Weblog: A greyhound owner's view
Action needed to address prize-money imbalance
Now into my second year of greyhound ownership, my enthusiasm for the sport isn't waning in the same way as most of my previous hobbies; darts, DJing, playing rugby, supporting my dreadful local football team, and a brief and literally sickening attempt at taking up gliding have all been consigned to the scrapheap over recent years.
In fact, my thirst for greyhound racing seems to be increasing if anything; marked by a sudden enthusiasm for attending trial sessions. My girlfriend was confused (and probably slightly angry) when I recently promised a 'romantic day out to London' that in reality comprised a battle through hellish city traffic to watch Airlie Impact in a two dog trial at Wimbledon Stadium before heading straight home - a seven hour round trip.
Remarkably, not even my excellent guided tour of Clapham High Street (sights including THE chicken shop from Channel 4 documentary ‘The Fried Chicken Shop’) could save the day.
In my mind it was somehow worth it. That's the thing with greyhound ownership - every aspect is exciting in its own way. I've just bought a new dog with a friend I met at the Irish Derby last year; a stayer called Stainless Steel (the dog, not the friend). We'd been on the look-out for a while, and those countless hours watching race videos on the internet and interpreting the lines of form before making a decision were strangely enjoyable.
Then you have the excitement of meeting the dog at kennel owners day, and seeing how he does in the three qualifying trials - I must have clicked the refresh button on my computer 50 times waiting for his trial results from Hove! Then eagerly waiting for the card to come out for the first race, and of course the anticipation of the race itself, as well as planning out a campaign. All that before having even run competitively on these shores!
Excitingly, he has now won a heat of the Coral Regency in a joint-fastest 41.28sec.
The dream of what a dog can be is a big part of the excitement of ownership - sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn't. Of the dogs I part-own, Captain Hook was bought as open class but has done most of his racing in graded company at Romford, I hit the jackpot with Airlie Impact who surpassed all expectations to finish runner-up in the William Hill Derby, Mannys Wednesday hasn't been the superstar we hoped (though he's still quite young and doing OK in top grade / minor open class).
The thing I like about greyhound racing is you don't have to be wealthy to 'roll the dice'. I doubt I could afford a hoof in any of the horses that ran at Cheltenham Festival, but in this sport, a few everyday people with normal jobs like me can club together and have a chance of some success. There can’t be many other sports where that's possible.
I found the recently published Deloitte report into the 'Economic Impact of Greyhound Racing' an interesting read. It reported that owners put £26m a year into the sport, with £14.5m of prize-money paid out – a big gap between the two!
The report said the net cost to owners of keeping a greyhound in training (kennel fees and vets bills etc, less prize money) is £1,700/year excluding the purchase price of the dog. That seems slightly higher than reality to me, but there's no doubt it highlights the big disparity between costs and prize-money. The report also revealed that 50 per cent of owners in last year's GBGB survey thought the cost of ownership was too high.
As owners we have to decide on the balance of costs we can afford. I don't mind paying a small kennel bill each month - if owners were guaranteed £50 monthly profit, there'd quickly be an oversupply of dogs which would be bad for many reasons.
I wish kennel fees of £12 per day or higher were supportable, as that would mean a better life for the hard-working trainers and kennel staff (the report highlights trainers making a total loss of £3million a year), but without an equivalent boost in prize-money, a cost increase would likely drive a significant number of owners out of the sport given there is already an £11.5m gap between costs and prize-money.
But the question of course is where would any additional prize-money come from? Bookmakers contribute a significant proportion of greyhound racing’s income - £25m through Bags being the biggest sum. Race day stadium revenues (entry, food, drinks etc) are £37m, but there's a cost against that for rent, bills, wages etc, and according to the report when everything is tallied up it leaves a profit of just £2m in total across all 25 tracks in the UK (now 24 with the loss of Coventry).
To boost profit from race day income would likely take significant capital expenditure to bring stadiums up to high enough standards to substantially increase revenue (as could potentially happen if Wimbledon is redeveloped), but it’s hard, if not impossible to see that happening across the board.
Therefore the bookmakers appear to be the obvious avenue to boost the sport's coffers and increase prize-money. The report says off course bookmakers annual profit from greyhound racing is £237m. Less than five per cent of that sum put into the sport would close the £11.5m gap between costs and prize-money.
It will be interesting to see how the GBGB, promoters and bookmakers respond to the outcomes of the Report. It is clear that action is needed.
You can follow me on Twitter @TFrancis20
*I’m also taking part in a Skydive for the Retired Greyhound Trust in June 2014 and am currently somewhat short of my fundraising target! If you can sponsor anything - no matter how little, it would be hugely appreciated.
My Airlie Impact, William Hill Derby runner-upPICTURE: STEVE NASH