, but the staff, with the help of Ron Mills, have helped him," he said. "You still have to take one race at a time with him, but I'm favouring the Kent Derby at this stage as opposed to the Select Stakes."

Blonde Fletch had 15 minutes earlier set the tone of the night of the Wallis/Currell combination when coming through to head Droopys Hester at the penultimate turn before holding the finish of the again unlucky Bower Hawk.

Owner Currell, joined at the the track by wife Kim and son Jay, could not be sure the September 2008 son of Black Shaw and Glebe Stapler had held on from where he was standing, but with the first leg safely in the bag the five-hour drive up from the south, and then back, was always likely to be more manageable!

After Blonde Snapper had sealed a famous double, Currell was quick to credit his trainer, but in the same breath pay his own respects to Rotar Wing. "David [Pruhs] is a friend of mine and a feel for him and the dog's other owners. He was a fantastic greyhound, a real star," he said.

As for his own big-race double, Currell added: "This is special, in fact it's blinding! Snapper deserves it. He's famously tough to keep sound, but Mark and the team have done a fabulous job.

"You cannot really plan with him, but I see Hills make him 40-1 for next year's Derby. I wouldn't rule that out, but it's a long time ahead."

As for Blonde Fletch, Currell celebrated the dog who has been been a rare staying star for the owner after the four-bend exploits of his greyhounds such as Blonde Dino, Blonde Mac, Blonde Fern and Blonde Jeannie. "I thought the Regency was great, but this was brilliant. I think Mark is looking at the [Betfred] Select Stayers as a next target."

In the other finals, Greyhound of the Year Jimmy Lollie made it six wins from six at the track as he defended his Festival Flyer final in scintillating, fast-trapping style, completing a superb return from injury for Seamus Cahill and owners Peter Reed and Steve Gamblin, while Skywalker Teddy earned a 66-1 quote for next year's Derby from the sponsors after winning the Puppy Plate final for Ted Soppitt and Ray Patterson.

Kate Miller of the sponsors said: "We were delighted with the quality of Thursday's card, and the races lived up to expectation. The Grand Prix possibly proved the better of the two big finals with three leaders and a thrilling finish, and the fragile Blonde Snapper's victory in the Classic proved that persistence really does pay off. Mark Currell, one of the sport's most invested owners, thoroughly deserved his big-race double.

"We pass on sincere thanks to all owners and trainers who supported the Festival again. It's been a great sucess.''


Blonde Fletch (T3) wins the Grand Prix final by a head from fast-finishing Bower Hawk (T4) Blonde Snapper (T5) disputes the early lead with Lampard (T4) before going on to win the Classic final on Thursday
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Jul 16, 2011
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