Weblog: At large in the greyhound world
Does too many sprints indicate a runners' crisis?
LAST week, a holiday one for me, allowed visits to Hove [Tuesday] and Peterborough [Saturday] interspersed by two visits to Goodwood, including 'Frankel Day' when Sir Henry Cecil's unbeaten horse won the Qipco Sussex Stakes for the second year.
True superstars, in my view, have one common quality - extraordinary balance. Whether it's 80s world champ Ballyregan Bob, reigning Derby hero Blonde Snapper, or any of my personal all-time favourite horses - Dayjur, Red Rum, Kauto Star and now Frankel.
Hove of course has a statue of Ballyregan Bob gracing the front of its grandstand and going there on Tuesday for the Coral Sussex Cup final felt like going "home" as it gave me my first greyhound job in the early 1970s, a lifetime ago.
It was then described as the "showplace of greyhound racing", and with great facilities and a team that care, little has changed - although it feels a little odd to see Norah McEllistrim, formerly at Wimbledon, as an attached trainer there. Peter Miller, Hove's racing manager, is pleased with the way Norah has fitted in, and her band of loyal owners are certainly a useful acquisition for any track.
Brian Harrison, Norah's partner, has become a key player in encouraging greyhound sales in Britain - I will be fascinated to see how the one he has planned for Henlow turns out on the last Sunday in September. Brian mentioned that a sale at Mullingar has been cancelled, and says he has heard there are doubts about another prominent Irish one.
With British breeding in decline - although Lil Risky, bred in Scotland by Alex Cameron, flew the flag in taking the Peterborough Derby on Saturday - there is reason for longer term worry. My own view is that this reason enough for the Greyhound Board to consider making significant increases in flagship events, by ensuring every Category One finalist gets a proper return. Without some defensive action, a shortage of greyhounds will in any case force price and prizemoney rises.
As I write this, there was huge excitement about the Olympic 'Blue Riband' event, the ten seconds of the men's 100m! It's a bit baffling to me as greyhound sprinting remains my least favourite discipline and it was bordering on horror for me when I realised Peterborough's 'card of the year' on Saturday featured no fewer that FOUR two-benders!
Sprints, in my day as a racing official, were only used as cannon-fodder when you were desperately short of dogs - so this underlined that we are facing a crisis. Punters don't bet on them, and even the most galloping of tracks struggles to offer up any excitement through staging them.
That said, before Hove's sprint on Tuesday, one of the all-time two bend greats Jimmy Lollie paraded to mark his retirement. Not only was he the exception to the rule, as punters loved him, he was also stunningly handsome and an enormous credit to Seamus and Teresa Cahill.
In a column in Monday's Racing Post, I've taken a look at what happens next for Ricky Holloway, who has succeeded Norah as chair of the Greyhound Trainers' Association, as well as reflected on the future of the Greyhound Star.
I'm renewing my annual sub to the monthly and would urge everyone to do the same.
It costs £18 for six months, £35 for a year. The address is Greyhound Star, PO Box 49, Letchworth Garden City, Herts, SG6 2XB, tel 01462 679439, email email@example.com.
**Don't miss Tuesday's paper for a voucher offering free admission, racecard and a drink to Wimbledon's William Hill Puppy Derby final gala . . . plus full form, Pricewise and previews of the big night