We must fight back by shining a light on positives....
BY MARK WALLIS
TO SAY a lot has happened in the sport since my last column would be an understatement. The Greyhound Derby at a new venue followed by some huge welfare issues in Ireland highlighted by the RTE programme being perhaps the major talking points.
Our kennel never really got a look-in during the Derby with our small number of entries and our best effort, Antigua Romeo, did well to make the quarter-finals.
However, overall I think Nottingham did a fantastic job, the Corden family led by Rachel and Nathan could not have done more to help trainers in their efforts to make the showpiece event a success and both deserve huge praise. They did get a touch unlucky with the final itself when the crazy unpredictable weather hit the UK as temperatures soared to an incredible 35 degrees.
This made it very uncomfortable for the general public attending but especially the dogs, which gave the antis a field day re racing in those conditions. Of course it was unfair criticism again as 99.9 per cent of greyhound people use common sense to ensure there are no problems.
I thought it was an excellent night’s entertainment and as always it’s nice to get a winner (Antigua Fire) on the big occasion, while Paul Hennessy and his team ran out deserving winners of the big race itself as Priceless Blake – a dog I came within a whisker of buying last year, and it wasn’t a silly price either – took the honours.
Despite the success the rumour going round is that we may have another new venue next year with Central Park looking the likely candidate to take over. Of course it’s only a rumour!
So what about the fallout of the aforementioned RTE programme? Yes it was bad and highlighted a problem in Ireland that needs addressing.
The wastage by certain breeders and trainers of pups who are not genuine or fast enough, who are put to sleep needlessly and in a disgusting manner, simply has to stop.
The way the programme used old footage which wasn’t factually correct will not matter to the growing number out there who think greyhound racing is cruel, so we as a sport have to fight back if we are to survive.
Funding is the obvious answer and only a statutory levy for the industry will sort this out, although a more manageable plan is a huge amount of promotional videos which could be made by trainers, kennelhands, owners, the Greyhound Trust, promoters and the GBGB and IGB highlighting everything that is good about the sport.
My daughter Emily and wife Sarah are going to work on one in the next few weeks, showing our three pets at home, a working day at the kennels and, hopefully, some footage from the tracks themselves.
We will show how happy and well the dogs in our care are, and if we could replicate this throughout the industry and get it out there on social media we could swamp all the negative stuff that the antis continue to hit us with – a simple but effective counter attack.
This might also drag some of those sponsors back that quickly turned their back on our sport – one in particular, Connollys (Red Mills), who make vast amounts of greyhound racing feed, was incredible.
There is much to be done to fight back but we must carry on and our kennel is exceptionally busy.
Henlow, which we are attached to, has a tough weekly schedule but Kevin Boothby and his team are great examples of promoters trying their best for the sport and I enjoy the challenge.
I’m getting a lot of people asking me now whether we can catch the powerful team of Patrick Janssens in the Trainer of the Year title.
It’s not going to be easy but we still have more than five months left of 2019 and, although we have had our moments at times, I still feel we haven’t really got into top gear yet this season.
If we do then, yes, we can hit the front when it matters but fair play to Patrick if he holds on. We both want to win big race titles for our owners more than we want to win the individual title but it would still be sweet if we did come out on top.
Solidarity vital for lovers of our dogs and sport...............
BY PHIL DONALDSON OF THE RACING POST
HAVING worked in greyhound racing for many years and been a fan of the sport and lover of the breed for many more, I still often find myself moved by the sheer brilliance, diversity and camaraderie of it all.
In just the past few weeks I don't mind admitting to have shed tears at the passing of much respected Racing Post colleague and Irish greyhound journalist Michael Fortune, while on the other hand found myself beaming from ear to ear at the triumph of underdog Robert Holt, the Sheffield trainer who came, saw and conquered the bigger names at Nottingham with his hitherto unbeaten RPGTV Select Stakes hero Trickys Dumbo.
In losing Irish legend Fortune, we said goodbye (much too soon) to one of life's genuine good guys. His son Ian eloquently summed up his father in these pages as a man who was tremendous company and who lived and loved life. Spot on. His passion for, and encyclopedic knowledge of greyhound racing never ceased to amaze me.
Working for many years with Michael on the annual Irish Greyhound Review – which was very much a labour of love for him – was a great experience, although his gentle reminders for copy became slightly less gentle as deadlines approached!
That said, any reprimands were always delivered in that soft brogue and with a perceived twinkle in his eye. I may be the other side of 50 these days, but would always smile as he signed off conversations with "talk to you kid". He'll be sorely missed.
However, greyhound racing does have that uncanny ability to bring you back up again and I genuinely enjoyed that life-affirming Select Stakes success of Trickys Dumbo.
Coming into the race as something like the fourth reserve, the youngster paid no heed to or showed no fear of his exalted rivals – including the 2018 and 2019 Derby runner-ups in Droopys Verve and Ballymac Tas.
Rocketing out of trap three, the August '17 whelp by Skywalker Puma out of Quivers Duchess, showed his rivals a clean pair of heels and put himself, and his handler, firmly on the map.
I also liked the way Holt, who started out at Kinsley, moved on to Doncaster but switched to Sheffield last year, handled himself throughout. He was gracious in accepting a place in the prestigious one-off despite having missed out initially, and has been magnanimous in victory since.
I particularly enjoyed a Tweet of his which said: "They say you can't buy love, you cannot buy another man's dream either. Keep it lit, Tricky".
Lit, by the way, in modern parlance means real, fresh or exciting, and perfectly sums up his dog – as did the reply from fellow Sheffield trainer Carl Perry, who wrote: "He's a once in a lifetime dog Robert, enjoy every minute, you deserve it."
Camaraderie at its best, and at a time when the sport is coming under increasing pressure from very vocal antis, solidarity is very much a positive among those who live and work in greyhound racing.
And by solidarity I mean not just a pat on the back for a job well done, but by standing up for our sport, looking after our greyhounds, providing the best care for them while racing and in retirement – and by naming and shaming those who still fail to respect this noble breed.
We will probably never convince those who stand chanting outside our tracks of the great strides the sport has taken in improving welfare through the GBGB's Greyhound Commitment charter and the much needed transparency created under Mark Bird when it comes to publishing injury statistics.
For many who oppose greyhound racing the simple fact that people bet on the races to them means it has to be inherently cruel.
I am told the antis at Hove on Thursday evening for Sussex Cup final night were horrendously intimidating and undoubtedly families bringing children along will be affected by this.
Thankfully we live in a free country, and people are absolutely entitled to their beliefs and have a right to protest. As a sport, all we can do is continue to take the front foot on welfare, show how much the dogs love to race and remind the doubters how well they are looked after.
I HAVE found myself wondering this week if the damage is done as far as the public perception of greyhound racing is concerned.
More and more often when I am walking my pet greyhound Lola, as well as the usual ‘she must need a lot of exercise’ remarks I now get ‘isn’t it awful the way they’re abandoned after racing?’ or somesuch.
I do, though, really believe things are getting better in terms of dogs being euthanised. Surely all trainers and owners have by now got the memo that it isn’t okay to put a dog to sleep on economic grounds. Credit has to go to Mark Bird for introducing the injury recovery scheme which has been a great success.
I read with interest stipendiary steward Pete Rosney’s column in the Greyhound Star last week where he called for the ‘unsuitable for homing’ box on the retirement (green) form to be removed.
I have, for a long time, made my thoughts on this clear – the box should only be able to be used if the dog is assessed by an independent person, ideally from a greyhound homing centre.
You can remove the economic box – that one is a no-brainer for me – but people could simply tick the unsuitable for homing box instead. So, remove economic and have designated people all over the country to assess aggressive greyhounds.
Properly aggressive racers are few and far between. I think I’ve only ever come across two in all the kennels and homing centres I have been to. It shouldn’t be a big problem, so why are we messing around with not changing the form? Let’s just get it done.
I watched the RTE expose with mixed emotions. I was aware some of it was old footage and some parts manipulated, but you can’t argue with the ending that showed greyhounds being shot at knackers’ yards.
About three years ago, a well-respected trainer told me that some Irish transporters who were bringing dogs over to the UK were taking as many retired ones back with them. Of course I reported the information to the GBGB.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out what was happening to them. I hope and pray this isn’t still happening today. Anyone who knows it is, please call the GBGB whistleblower line. Our dogs deserve much better than that.
I was pleased to read last week that the IGB have come up with a plan for a care fund. At least some good has come out of the bad.
The simple solution to it all is that more homes are needed in Ireland and Britain. All the extra racing we have now is going to put more demands in Britain on the Greyhound Trust and independent centres.
Some racing kennels are clogged with retireds, while homing waiting lists are long.
I also think we are going to have to aim to help the IGB if they are going to start finding homes for all their dogs. After all, Britain has a population of 66 million, the Irish much less than a tenth of that.
I’d like to see the two countries working together on it. I’ve got one or two things in the pipeline to try to help raise the profile of how wonderful greyhounds are as pets. It’s about educating the public and we need to do that.
Even more than raising money, we need to raise awareness. Now. It does feel that when we talk about welfare there is an assumption this means post-racing career. Not so.
My biggest gripe is kennel standards. I will bang this drum until the day I die or, until hopefully, I don’t have to.
I don’t believe it’s about looking at a kennel and judging the ‘bricks and mortar’, though of course a certain building standard should be adhered to. It’s the dogs that need to be looked at. Quite simply, are they getting enough attention?
With the demands of racing as they are now, some trainers are simply not in the kennels for long enough. Greyhounds are easy animals to care for but they still need attention and stimulation. I hear reports of trainers only being in their kennels for an hour or so a day. That isn’t acceptable in my book.
I was pleased to hear the GBGB recently took the decision to close down a kennel that was in a bad way but I also think there are many more that need to go, and I think we can still persuade the public that racing greyhounds are well cared for.
But we still have some massive strides to make. And I wish we would make them a bit quicker!