Weblog: Our chief correspondent on the topical issues
Forget your troubles, come on get happy
RACING POST Greyhound TV has been going almost eight months now so you’d expect to be prepared for just about anything, but there was a surprise when I turned up for Thursday’s show.
Met as usual by producer Clive Lawrence, instead of being whisked off to the first floor broom cupboard that has passed for a studio since launch, it was down two floors below ground to our ‘new’ home, more of a bunker really if truth be told and I swear I saw a Central Line train going past in the corridor.
Predictably there were a few teething problems, we were a little late on air [not that we actually knew in the studio] and then there was a bit of playing with sound levels, but everything was just about okay in the end and when you have stars like Farloe Tango, Fernhill Jess, Silverview Perky and Westmead Maldini on view surely you can put up with the odd drama?
The Betfred Select Stakes at Nottingham last week was pretty dramatic with Mill Bling Bling losing the plot late on to present Silverview Perky with the prize. It was a sad end to a tremendous career for Kelly Macari’s dog, but perhaps apt as he’d always been a character and it’s testament to his training team’s skills that they got as much out of him as they did.
The bigger picture in greyhound racing is still of a sport trying to come to terms with its own identity and battling for every single penny of funding. We are also having to operate with our leading promoter, the five-track GRA, basically on a life support machine operated by Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
That’s just the way it is, and there really isn’t anything that can be done until the group us broken up save for making a lot of noise when planning applications are mooted. But do we all have to be so miserable?
In general, we’re enjoying some tremendous racing just now with top class youngsters coming through to challenge the established stars, although you’d never know it if you relied on certain websites and internet forums.
Indeed, there’s surely a case for Gobata’s website to have a perma-link to that of the Samaritans as it generally makes such depressing reading. If there is a negative angle to a story, you can guarantee they’ll find it – and they’ll try very hard even when there isn’t, such as the recent hilarious “two trainers a week leaving the sport” exposé which admitted that overall numbers were steady. Ever heard of churn?
In general, the rose-tinted brigade recall the so-called glory days of greyhound racing when stadia up and down the country were packed to the rafters for two eight-race meetings a week. In other news, we don’t put children up chimneys any more either.
The times they have changed, and greyhound folk have to change with it. There is still room for the hobbyist, but they should be expected to pay towards their pleasure while the focus has to be ensuring that those making a living from the sport are given every chance to thrive as well as circumstances allow.
Of course there’s much that needs changing in greyhound racing with many of the solutions easily sorted by bringing the non-bookmaker promoters to account. Bags could do its bit to start with by insisting on minimum prize money levels – why not require two-thirds of the value of a contract being paid out in such fashion?
That way, those who provide the raw materials, owners and trainers, get their share, as do track promoters providing the facilities.
But I’ve seen some fanciful suggestions, such as that virtually all the value of the Fund should go into prize money, while there appears real animosity towards improvement grants to stadia. Newcastle, Peterborough, Sheffield and Yarmouth are four shining examples of what capital grants can achieve in terms of canine and human facilities to drag greyhound racing into the 21st century leisure market.
Many of those making the loudest noise on these matters are those who do not actually do anything to contribute to the Fund as they race at tracks where off-course betting is minimal. These venues are already subsidised more than can really be justified in terms of prize money as they are massive net-takers – it’s a time to ask tough questions about whether we want 26 stadia limping along or perhaps just over half that number thriving.
During the recent Greyhound Trainers’ Association election, much was made of the fall in the number of professional trainers compared to when Norah McEllistrim was voted in four years ago. But it's a fact of life and new GTA chairman Ricky Holloway might need to realise being all things to all people rarely works.
For my part, I’ll be accentuating the positive over the next couple of weeks, whilst allowing a small dose of Olympics fever to take hold as well. On the positive note, what a delight it has been recently to speak to trainers such as Kev Hutton, Barry O’Sullivan and Paul Young who are clearly loving being involved at the sharp end and not being dragged down by the doom-and-gloom merchants.
Hove Tuesday is the first greyhound port of call and what a night that should be at perhaps the best stadium in the country. They know how to make a big occasion special, and if I might be allowed to put the rose-tinted specs on just for a second, carry it off with a bit of old-fashioned class.
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