What can I tell you? He’s a nice looking brindle, well bred and reared, must have great potential. Only four grand.
How fast is he?
When he is fully fit he might break three minutes for the Nottingham 500 metres. When he is older of course, he is only 12 weeks at the moment.
Oh! You don’t want a bull dog?
Can I interest you in a Golden Doodle? £3,500 to you – but there is a long waiting list.
No! It is ‘not a lot a money for a mongrel’. This is not a mongrel, he is a cross breed!
Have you ever considered that from a financial perspective, greyhound racing makes very little sense – and it starts with the greyhounds themselves.
Chatting to breeder Ian Greaves recently, I asked for his ‘break even’ figure on a young racer.
Now remember, this is the cost of the pup itself, inoculations, worming, and other veterinary costs, ear marking, rearing, schooling, microchipping, pet passport, and delivered to the UK, carriage with VAT paid.
The figure is £1,750.
I asked Peter Harnden for a similar quote, he had already costed it at between £1,600-£1,800.
What about training?
How much should trainers be charging?
A starting point might be the cost to keep a pet dog in boarding kennels.
Prices vary, but having spent a bit of time scouring the internet, I reckon £25 per day is about standard – I saw some as high as £37 per day.
Working to a 30 day month – that works out at £750, less a loyalty discount – £700.
But that WON’T include worming, flea treatment, gallops, massage, trials, teeth cleaning, nail cutting etc etc.
(In fact, in many cases the boarding kennels don’t even need to supply the food. ‘Mummy and Daddy take along a few tins of Baby’s favourite to make sure he eats properly.’)
So, for a range of 40 dogs, that’s £28K income per month. Lovely jubbly!
No wonder the antis reckon that trainers are coining it!
The reality? For resters, some trainers are charging as little as £3.50 per day. A lot of racing dogs are charged at between £6.50-£7.50 per day upto £10 per day at some prestigious kennels.
Sadly, some trainers will train dogs just for the prize money. One fruitless run per week = £30.
GBGB trainers rep Peter Harnden owns his own dogs and reckons he subsidises his racing operation to somewhere between £20-£30K per year.
So who is responsible for the low kennel fees?
As hard as it is to stomach, it is the trainers themselves (or at least a percentage of them).
Harnden sums up the unpalatable truth: “The trainers who are prepared to go skint to train dogs then force down the prices for everyone else. Does anyone really believe that tracks would turn down trainers who were prepared to run for £20 win money? Of course not, but who can blame them? Its business, not a game.
“Trainers who are not prepared to charge a sensible figure devalue the whole profession.”
But the imbalance operates throughout the industry and also extends to the tracks themselves.
Now whether you approve of Stadia UK closing Poole or not – the fact remains – if it was a cash cow, they wouldn’t have closed it.
In reality, the car park was worth considerably more than the greyhound business; not an unfamiliar theme to former Wimbledon patrons.
Peterborough had some of the best customer facilities in the country but without a decent BAGS contract, it was struggling.
Don’t kid yourself that Fengate was a Covid casualty, its problems long predated the pandemic. Covid was not the ‘cause of death’, merely the catalyst that speeded up the process.
The final financial nail was hammered home when they were only given one BAGS fixture per week, compared to the four and five that ARC retained for their own tracks.
As for raising £5-£6m for Belle Vue, how would you get a return on investment without at least three BAGS meetings per week? And ARC wouldn’t be in any rush to hand them over.
The figures simply don’t add up.
Without going over old ground, greyhound folk have to prepare for the inevitability of a 12 track industry.
It is NOT a bookmaker conspiracy, or negligence on behalf of GBGB or the track promoters themselves.
Life has moved on, and greyhound racing, like many other spectator sports, will have to adjust or die.
I made the following observation to Eddie Lesley in a conversation about getting ‘grass roots’ support for Swaffham.
It isn’t that the old dog men changed their minds about dog racing, they simply retired and/or died.
If, in Eddie’s day as a track promoter, you had taken a poll of the average age of trainer in the Rye House (Milton Keynes, Wisbech, Mildenhall) paddock, it would probably have been 60 plus
And that was 20 years ago. Those old stalwarts were never replaced.
Exactly the same principle applied to the punters.
And they are NEVER coming back.
I am not advocating a ’12 track sport’, endorsing it, or suggesting it is a good thing. It is simply inevitable.
However I am also absolutely convinced that greyhound racing will adapt and survive.
Trainers who are based within striking distance of a track will be the lucky ones and should earn a decent living in a slimmed down industry.
As for the rest? Well that depends on their desire to keep going.
Some kennels will run down their racing strengths. Some – if they have any sense – will become boarders.
Others will streamline their operation but may stay racing.
The evidence is already there. Providing tracks play ball and are prepared to grade all the kennel runners for a manageable number of meetings per week, trainers will travel two hours or more to go to work.
There are already loads of examples. James Turner and Jim Daly traveling from Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire respectively to Crayford.
Patrick Janssens is based in Norfolk but races in Kent. There are Perry Barr trainers who travel from distant parts of the North West and Wales.
Many other aspects of the greyhound industry are under threat.
The future of the greyhound journalism is definitely in the mix with the prospects of the Racing Post newspaper (like dozens of major newspapers) looking bleak. And I’m not stirring or reporting anything of which the staff there aren’t already aware.
There have been a series of cutbacks already with rumours of a total switch to digital and question marks over the inclusion of the greyhound desk.
Despite the Star’s switch to on-line and quadrupling its readership figures, there appear to be sections of the industry who don’t view it as necessary.
Where once we could count on the support of three quarters of the tracks, now its less than a third.
Some clearly don’t see the value in a website dedicated to greyhound racing’s grass roots (maybe they don’t value the grass roots?).
They despise the Star’s independence and seek to control or destroy it. Maybe they think a Board controlled website serves them best?
What of RPGTV?
It looks safe enough. It is cheap and comes as an extension of the betting shop service without the cost of the Racing Channel.
But there may be some interesting twists and turns to come.
For example, the deal which sees 11 of the 14 weekly meetings supplied by ARC is due to end early in 2021.
Will ARC extend, or will SIS, current suppliers of two of the remaining three meetings step in?
If they do, what happens to the current ARC meetings and the income derived from them?
Will the ARC tracks be asked to supply greyhound racing for SKY’s Racing Channel?
Which leads me to a quote from someone who has observed the greyhound industry at close quarters from a bookmaker’s perspective, but has also seen the inner workings as a track operator.
“There is no shortage of money in greyhound racing. The issue is who controls it.”
At this point, a decent percentage of the readership will start muttering something along the lines of “we need to be more like Australia”.
Don’t waste your breath.
From their very origins, racing in Britain and Australia were created on completely different business models.
This isn’t like trying to compare ‘apples and pears’, it is more ‘apples and armadillos’.
UK greyhound racing was entirely controlled by businessmen, through the ownership of their tracks. The last opportunity to control “the product” was lost when Ladbrokes brought Tote Holdings around half a century ago.
To the greyhound folk it was the equivalent of waving in a Trojan Horse. For Ladbrokes, followed by Corals and William Hill, it was sensible business, protecting the supply and controlling the price of the product to their core business.
The Australian racing model is very much closer to Ireland – the State controls the finances of the entire industry and all betting within.
Hence when Donoughue set up GBGB, he would have known that Board could never control industry commerciality.
The board is a bit like the manager of department store. It can fiddle with the fixtures and fitting, hire and fire the staff, control integrity and security. But all the valuable goods on sale belong to either ARC or SIS, and it is they who sell on to the customers.
The appointment of Mark Moisley as GBGB’s Commercial Director should be viewed in that context.
Why bother if you have nothing to sell?
Well several reasons. I believe there are things that he can achieve in what is a fixed term contract.
My personal priority would be for him to work with the betting industry to create and develop improved betting opportunities and thereby bring additional funding into the industry.
Secondly, he might want to examine, on behalf of the tracks, their arrangement with PS Sport for the handling of data.
If this starts to sound complicated – it is because it is. Basically the tracks have to agree to make their form available to GBGB, but it is the tracks that still own the data.
(Ownership of the data in itself is open to scrutiny. Where does the dog’s owner fit in? What does he own? Or the stud books? Do they own a share of the data?)
Anyway, a number of tracks have long feel aggrieved at the original deal with PA and feel they should be getting betting returns when PA sell it on to the bookies.
Then of course there is the handling of the data. That is operated under a computer system called Formnet – which is owned by BAGS.
Every track pays Formnet a payment of £160 for every meeting they stage. Think about how much that adds up to.
Can they not secure a better deal?
One final conclusion – that sums up my view of where greyhound racing’s financial problems are actually rooted.
Somewhere, there is an alternative universe where the betting industry was not allowed to buy tracks in the early 1970s. GRA alone still own twelve tracks and the bookmakers have to pay twice as much for racing.
White City was still sold because there was no need to keep open a track on land worth £4m per acre.
(Yes the internet and SKY TV were also invented in this galaxy far far away, and attendances fell away there too.).
But trainers are still skint and owners moan about poor prize money.
The only ones who are in front are the track owners and the GRA shareholders who continue to make bundles.
Sitting at an intergalactic keyboard is a handsome, intelligent greyhound racing editor who is warning owners and trainers that they will ALWAYS struggle to get a fair crack until the supply is less than the demand for racing greyhounds.
When we get to 12 tracks, it starts to get interesting.
I wouldn’t normally include anonymous hearsay quotes. But I think this one is so significant that it needs to be aired.
A well known trainer, was complaining to a senior executive of a media rights organisation only to be rebuffed with the response: “I wish we had never had anything to do with greyhound racing.”
Makes you think – huh?
I had a great relationship with Ladbrokes for many years and would often guest in the broadcasting studio. The Star’s parent company even published the company’s internal magazine Ladbrokes News.
One of the great names from the early days was Alan Isherwood, a legend in his own lifetime, and known throughout the industry as ‘Ladbroke Alan’.
What a judge of a greyhound!
A few days ago, I received an email from Alan’s sister Marian saying the great man was struggling with Parkinsons Disease but was otherwise keen for a chat.
I feared the worst but within a few minutes of chatting we were reliving memories of Walthamstow and White City, Tony Morris, John Power, Long Spell and the rest.
Marian is now committed to logging onto the Star’s Remember When pages on a Sunday which will hopefully nourish than memory and raise a smile or two.
Alan asked to be remembered his many remaining friends in the game, and he even suggested some kind of Post Covid reunion.
Be great to see him again.
I try not to get non-industry politics into the column but and the following may not appeal to everyone.
Personally, I find Nigel Farage to be an interesting character and I was lucky enough to meet him for a chat after a lunch invitation extended by Edward Bentall. (How ironic that after years of being an abomination of an organisation the NGRC’s last ever Senior Steward was head and shoulders the best they had ever had).
Anyway – the following clip is an interview between Farage and author Douglas Murray.
The reason I mention it here is because of a connection I would see with greyhound racing – or at least – the people who would love to end it.
It is fairly early on in the video that Murray highlights the difficulties for those who have started a movement and then found it way too lucrative to give up, even when the reason for the movement has since been addressed.
Now press that ‘donate’ button.
Finally, I thought I would bring the following to you attention.
The following pieces are by artist Stuart Anderson who specialises in greyhound, whippet and lurch sculpture. I don’t think I have ever seen better. Here are a couple of examples. Click on the link to see more.