The closure of a greyhound track hits you like a bereavement. You remember happy times spent there, the shocks and big events, but most of all you think about the people who it will affect.
I think it is fair to say that my relationship with the Peterborough management never went beyond luke warm, certainly in latter years. But there was a time, when it was one of the industry’s great success stories.
They really were the phoenix that rose from the fire of 1999. Year upon year their tote turnover increase was the pride of the industry.
In my early days as an amateur writing as Fenman in the old Greyhound magazine, I was a regular visitor to the old wooden stand.
I had nothing but admiration as the inovative glass fronted grandstand was built, and like a bacteria, kept doubling in size every four or five years.
Stop talking down your noses about ‘shantys’ all you southern based suited journos. One of ‘my’ permit tracks was showing you all how it should be done!
Andy Barham was brilliant and marketing and promotion and his departure was a huge loss (in my opinion).
Even as the ‘Perkins Boys’ told their colleague promoters of declining numbers, the locals reported coachload after coachload on a Saturday night and wall-to-wall punters.
After acknowledging the huge hardship which will be suffered by so many good decent greyhound folk – particularly given the misleading signals of the last fortnight – you have to ask the question, ‘what went so badly wrong with a stadium that once appeared to be a template for the industry’
The place had everything in terms of facilities, marketing and a loyal and strong local greyhound following.
Although it will be a disputed point, I can’t help think that Peterborough missed a trick when it came to its racing circuit.
Before the grandstand snaked too far into the bends, there was room to extend in three directions.
The management were never convinced. A bigger circuit wouldn’t have bought extra people into the stadium.
Or would it?
While many tracks stood accused of not providing adequate facilities, Fengate was among the most bereft of a decent racing circuit – certainly for a business of its size and affluence.
With a bigger circuit, Peterborough could have attracted the top dogs and major competitions. Would Towcester ever have happened if Peterborough hadn’t been handicapped by its 370 metre circumference?
Geographically, the two would compete on equal terms, but for all their failings, Towcester set out to provide top class racing. The Peterborough management were seemingly indifferent to the concept.
The greatest truth about Peterborough – something that will probably be lost in the mists of time – is that it was NOT a victim of Covid-19.
I had names of five trainers who were expecting to join either Henlow, or Towcester or Monmore, prior to lock-down. I had spoken to a couple.
The track would – I estimate – have lost around 40% of their racing strength, which would probably have meant losing at least one or two fixtures per week.
Notwithstanding the issues surrounding leisure and catering going forward, Peterborough was already heading for intensive care.
The news about Peterborough has clearly spooked owners and trainers around the country – and to a certain extent – rightly so.
The issue – for those who haven’t picked up on it already – is the fixture list.
Most tracks have shown their commitment to a June 1 start by beginning to trial their runners. The exceptions are Shawfield and Poole.
The former is not close to re-opening and its trainers need to stay at home – including those training at Newcastle.
Will Shawfield ever re-open?
That decision is firmly in the hands of one man – promoter Billy King. In the words of one of his fellow promoters, “it won’t re-open until Billy can stand back on his hod again”
That said – if/when Billy chooses to re-open, let no man – or woman – attempt to stand in his way.
As for Poole, its Director of Stadia Bill Glass is quite clear, the plan is to re-open providing the fixture list justifies it. As of this afternoon (Wednesday) the news is “(we are) . . waiting on the bookmakers collectively to sign off”.
In those terms, I would suggest that Poole have no option other than to wait and see.
The Dorset track previously only had one guaranteed BAGS fixture – Sunday evening when they also show RPGTV – their Tuesdays have been RPGTV only. (It is widely known that RPGTV meetings are considerably less lucrative than BAGS/SIS fixtures).
Clearly, there are similarities between Poole and Peterborough whose sole bookmaker fixture was the Wednesday night BAGS/RPGTV meeting.
For their Fridays and Saturdays, Peterborough were totally reliant on a crowd, and none was due any time soon. They would have done their brains for many months to come.
Even if every meeting that was due to be broadcast to the bookies is retained on the impending fixture list, and even if they agreed to pay the same figure, despite all shops being shut, that schedule will inevitably still be decimated.
Prior to lock down, 16 tracks raced on a Saturday night. The only ones likely to be doing so from the ARC camp is (possibly/most likely) Sheffield.
The SIS schedule previously broadcast Hove, Crayford and Romford into the shops on a Saturday.
In fact, there should be potentially more wiggle room in the SIS schedule due to there being no Irish racing any time soon. The SIS June schedule originally made allowance for nine Irish meetings per week. Some slots could potentially switch to UK tracks but they certainly wouldn’t be at ‘old’ SIS rates.
The importance of all this surely cannot be underestimated.
As an example, Yarmouth boss Simon Franklin estimated that it would cost his stadium in the region of £15K simply to re-qualify all his runners. (That would include unfurloughing staff, veterinary costs etc – though some will apparently be covered by BGRF).
He then faces the prospect of there being no summer season, including almost certainly blank Saturday nights.
Even prior to the lockdown, a number of tracks were struggling to keep their heads above water.
The fixture list may well determine how many follow Peterborough.