As soon as I heard the words “£5,500” for the first prize in the Leger, I anticipated the reaction that would follow.
So I fully respect and agree with the sentiment of Mark Wallis, as expressed in Thursday’s Racing Post, that downsizing the St. Leger ‘sends out the wrong message’.
The reaction on social media was far more vitriolic, as expected, with calls for ‘GRA’, Clive Feltham and the GBGB to be wiped off the face of the earth.
The following is my ‘expanded’ take on the subject. I won’t say opposing, because I don’t oppose Mark’s sentiment that greyhound racing is dependent on the ‘top end’ to survive and quite frankly that top end is being badly let down.
As much as any SIS or ARC graded trainer may not want to hear it . . . nobody bred a dog for you to train. You have a kennel full of failed Derby and Leger winners.
Much of the following will not be well received with the view that I appear to be ‘defending’ the guilty. My aim is to explain why I think the problem is more complex than it is being portrayed and put the real issues into focus.
(Some of these arguments will be familiar to long term readers of the Star, but given our expanding readership, many will not have heard them.)
To kick off – there is no ‘GRA’ in anything other than a token trading name. It hasn’t existed since the early 1990s when it was bought out by Wembley plc. It continued to trade as ‘GRA’ in name only as that company was listed on the stock exchange.
The ‘real’ GRA was broken up in the 1970s. It was a company created to make money from greyhound racing and it did so in spectacular fashion for just under 50 years. Without GRA there would be no tracks, no ruling body, no classics, nothing.
But they didn’t create any of those ‘for the good of the sport’
When their shareholders took their money, they didn’t give a flying dividend whether or not they had created a sport to which people were prepared to dedicate their lives – they simply wanted to make money.
Nor did Galliard Homes want to see greyhound racing thrive when they bought the greyhound tracks from Wembley for £50.3m in 2005, they simply wanted to make money.
The clue was in the title. In addition to the six track (Porstmouth was already lined up by the local council), Galliards inherited hundreds of staff including the CEO Clive Feltham.
With the benefit of hindsight, it was obvious that Galliard Homes only really wanted Wimbledon. They eventually sold off the rest of the freeholds that they owned.
Faced with the prospect of long term unemployment, and, undoubtedly, a chance to make a few quid, Feltham devised a plan to lease the tracks from Galliards until the day came that the bulldozers arrived on site.
When Hall Green and Belle Vue were duly sold on, Feltham also persuaded the new owners to continue to lease the tracks to him.
I have no doubt – zero – that Wimbledon would have closed in 2012 when plans for building were first submitted by Galliard – but for Feltham’s intervention.
Oxford, might have stayed open for a while longer, but became unprofitable after losing its BAGS contract. Ironically, that venue is not about to be flattened any time soon
Feltham did secure a deal at Hall Green, and again, it could easily have shut when sold in 2014. Thanks to the lease, it remained open for three more years, but Feltham took all the flak when it did eventually close. Not his former employers, or Euro Property Investments (there is another clue there) who apparently turned £3m into £13m.
Sure – the lease holder let the tracks decline into poor repair, but given the end game, wouldn’t you? It would be like being asked to decorate a rented room in a condemned house.
Yes, he could have paid more prize money and better benefits to his trainers.
But – cop on guys – you could make the same observation about the betting industry.
After years of paying the bare minimum, it checked down the back of the sofa and suddenly discovered tens of millions to fight a media rights battle.
So let’s move onto the St.Leger.
GRA created the St.Leger, Derby, Oaks, Scurry, Pall Mall, Cesarewitch, Wood Lane, Grand National, etc etc.
They owned them. Not for the good of greyhound racing, but to create interest among the millions of punters who would go greyhound racing every year.
Feltham acquired the right to the competitions with his tracks and has gradually given most of them away to tracks who promised to support and honour the heritage of the events.
(Somehow or other, he even managed to keep the trophies off the Galliards inventory. The Scurry in particular is worth many thousands of pounds in precious metal value)
Okay – so why has he not run the Oaks and decimated the prize money and prestige of the St.Leger?
Let me answer a question with a question.
Why would he want to?
From a business perspective, it makes no sense. The event is costing £12,500 to stage for three meetings. He may get another 600 people through the gate.
There is an argument that says, ‘he owes it to greyhound racing’.
I can accept that – to a point. Sheffield dug deep to subsidise the Three Steps, as did Nottingham for the Puppy Classic. Plenty of others are doing the same – as is Feltham, with the Leger at least. He is trying to keep the event going.
But nobody is queuing up to have a pop at William Hill for deciding they no longer want to sponsor the Leger. Had they not dropped out, you can be certain the prize money levels would be much closer to 2017.
But what about the betting industry who screwed the whole SKY deal with the media rights battle? No mention of them on social media.
What about RPGTV?
They pay a reputed £4,500 per meeting. Three meetings of the St.Leger is another £13,500 going into the Leger coffers.
£19K for three runs doesn’t sound so bad now does it?
Or of course, their sponsors, the big betting firms, led by Betfair and Bet365 could pay ‘SIS money’ and the Leger would be worth £50K to the winner.
A Leger worth £50K for the same sort of money being paid to stage graded meetings at Henlow or Harlow. Seriously?
I will conclude with the tirade of abuse aimed at GBGB for ‘not doing its job’. In the Blake Stakes, they normally dispute ante post betting with Clive Feltham.
Why didn’t they buy Walthamstow, or Wimbledon? I am often asked by the Forest Gumps of dog racing.
Let’s be clear on this. GBGB owns just about nothing. Zero! Nada!
Its annual bills are covered by special licence fees, paid by the tracks, and it distributes around £7m annually on behalf of the BGRF.
That £7m goes to a whole variety of areas including prize money, retired greyhounds, drug testing and track safety among the big beneficiaries.
GBGB does not have the money to buy tracks, and even if it did, they would never be allowed to do so.
When it comes to ‘making Clive Feltham hand over the St.Leger’, they would have as much right to do so, as asking him to hand over his car keys.
Nobody is stopping any other track from running any competition, but they can’t call it the St.Leger unless Clive Feltham decides to hand over the title.
When it comes to commercial control of greyhound racing, GBGB is virtually powerless. The real power is with the tracks, and ultimately, the betting industry, via its distribution arms, ARC and SIS.
You may not like it – but suck it up because it is not about to change any time soon!
Having sat on Paul Ephremson’s innovation panel, I heard lots of great ideas to take the game forward, but the vast majority were going to cost money.
Where do you find it from?
Prize money? The Greyhound Trust? Track safety?
Ultimately, I share the same frustrations as the people ranting on social media.
We should have an organisation who put ‘the industry first’ beyond the interest of any track promoter or bookmaker.
GBGB is that vehicle but until it is given access to a mandatory levy, and the commercial power that comes with it, we will always be looking for someone to blame, whether they deserve it or not.