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Greyhounds - Racing: Empress Stakes first-round heats

The £10,000 bet365 Empress Stakes gets underway at Towcester on Sunday, with the eight first-round heats live on Racing Post Greyhound TV.

A bitches-only stake, this competition attracted a top-class field last year and was won by superstar Coolavanny Aunty, again a talented crop of ladies are lining up.

Heading the antepost market is the Patrick Janssens-trained speedster Fabulous Azzura who recently went unbeaten through the BGBF Oaks Cup at Henlow.

The BGBF British Bred Derby winner reached the semi-finals of the Oaks last year and has some fantastic form over the 500m trip at the Northampton venue.

Injury forced her withdrawal from the Blue Riband at the start of the year, in which she had won first and second round heats, which included claiming the notable scalp of Derby champion Thorn Falcon.

Fabulous Azzura impressed at Henlow

She was brilliant in all three appearances at Henlow and is hard to oppose in the outright market coming into this competition in rude health.

Punters may wish to include a number of the short-priced favourites in the opening round in accumulators and the first heat (1.57pm) features one of the bankers of the meeting.

Frank Gray's Makeit For Waz lit up the early rounds of this year's Derby and proved a real favourite with the Towcester crowd, she has held her form well since and impressed last week in preparation.

After back-to-back successes at Romford over 575m, she dropped back to 500m and dominated a decent field from the outset with her bright early speed and big back-straight pace.

Her main danger in the first qualifier is Kevin Hutton's well-regarded Apache Breeze who may eventually end up racing over six bends.

Apache Breeze set to challenge

It is unlikely that she will be able to hold Makeit For Waz on the run to the first bend from trap one, but the daughter of Droopys Sydney is the forecast pick and will be staying on better than most.

Hutton's Forest Roanna is the second pick for a short-price multiple bet having landed in one of the softer heats at 2.32pm.

This well-bred two-year-old made a brilliant start to her career in the UK last month when cruising home to a three-length win at Swindon over 476m.

She'll need to be on her toes at lids-rise from trap one with local Trumpers Lola moving inside from trap two, but her trial on Tuesday was notably also from the inside box and she handled it well posting a solid 29.77sec.

There is plenty more to come from this exciting lady each-way players may look to her as an alternative to Fabulous Azzura in the outright market with four places up for grabs.

The antepost jolly lines up at 3.28pm and will be very short but is unopposable in the sixth heat, as is scopey local My Little Ivy at 3.48pm.

This Mark Wallis-trained speedster switches to the inside which is a slight concern, but with Tuftys Dora moving off from trap two there will be plenty of racing room for her to pace up and assert.

Blackrose Pippa tipped to thrive

One of the best bets in the opening round comes in the second heat at 2.12pm, with Golden Jacket semi-finalist Blackrose Pippa making her return to Towcester following a return from injury.

A classy and versatile lady who has top class form over much further than this 500m, she is fresh and fancied to flash from the boxes and lead in a race lacking in early speed.

Frank Gray's Makeit Bombay is a big danger on her inside in trap one after winning on debut last week, but she switches from a middle draw to the inside box, which so often is conducive to a slow start at Towcester.

The coast is clear for Blackrose Pippa and she is one to watch in the coming weeks with gradual improvement expected.

Trap one can work in favour of another versatile lady who has won over further, Jumeirah Lola, who dons the red jacket in heat four at 2.52pm.

One of the top local ladies, Frank Gray's staying bitch justified cramped odds to land an A2 contest in fine style on Tuesday night and has enough early speed to defend her inside line around the first couple of bends.

Once doing so, her pace and stamina can see her home at the expense of main danger Betsys Bullet, who has been keeping better company of late at Monmore and Hove but is drawn out wider than ideal.

Kevin Huttons's Forest Diamond is a litter sister to the aforementioned Forest Roanna and lines up in the most intriguing of the eight qualifiers.

This daughter of Towcester Derby champion Dorotas Wildcat caught the eye in defeat behind Makeit For Waz last week and looks well suited by track and trip.

However, Crossfield Lexi is a very well-regarded bitch for top handler Patrick Janssens and recently made her return to action following a lay-off.

She represented the kennel in the Trainer's Judgement Night earlier this year and lined up in the Maiden Derby before picking up an injury.

Her most recent trial was a very moderate 30.16sec over course and distance, but she is one to keep an eye on in the market - if the money comes for her take note!

The eighth and final heat is at 4.08pm and yet another trap one runner is fancied.

Magical Firebird is the likely favourite in trap two and she stays strongly, but the daughter of 2017 Irish Derby champion Good News isn't the most consistent at lids-rise and is worth taking on.

Instead Minnie Bullet gets the vote after narrowly missing out to Makeit Bombay last week.

Prior to that she chased home on Puppy Classic winner Distant Podge and could be value to pick up likely leader Fabulous Sierra.

Selections:

1.57 T2 Makeit For Waz
2.12 T3 Blackrose Pippa
2.32 T1 Forest Roanna
2.52 T1 Jumeirah Lola
3.11 T1 Forest Diamond
3.28 T1 Fabulous Azurra
3.48 T1 My Little Ivy
4.08 T1 Minnie Bullet

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