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Owners deserve better – as do the sport's punters
THE MONDAY COLUMN
RIGHTLY there is much talk of trainers needing a better deal from greyhound racing, but it should not be forgotten that owners and punters deserve more than they currently get too.
Looking through the runners for the Irish Puppy Derby, it was hard not to be struck by how many have British connections and it is worth pondering why so many UK-based owners seem to prefer to have runners in Ireland than at home.
There is no doubt that opportunities are more straightforward under the Irish system which does not rely on competitive Bags-style racing, but it goes deeper than that and a lot of it is surely down to respect.
Last year a review pointed to the decline in owners in GBGB-licenced racing and many noises were made about putting the situation right but the evidence of change is hard to find.
Owners should be made to feel special and not tolerated as is the case now – some tracks are far better than others but it should be a given that being an owner, which is a serious financial commitment, brings with it privileges.
Every track should set aside room for an owners’ and trainers’ bar entry to which is by invitation or membership card only. Many of my happiest earliest greyhound memories was of the owners and trainers bar at Wembley where many a friendship was forged amidst the opportunity to talk of the sport we all loved and not be interrupted by the more ‘social’ attendee.
And how galling must it be for an owner to be expected to pay for a racecard at many venues when those occasional visitors utilising special offers get one free?
Concern is regularly expressed about the high percentage of trainer-owned greyhounds which potentially leaves a welfare crisis looming, but those people who are more likely to do the right thing when it comes to retirement and re-homing at the end of a racing career.
And what of punters, whose money it is that everyone is actually arguing over through the voluntary contributions from turnover made by bookmakers?
It is far too difficult to get racing information from many venues which seem to regard their form sheets and trial results as classified.
There are honourable exceptions, pointedly mainly the bookmaker-owned tracks, although enlightened Sheffield also gets a mention, but it is so hard to find details of trial results and upcoming races at many venues.
Punters are not daft and want to make educated decisions before parting with their hard-earned but too many tracks seem to completely ignore that and then wonder why turnover, and hence Fund yield, is falling.
Of course, the excellent Bags website (bagsracing.com) and the Greyhound Board ‘The Dogs’ app play a major role in this but individual tracks could do so much more to promote their own product – people want to watch racing so why no national or local video archive?
And what of the racing experience itself? One of the most commonly heard complaints centres on the lack of a digital time display at every British track to follow the Irish example where it is standard and clearly adds to the excitement.
I have listened to, and can understand to an extent, concerns about a time subsequently having to be altered if it transpires the beam was broken by a part of a greyhound different to the nose than actually counts but it is surely not a deal-breaker.
Greyhound racing is so time-related and dependant that it seems archaic in this day and age to rely on an anonymous voice to just read it out a few minutes later when the moment has passed.
Every GBGB track should have a digital display paid for by the Fund which would be a capital grant. I’m sure that would meet with just about universal approval and also bring with it the added bonus of total openness with such as trial times.
None of these ideas is revolutionary and would be simple to implement but the worry is that because they don’t have an immediate bottom line benefit to tracks they won’t be happening in a hurry.