SINCE my last column our kennels’ fortunes have risen with some more big-race wins and our season, which after six or seven months was moderate by our standards, is on the brink of being a very good one.
This is testament to the hard work put in by all at Imperial Kennels with the support of our loyal owners and, of course, some top canine talent emerging at the right time.
What would please me as much would also be to see the fortunes of the sport change for the better in the near future. We have had some real plus points this year with the development of Romford and upgrade to Hove and the man behind that, Ian Smyth – a strong candidate for the Services to the Greyhound Industry award in my opinion – promises to make improvements to Monmore & Crayford as well in 2020.
The sale of the GRA tracks to the Arc group means the cloud over Belle Vue has lifted for a while, plus Sheffield’s big redevelopment is almost done. It all feels as though the decline in the sport reached rock-bottom at the end of 2018, and the good news is still coming, with Towcester reopening next March.
Many will say it might be another false dawn, but with promoter Kevin Boothby at the helm we have a man who gets things done and I’m looking forward to seeing what he can bring to the table with top-class facilities at his hand.
All too often we sometimes forget the dogs are the stars, but since the loss of the Sky coverage hardly anyone outside the greyhound world would know the Derby winner or for that matter any group winner this year. That’s something we must change.
I’m sure one of the reasons we don’t get more national media attention is because of an uninspiring welfare record. That has improved dramatically under Mark Bird’s leadership at the GBGB, so now seems the right time to try to get the word out to the general public.
Maybe it might be a mistake to run before we can walk, but Towcester gives the chance to project our image, so why can’t the whole industry get behind Boothby’s project?
Once a month I would love to see a top-class Saturday night meeting with a £5,000 or £10,000 final the focal point plus a strong supporting card to provide that Shelbourne-on-a-Saturday-night feel.
On such nights we could advertise the meetings in the mainstream papers with vouchers to attend, use social media with videos of races showing the dogs involved in the finals and generally promote everything to the full.
We could reward the stars on the tracks who do well through the year with owners getting a yearly prize on a points-based system, make sure of trade stands for the major retired homefinding schemes, and in general add some razzmatazz.
I feel the sport is ready to stick its head back above the parapet and say we are not in decline, look at what we are doing, and show everything that makes it such a buzz.
I asked a question this year as to why we can’t renew the popular Track Championship and was told the two rival media groups – Arc and SIS – would not agree to working together. So why couldn’t each group hold its own championship with the winners of each clashing in a two-legged home-and-away final?
Away from the track, one thing that would most certainly increase the sport’s fortunes is to see those industry injury and fatality figures for 2019 show a dramatic improvement when they are released next year.
As a sport, to be seen by the general public as whiter-than-white we must have zero tolerance on fit and healthy greyhounds being put to sleep due to economic reasons.
Of course with way more than 50,000 races a year across our sport there will always be accidents and the odd fatality, but why shoot ourselves in the foot when a trainer puts a dog down needlessly instead of waiting to go through the proper rehoming schemes?
Despite a considerable wait at times, it is the right thing to do. Naturally, as with everything, some extra money needs to be thrown into the pot to make things happen. A small owners’ bond at the point of registration could do the trick. We just need the will to be there to do it.
TWO St Legers in a week for me, taking in Limerick on Saturday (550 yards) after Perry Barr’s (710m) the weekend before.
With both events going to north Kerry-based winners and staged before enthusiastic crowds with plenty of families in evidence, the words of Frank Nyhan, chairman of the Irish Greyhound Board in Saturday’s Limerick racecard are justified.
He wrote: “It has not been an easy time for us. However, events like this year’s Leger – driven by the wonderful support of the greyhound fraternity – show there are still green shoots to be positive and excited about for our industry . . . our challenge is to pass on the sport to future generations.”
With next Saturday’s Night of Stars at Shelbourne building up to a real crescendo, November is proving a month to remember.
The Christmas Party season is already in full swing in Ireland – Limerick looked the part on Saturday, beautifully decorated and with festive songs, mulled wine, turkey and Christmas pudding all being enjoyed.
However, one likely Scrooge ahead will be Indecon, due to finalise its economic report next month and then present it to the IGB before Christmas. It is expected to make for uncomfortable reading with several tracks believed to be under close scrutiny.
However, among those who believe that greyhound racing still has real appeal is Sandra Gilmartin (Paddy Power, Coventry), the new Racing Post/SIS Betting Shop Manager of the Year. She made the Birmingham Leger presentation on behalf of RPGTV.
Her view is that the sport has taken a markedly higher profile in her shop since the restrictions were imposed on gaming machines. “It’s attractive because it’s quick and easy. Perry Barr has been wonderful, an Irish winner, a great buzz and really good to see so many young people.”
She said she had read up on the sport and was impressed by the work the Greyhound Board was doing around rehoming and reducing the costs in this area. “It’s important to make that as easy as possible for all involved,” she said.
Similarly Brendan Maunsell, trainer of Redzer Ardfert, the Perry Barr champion and Night of Stars-bound, would prefer if his local track Tralee operated its own retirement branch with kennels that the nearby community could visit. However, the Irish Greyhound Board will, initially at least, seek a more centralised option.
Maunsell’s own kennels, in Abbeydorney, Kerry, are also part of a busy dairy farm. He has a couple of litters, both of nine-week-old pups – learning about life alongside his select team of racers. Those include Cash Is King, fourth in Saturday’s Irish Leger – incidentally a litter brother to Dave Mullins’ Troy Bella.
Thinking of Maunsell’s point about getting people visiting kennels, one imagines a scheme that involves local schoolkids. Anyone who sees pups would be fascinated. Greyhounds in general make great adverts in themselves, being such gentle, happy and empathic creatures in their home environment. It’s a hidden secret.
I remember once as a youngster, going to an open day at the old Northaw Kennels near Potters Bar. It was magical; you never forget it.
Liam Dowling, ‘down the road’ from Maunsell, landed the Friends Of Limerick Leger with Ballymac Anton and longer-term plans are to bring him to Nottingham’s Derby next year – along with Ballymac Tas, runner-up there this year. She herself has a three-week-old litter of six, three dogs and three bitches, to Farloe Blitz.
Dowling explained Tas is a brilliant mum and there’s sure to be great interest in her pups.
I don’t think I’ve seen ever seen him quite so excited. Winning the Leger meant so much to him.
Indeed Maunsell had earlier talked of making evening racing special again and fears SIS racing is something of a distraction. “Ensuring competitive fields for betting shop racing seems to have superseded staging quality racing on normal weekend nights – and that’s the core of what the sport is in Ireland, families often with their own greyhounds going racing and dreaming of a big event,” he said.
It’s the pups that people like Dowling and Maunsell produce which are our rocket fuel.
A wish list that could cheer up a Christmas Grinch.....
EVEN as a confirmed Grinch, it has to be conceded that early December means Christmas is on the horizon so how about a wish list for the GBGB to action in 2020 and beyond?
Let me first stress that I think the GBGB is doing a cracking job dealing with all the external pressures the sport faces by being proactive rather than reactive like so often in the past, but there is a case for thinking that the eye may have been taken off the ball a little regarding some racing practices that have been allowed to creep in.
The way the sport is increasingly watched – in the main online or on television rather than at the track – is not adequately reflected in the rules and regulations.
So hereby are five requests for my Christmas stocking:
1 Automatic retrial for a greyhound beaten a distance
Quite how this has to be requested and is not already a rule in such a welfare-conscious era would be hard to fathom but for the expediency that pressures on kennel strengths have brought and the desire to cut down on the number of trials.
However, it just does not sit right for judgements to have to be made about a greyhound’s well-being when the last piece of public evidence was a fall. And the thought of such a greyhound then racing again and suffering an injury, connected or not, should send shudders through everyone charged with defending the good name of the sport.
Greyhounds interfered with by an errant rival does create one potential grey area and perhaps could be covered with an exemption so connections are not effectively punished twice, but even getting them in a ‘catch all’ would be preferable to no rule at all.
2 Weight sheets to be published online
Now it wouldn’t bother me whether I never saw a greyhound weight again, especially in open-racing where external factors such as different scales at different tracks can render comparisons meaningless.
It is, though, for some a vital part of information and one which has traditionally been available at tracks by the displaying of a weight sheet.
In this day and age it may be that less than one per cent of people betting at a meeting have access to them, so publication online, via websites and social media, is surely a no-brainer – and kudos to those tracks which already do.
Greyhound racing’s funding is based on bookmaker turnover and anything that encourages that should be actively pursued.
3 Non-runners to be immediately announced
Nothing annoys punters more than a non-runner scuppering an early price taken on another contender, especially when the change may have occurred before the bet was actually struck.
Rather than wait to the start of a meeting to announce changes, tracks should be compelled to inform the Press Association – keeper of the database – immediately.
4 Centralised photo-finish resource
Punters are entitled to see where their money went and even those tracks which make photo-finishes available to that such as RPGTV see the quality of those images degraded in transmission.
The British Horseracing Authority solves that issue by publishing relevant photo-finishes on its website and there is no logical reason why greyhound stadia should not be instructed to do likewise on the GBGB website.
As an aside, the quality of photo-finishes seems to vary greatly track by track and, just as circuits are occasionally subject to recalibration to check that the advertised distances are correct, then so should photo-finish equipment to ensure it meets industry standards and is fit for purpose.
5 Competition draws to be made in public at the track
Perhaps not for the first round where guarding is in play, but there is no excuse for the growing number of tracks who pass the buck to the GBGB round-by-round. Doing a draw may be more complicated than it once was due to the equal distribution of seeds but it’s not rocket science.
While much of this missive has focused on the off-course nature of greyhound racing, there should still be privileges of actually being present at a track and a trap draw offers such potential theatre.
And as for tracks that even get the GBGB to do finals the next day . . .