Preparations are now almost complete for the National Coursing Meeting, which will be staged at Powerstown Park, Clonmel from next Monday, January 31st, until Wednesday, February 2nd.
The festival as usual will begin with the open meeting hosted by the Clonmel and District Open Coursing Club in Ballyclerihan on Sunday morning and will conclude with a horse racing meeting at Powerstown Park on Thursday, February 3rd.
Greyhound racing will also be held nightly at the Davis Road, Clonmel track throughout the week.
Clonmel continues to prove a magnet for visitors from all over the country and overseas for the annual coursing meeting, which will be staged for the 86th time next week.
The downturn in the economy in recent years hasn't affected the event to any noticeable extent and all the indications are that this year's meeting will be no different, with bookings for local hotels, guesthouses and bed and breakfasts running at their usual levels.
D.J. Histon, the chief executive and secretary of the Irish Coursing Club, which hosts the meeting, said the recession had impacted on every business and many people found themselves in difficult circumstances.
But the unique element of the national meeting was that it was a once-in-a-year event, which presented the opportunity to see the best greyhounds in action.
People tended to make a holiday of the week and he hoped that tradition would continue. He said the meeting was insulated from the recession to some degree because of its unique nature.
He said he was looking forward to a big crowd in Clonmel and expected that they would be entertained by top-class coursing, while providing a significant boost for businesses in the town. It would be an opportunity for people to meet, enjoy the week and put the recession out of their minds.
Mr. Histon said they were fortunate in that the icy weather and freezing conditions that prevailed during the cold snap that gripped the country during November and December had abated. This allowed a clear run to continue the preparations, including the training of the hares, which was completed last week.
The compulsory muzzling of greyhounds, introduced in 1993, has seen a fall-off in the large-scale protests by anti-blood sports groups that were once a feature of the meeting for many years.
Mr. Histon said there had been one very minor protest for the last number of years and he understood it was planned again for this year.
People were entitled to their views and the Coursing Club's job was to run the event within the rules and regulations of the Wildlife Act and under the terms of the licence granted by Environment Minister.
Several locally-trained and owned dogs will be bidding for the top prizes. James Morrissey and Maria O'Sullivan in Cahir have a double interest in the Oaks with Party Diva (which qualified in Mooncoin) and Party Flamingo, which won its qualifying trial stake in Templetuohy.
Another dog from the same litter will run in the Derby. Chinook Hyland is trained in Youghal by John Kiely and owned by Joe Long, Bandon.
The Gormanstown Syndicate in Ardfinnan will be hoping for a good run with Gentle Angel, which lines up in the Oaks, as does Loud Music, owned by Patsy Butler in Cashel. Another local Oaks contender is Adios Alexus, jointly owned by John O'Sullivan and Perry Aylward in Clonmel, as is Clerihan Nell, jointly owned by Paddy Flannery and Brian O'Sullivan.
Cumbawn Ellen represents the hopes of Brian Sheehan and Donal Keating, having qualified in Sevenhouses.
Local contenders in the Derby include Billy Roche's Drico, from the well-known Lisronagh, Clonmel kennel; Cloverhill Sam, owned by John Morrissey in Fethard; Sandyman Bolt, owned in Golden by Eoghan Ryan;Crushers Hyland, owned by David O'Sullivan, Rathronan, Clonmel; Stephens Ray, owned by the O'Sullivan Coakley and Grogan Syndicate; Key Detail, owned by Michael Ryan in Cashel and Tynwald Stuart, owned by Terry Corden in Tipperary Town.
Boylesports will once again sponsor the Derby and there's a new sponsor for the Oaks, the Abbeyfeale-based Greyhound and Pet World. The Horse and Jockey Hotel is also sponsoring two of the consolation stakes.
Surehaul Mercedes-Benz Novice Hurdle the feature race on Thursday
Meanwhile, thanks to the generous sponsorship of Mark and Donal O'Connor, Surehaul Ireland Ltd, Clonmel, the feature horse race at Powerstown Park on Thursday, 3rd February will be the Surehaul Mercedes-Benz Novice Hurdle of €26,500.
This 2 miles 6 furlongs Listed Race was won in 2010 by the Gigginstown House Stud owned and Colm Murphy-trained Quito De La Roque.
The card on February 3rd will consist of four hurdle races and two steeplechases and the action gets underway at 1.45pm.