Sad end to greyhound racing as Plough Lane shuts its doors
Sadness was the word trending at Wimbledon stadium on Saturday night as a packed Plough Lane heaved and groaned for the final time.
But even though London’s last track was given a royal send-off as Glitzy King, trained by Brian Nicholls was crowned the final Wimbledon winner, there was no feeling of celebration in SW17.
When Walthamstow raced for the last time in 2008 there was an air of passion and excitement tinged with an undercurrent of anger about that unforgettable night, but despite the full house signs going up early in the evening, the anticipated buzz on a historic night at Wimbledon on Saturday just wasn’t there.
Instead for Nicholls, whose 10-1 winner came as no surprise to those in the know, there was a sense of vindication in supporting his track to the bitter end. The trainer with by far the largest kennel strength at the track, Nicholls had resisted the temptation to walk away because, as he put it: “If I’d done that then we might never have got to tonight.
“The people here at Wimbledon are my friends and I couldn’t let them down. I’ve been coming here for more years than I can remember and I made a vow to stay to the death. I’m glad I did and it feels good to have the last winner.
“Mind you, we fancied Glitzy King. I’ve been telling everyone he’d win. I can’t believe the price though!”
Nicholls, who has around 35 race dogs in his kennel, hopes he has secured a new position at another track. “Hopefully we’ll be able to announce something soon. I’d like to thank my partner Jane [Secular] for all her hard work and support too. We’re very much in this together.
“Life is never easy. I’ve beaten cancer and heart trouble over the years, but I’ll always carry the sadness that we couldn’t beat the developers and hang on to Wimbledon. Greyhound racing deserved better.”
Wherever you turned – and that wasn’t always easy to achieve at a track ill-equipped to service a crowd which was returned as 3,062 but could have been more with an estimated thousand punters left disappointed outside – there was a sense of resignation. That was coupled with despair at the perceived injustice as Galliard Homes prepare to bring the bulldozers in and replace the track with countless flats and a promised new stadium for AFC Wimbledon.
Owner Paul Carpenter, out of luck with Holdem Rio in the Standard final won by his dog’s Heather Dimmock-trained kennelmate Ginas Blue in front-running style, lamented: “There are 14 or 15 football stadiums in London, but now we’ve got no dog tracks. Look how many people are here tonight. There’s a massive market for greyhound racing, it doesn’t seem fair.”
His thoughts were echoed by former Wimbledon racing manager Derek Hope. Now a senior odds-compiler with long-time Derby sponsors William Hill, he came to pay his last respects. “It’s a crying shame,” he said. “Look at all these people. Where are they all going to go?”
The racing itself, as ever, proved exciting and certainly punter-friendly for the first half of the card with a series of well-backed runners obliging. Fittingly there were open-race doubles for two kennels who have supported the track through thick and thin, with Black Alder and Shaneboy Russell impressing for Rab and Liz McNair early on the card, while Glanmire Prince in the stayers and Droopys Acrobat later obliged for Hove handler Seamus Cahill.
Rab McNair, speaking after Black Alder had displayed brute early pace to leave his sprint rivals standing in 16.10sec for the 273m course, said: “I nearly pulled him out earlier in the week as he wasn’t himself, but he came back the last couple of days. That’s the first time he’s really trapped since he damaged a gracilis – I think the draw in six was a big help too.
“We love Wimbledon, always have. It’s been a great place to bring pups through and we’ve had some fantastic times with the open dogs over the years. I’m not sure what we’ll do now, things will never be the same.”
Widest-margin winner was the Alfie Herbert-trained Fweshfromthesesh, who competed a Wimbledon hat-trick in the puppy final, coming home five and three-quarter lengths clear of Allowdale Hannah in 28.85sec on what was given as normal going but arguably could have been slower.
Trainer’s father Neil Herbert paraded the winner, and said afterwards: “He’s a lovely dog and enjoyed it here. We’re weighing up our options now, wondering if Towcester will suit him or not, being a wide runner.
“The Gymcrack at Kinsley is another idea we’re toying with and it’s nice to have a dog like him. Mind you we think his brother [Far From Fwesh] could be faster, but he hasn’t had the luck yet.”
There was a turn-up in the hurdle final, with the eagerly awaited clash of jumping titans Ballymac Manix and Razldazl Raidio not going the way most anticipated as Kakantu upstaged them all with a 10-1 triumph.
Breaking well, the Barry O’Sulllivan-trained dog made all and despite being pressed by track record-holder Razdazl Raidio off the last, hung tough for a length verdict.
Delighted trainer’s daughters Chloe and Rosie said afterwards: “Wow. We didn’t expect that. Dad’s at Crayford and we were straight on the phone to tell him. It’s a fantastic result, Raidio’s such a good dog, but Kakantu is very strong in front.”
Tony Collett’s Art Of Illusion won the battle of the bitches in 28.74sec for the 480m, while fastest of the standard winners was the McNairs’ Shaneboy Russell, who clocked 28.58sec in an impressive five-length stroll.
The graded winners were suitably shared out before Glitzy King’s success in the A2 finale, with wins for Dave Puddy’s A Bit Nippy, who completed a hat-trick when taking the A6 opener, John Higgins’ Max Diver and June Harvey’s Fizzypop Harvey.
Harvey, who is to concentrate on open-racing now, said of her winner: “That’s him finished now. He’ll be six in July and has been a brilliant dog. It’s such a sad night, but he’s given us something to smile about.”
Wimbledon racing manager Gary Matthews, soon to take up a new position with the GBGB, said: “It’s been a tough time for everyone and I’ve sort of been dreading this night. But the racing has been good, the crowd has generally behaved itself and we’ve had a good spread of winners.
“I’d like to thank everyone who’s been a part of Wimbledon. It was a great track at its best and hopefully people will remember it like that.”