Ballymac is Drumbo Gold star
Only one spot separates the two fastest winners in the opening heats of the prestigious £5,000 Tennent's Gold Cup, dominated by the success of local runners on the best night of racing at Drumbo this year.
And competition for that top prize promises to be fierce with only two qualifiers from each of this Saturday's semi-finals.
Top of the pops in the initial six heats was Ballymac Lorcan, trained in Antrim by Frank Courtney for Ballynahinch owner Don Hayes. Lorcan lowered the colours of Irish Derby semi-finalist Blue Cafu from Joe Hurley's Magherafelt kennels, clocking a fast 28.82 which on a surface rated 30 spots slow, equated to an impressive 28.52 secs..
Just one hundredth of a second behind was the Dundonald-based Common Man (28.53), owned by John Shaw and the black dog and Lorcan are set to clash in the first semi-final, making for a tremendous battle.
Common got punters off on the right foot at odds of 6/4 the black dog making maximum use of trap one to lead all the way for a comfortable four lengths victory over Ivy Hill Bart and Dark Intentions.
Shutthe Backdoor, a rare runner here for Newry trainer Brendan Matthews, overcame a mighty bump with Killglen Chief at the first bend in heat two, opening up a good lead but coming back to Master Balboa in the home-straight. The black dog still had two and a half lengths in hand (28.90).
Navan's Olly Bray whose Dark Intentions was third in heat one, has a second runner in the 'semis' after Knight Invader held off Altmore Champ.
Much was expected of Blue Cafu in heat four but he was no match for Ballymac Lorcan who looks very smart, leading all the way for a two-length success while Dungannon's Wee Barney Son finished with real zest to upset the favourite Quietly in heat five. The latter was four lengths clear going down to the third bend but he weakened coming home, losing out by a length and a half in 28.78.
The camera was needed to sort out Mutual Regard and Drumsna Castle following a great buckle in the final heat. The outcome favoured Mutual, handled by Glenarm's Kieran Morgan for Ballymena owner Ronnie Graffin.
Draw for Saturday night:
First semi-final: 1: Common Man; 2: Blue Cafu; 3: Len The Turner; 4: Ballymac Lorcan; 5: Knight Invader; 6: Barnish Ed.
Second semi-final: 1: Dark Intentions; 2: Quietly; 3: Altmore Champ; 4: Mutual Regard; 5: Killuran Brae; 6: Ivy Hill Bart (W).
Third semi-final: 1: Shutthe Backdoor; 2: Meadowview Thril; 3: Ballymac Ricky; 4: Drumna Castle; 5: Master Balboa (M); 6: Wee Barneys Son (W)