Milldean Panther suffered a second-successive career defeat when finishing runner-up at Shelbourne Park on Saturday night, writes Will Reilly.
Once again, a hopeful Dublin crowd had made its way to the city centre track to see Milldean Panther perform. Only this time it was redemption night for the Panther who, after 12 successive victories and a burgeoning reputation, had finished only third in his SiS Live Shelbourne Tote Gold Cup semi-final last Saturday.
The punting public had, though, kept faith. The 4/6 on offer was taken. A 3,500 euro at 8/11 request was rejected with a quick and firm “No”. One of the ring bookmakers then briefly went 8/11 as the off approached, with briefly being the operative word as the big-hitters stepped up.
As the bell was sounded, he was trading at 4/7 and 1/2. By this time a hopeful rather than expectant hush had fallen over the crowd. The stadium was again very busy, although not packed to the rafters. The ‘Car Park Full’ sign had gone up early and, as with last week, there was a good cross-section of people in attendance, including a large number of children.
Foreign voices – French and Dutch to my ear – were heard around the place, and quite a few people had ventured on from the earlier Six Nations match at the Aviva Stadium. The restaurants and bars were doing a good trade and many a mother was seen bearing plates of sausages, chips and beans back to groups of children playing happily of the greyhound-patterned carpets. Everyone was, for sure, in good humour.
The night was mild with a breeze, which blew into the dogs’ faces up the home straight, picking up intermittently, bringing the listless stadium flags to life in the process.
On parade, Milldean Panther was again open-mouthed and, this time, panting a little more heavily than I had seen before. He looked pretty relaxed, though, although, for me, his demeanour has not replicated itself entirely in any of the competition rounds.
Then it was show time. Around came the lure and they were off. The groan was tangible: Milldean Panther had again failed to get the electric break that had characterised his runs in 2011.
Piercestown Sand, in trap four, got ahead of him at the first corner, although the Panther forced his way through to take second place. They raced down the far side, but the blistering mid-race surge that had been so evident in his semi-final run, failed to materialise this time.
For a moment, approaching the second-last bend, it looked as though there was still hope. However, the leader was not stopping and maintained his advantage, powering home by one-and-a-half lengths in a time of 29.71s to bag the 30,000 euro winner’s purse.
What is to be made of Milldean Panther’s run?
Once again, he had failed to show the fantastic early speed of 2011. Thoughts that ran through my head were: he may be hurting somewhere; it may be a little too early in the season for him to be at his peak; stud duties since the end of his 2011 runs may have taken the edge off him; maybe he needs a longer trip; maybe he now runs rather than races.
The simple fact of the matter is: he won his first 12 races, and now he has been beaten in two on the bounce and has something to prove.
It will be interesting to hear what his connections now have to say; and it will be just as interesting to follow his performances in the Easter Cup, which is due to begin in two weeks’ time, should he get the green light to take part.