Weblog: At large in the greyhound world
Top dog Hoff to defend
his RPGTV Derby crown
Extracts from Jim Cremin's reporting on the Awards . . . much more and pictures by Andy Walmsley in Tuesday's Racing Post
EMOTION and pride shone from the stage on Sunday as 440 people celebrated the sport’s high achievers at the Lancaster London hotel, while some 40-odd anti-greyhound racing protestors screamed abuse outside.
Nobody inside gave a jot, it’s a difference of opinion, yet telling those who actually care the most they have ‘blood on your hands’ if anything helped focus minds on properly celebrating a wide range of winners - from kennelhands, to homefinders, to the vet seeking safer tracks Dr Richard Payne, who received the GBGB Chairman’s Award.
Tears of joy ran several times, but perhaps least expected were those that came from Pat Rosney. Here is a total pro, one who has seen it all, yet the declaration from Andrew Rosindell MP, joint-chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Greyhound Group, and vice-president of the Retired Greyhound Trust, that Swift Hoffman had been voted Greyhound of the Year turned him markedly emotional as he stood with his partner, June McCombe, and Chris Scott, son of Swift Hoffman’s owner Paul, along with others from that family.
Rosney admitted later: “It was indeed moving for us all. Paul is recovering from a stroke, so in what was a remarkable year for the dog, and his owner, there has also been that to deal with.
“And you never know for sure, we all came hopefully last year but missed out with Newinn Yolo, and I’ve always wanted to win a Derby and a Greyhound of the Year title. Dusty [Swift Hoffman] has finally delivered both for us. His pace, ability and temperament all mark him as special.”
Now recovered from a shoulder muscle tear sustained at Nottingham in October, Swift Hoffman trials at Perry Barr on Friday, before seeking to defend his RPGTV Scottish Derby title. Last year he went on to win the Betfred Select and Ladbrokes Gold Cup.
Rosney said Shawfield is the priority, but is not sure about Wimbledon. “The fact is he prefers certain tracks, and Wimbledon doesn’t seem to be one of them. I’m also still keen to look at six bends. Monmore’s Summer Stayers Classic [won last year by Millwards Teddy] might be one possible, but all we’re actually thinking about is Shawfield.”
There was also huge emotion when Paul Brown, the Racing Post’s greyhound editor, announced Millwards Teddy as the RPGTV-sponsored Stayer of the Year.
Dean Childs, who trained Millwards Teddy, said: “I was quietly confident – although it was arguably the strongest of all the divisions. I had felt Teddy could hardly have done much more over the past two years – and injury was to take a hand, both up at Doncaster [when withdrawn from the Yorkshire Leger final], then when he broke down in Wimbledon’s Leger.
“Tonight means so much to everyone, Mitch’s loss remains deeply felt [he had been described earlier by Tom Kelly, the GBGB chairman as “an outstanding credit to greyhound racing”] and the incredible respect he was held in has meant so much to his family and friends – and especially [partner] Nicola.
“Mitch had always taken such pleasure from the efforts of Teddy, and with his outstanding pedigree [Droopys Nidge and Droopys Tamera are litter-sisters], believed he had a future at stud.
“If he could pass on his trackcraft, speed and character, that would make him priceless – and that is what happens next for him. He has made a full recovery, and John [White, joint owner] has been helping plan how we’ll promote him. Anyone interested should give me a call.”
Liam Dowling and his wife Helen had travelled over from Kerry and their extraordinary year was capped when their Ballymac Bonnie, who had won the TV Trophy at Towcester, was announced as the Marathon Performer of the Year. Taking a long route to London, he had dropped Ballymac Matt, his Irish Derby hero, into Kelly Macari, who will now prepare him for the RPGTV Scottish Derby.
“Yes, it was an incredible year, and this has been an impressive occasion,” said Dowling. “We’re proud to have won this, and the plan is for the bitch to run in a marathon at Clonmel next weekend.”
It was similarly emotional for the connections of Scolari Sound [Sprinter of the Year], Jetstream Reason [Hurdler], Domino Storm [Bitch], Monmore’s Adera Victor [Grader of Year] and Droopys Buick [Newcomer of the Year].
Jimmy Wright, trainer of Droopys Buick, said they were leaning towards perhaps missing the Scottish Derby, but plan to run in the Racing Post Juvenile at Wimbledon on Tuesday March 8.
Eden The Kid took the British-bred of the Year, and his owners, the KSS Syndicate, were the Coral Owners of the Year for the second time in a row.
Brendan Keogh, on their behalf, said: “Liz and Rab work so hard – everyone does in this game – and it’s wonderful to see the recognition given tonight. We have some exciting young dogs to look forward to, and of course the return of Eden The Kid.”
Towcester formally celebrated its Bags/SIS Track Championship win, with Lord Hesketh [owner], Kevin Ackerman [chief executive], Chris Page [racing manager] and many trainers and staff among those on hand for the presentation of the huge trophy.
Ackerman said later: “It’s proven an unusual year, to put it mildly, but the bold vision of Lord Hesketh and belief he has in the sport is fantastic.
“We started a test streaming of our racing just last night [Saturday] and have further exciting plans ahead in terms of making further use of those pictures, and of course we are also delighted to have come onto RPGTV every Tuesday. Make no mistake, this is just the start.”
A special lifetime achievement award was announced for Harry Crapper, and the entire room stood to applaud the retired Sheffield handler, who described himself as “totally shocked and overawed.”
The raffle in aid of the Retired Greyhound Trust raised £5,735, compared to £4,000 last year. “That means one extra greyhound will be found a good home,” said Lisa Morris-Tompkins, the RGT’s chief executive.
CHAMPION trainer Mark Wallis, after collecting his Ladbrokes-sponsored award, underlined a need for everyone to carefully consider the sport’s future.
“Last year was especially good for this kennel in the sense of the stability that a Towcester contract brought us – I hadn’t quite felt the same since Walthamstow went,” he said.
“Towcester has made a huge difference, but obviously we now want to see funding and prize-money, in general, increase.
“Everyone needs to reflect on the Derby, and the sport’s big events. In my view the GRA don’t have any real stake in the sport because they don’t own their own tracks, and the level of uncertainty that surrounds the Derby and Leger is unacceptable.
“By all means let’s all get behind the William Hill Derby this year, and if it is to be a swansong let’s make it a remarkable and memorable one. But we can’t have the sport just limping on afterwards, we need the media, the GBGB, the trainers and the promoters to all come together.
“We need vision, and my shortlist of potential Derby tracks-in-waiting would be the likes of Hove, Newcastle, Sheffield and Towcester. We don’t want some hurried, last minute arrangement, but for people to put forward ideas now – and the GRA be required to hand back the Derby and Leger trophies.
“The best proposal for the future of the sport should then be given a chance – let’s seek to make the Derby a true national sporting occasion again. It certainly used to be, and William Hill may be prepared to help.”
Wallis had brought 52 owners to the occasion. “We took all the left side terraces,” he joked, “but it’s been an enjoyable night, a wonderful occasion, and tremendous for Domino Storm to be honoured, and of course we heard Adageo Bob has been voted RPGTV’s Greyhound of the Year too.
“Our entire team look forward to these awards, and when here you feel anything is possible. But it’s no good everyone going home and doing nothing. We all have to contribute to the future.”
June Harvey, whose Fizzypop Buddy was a nominee for stayer of the year, said: “I just wish everyone could get behind Wimbledon, but we’ll see it through regardless, it’s a lovely track, and if it was Epsom, or any main horse track, there’d be uproar.
“Yet Wimbledon is the home of the Derby, and replacing that with a small football club seems ridiculous in terms of the impact on London – I do hope the Mayor takes that on board.”
Tom Kelly, the chairman of the Greyhound Board, in his introductory remarks to the evening, said: “The future of Wimbledon is likely to be decided soon. Like most of the greyhound community, I would deeply regret the loss of the home of the Derby and I wrote to Boris Johnson recently urging him to help preserve greyhound racing in the Capital.
“There is no way of predicting the outcome of the Mayor’s review, but it is encouraging and helpful to have newspapers as diverse as the Sun and the Guardian on our side.”