Weblog: A personal view from the William Hill PR director
All too often in modern sport, the winners and champions fail to connect with the general public.
There was a long period in the UK when the sport of greyhound racing was second only to football in terms of spectator numbers, as for the 'man in the street', he could feel a real connection with both sports.
Greyhound racing today still has that wonderful facet of being a sport that enables people from all walks of life to engage directly with the best practitioners in the land and take an active part in the game with relatively low costs.
The line up for the 2012 William Hill Derby final again demonstrated how wonderfully eclectic and accessible the sport is, with an amazing array of individuals, young and old, from all walks of life, living the Derby dream.
That Blonde Snapper won the Derby, winning Mark Currell £125,000 was a fitting finale to a truly magnificent sporting contest.
The six rounds of the Derby make huge demands on greyhounds and the skills of their trainers.
Looking down the list of handlers in the finals, reminded everyone that in greyhound racing, the trainer is a major factor.
Charlie Lister and Nick Savva have won the top prize in the sport ten times between them, Michael O'Donovan has won six Waterloo Cups, the premier field competition, whilst Matt Dartnall was leading up a finalist for the third time in four years.
Mark Wallis, one of the true gentlemen of the game, enjoyed an unbelievable experience in 2009 when Kinda Ready produced an astonishing stretch run to gun down the mighty Fear Zafonic in the shadow of the post.
His patience with his finalist, Blonde Snapper, is a testament to his skills. The October 2008 black son of Droopys Kewell was the oldest runner in the 2012 Derby final, but because of the litany of injuries and setbacks, the race on Saturday was just his 39th start.
Blonde Snapper has proved himself a truly masterful competition performer with the Derby success being added to those in the William Hill Classic (£25,000) and Golden Sprint. He also reached the final of a vintage Puppy Derby in 2010, and the finals of the Blue Riband and Henlow Derby.
Despite his 8/1 starting price on Saturday, Blonde Snapper's success was no fluke. His run spoke volumes for all that is good in a top class greyhound. He broke well, paced up superbly and then showed that all important trait at the first bend - courage.
Blonde Snapper dipped his shoulder, rode a significant bump on his inner and emerged from the second corner with the lead in the Derby final.
However, the heavily supported favourite, Farloe Ironman (6/4 from 9/2)was on the chase and halfway down the back straight, the Ironman had got to within three parts of a length of the leader. Almost perceptibly, Blonde Snapper responded and maintained his lead around the final two bends - a move which seemed to break the favourite's heart and on the run to the line, Blonde Snapper increased his advantage.
Sky Sports, to who the sport owes so much, captured the emotion of the moment with owner Mark Currell's tearful post-race reaction.
His face said it all - he had won the greatest prize in the sport - at last.
The genial Currell has invested a very sizeable sum into the sport over the years and twice has come close to Derby glory. Blonde Mac came upagainst the ethereal Westmead Hawk in 2005 and Blonde Dino was a gallant third to Loyal Honcho in 2008.
Being closely involved with this amazing sport for most of my life, I have seen many emotional scenes after major races, but few can match Saturday 26th May 2012 - the good guys, Currell and Wallis lifted their trophies with pure unfettered joy on the podium before enjoying the plaudits of a vocal crowd on their lap of honour.
Sadly, the only participant in proceedings who wasn't lapping up the attention and adulation was the winner, Blonde Snapper.
Despite his aggressive name, when you get up close and personal with the Snapper, you find a timid and nervous dog. He was visibly shaken by the roar when connections lifted the trophy, so, again, his Derby efforts pay a huge compliment to all at Imperial Kennels - a fact Mark was keen to acknowledge in his post-race comments.
Mark also gave full credit to the efforts of star dog physio, Ron Mills - a legend in the game . . . perhaps I should get Ron to have a look at my troublesome back!
With a group of senior William Hill management in the Executive Suites at Wimbledon on Saturday, plus a couple of Main Board Directors, an MP and an 'AP', the Derby night experience again showcased the best in the sport, and produced another fillip to the industry via a text from our CEO Ralph Topping, who during the Sky broadcast, made contact to let the world know that the first prize for the 2013 William Hill Greyhound Derby will be £150,000 - double the 2011 level.
Let nobody be in any doubt about William Hill's commitmentto greyhound racing.
We love the sport, we are passionate about the sport, we believe in the sport.
Just in the last few weeks, we have engaged with Robbie Savage and Rick Edwards to widen the appeal of the sport and the flagship event. We commissioned the viral story of 'Derrick the Hare', we broke new ground with the 'Union-Jacket', we added live music to Finals night and we brought the most successful jump jockey of all-time to present the Derby trophy.
We are the number one bookmaker in the UK, and greyhound racing is key part of our future business plans.
But, as those who know Ralph Topping will testify, the commitment needs to be supported by the industry - Ralph does not suffer those who he considers to be 'cruisers' and William Hill want our partners in the greyhound business to up their game in the next 12 months.
William Hill run a successful business and our financial commitment must not be taken for granted.
But, I must end with a final word about the 2012 William Hill Greyhound Derby Champion, Blonde Snapper.
Ultimately, the competition is about the dog - and what a dog.
He came to the Derby on the back of a win in the Golden Sprint at Romford only seven days before heading to Plough Lane.
His Derby record was three wins, two seconds and a third - he ran from four different traps and produced a sensational set of sectionals. His worst traps to line split was 4.85 in the opening round, and then followed up with 4.83, 4.83, 4.80, 4.81 and a final time of 4.77. That consistency over the gruelling schedule of the Derby meant the Snapper was always in a challenging position in his races.
Such an exemplary record in the Derby was rounded off with his spectacular all-round performance in the final.
What a game this is. What a truly, remarkable, and awe-inspiring game we all adore. Lest I forget, in my busy-paperworked moments, I will remain thankful for all the joy it has brought me.
Until 2013 . . .