The SIS fixture list which was published last week seemingly added aviation fuel to an already incendiary media rights battle.
Basically SIS fielded a list of 40 slots of which four were unallocated, spread between eight tracks.
But the more you pull it apart, the more issues it raises. Here are a few that I have spotted:
1) Several, possibly all, of the SIS tracks were caught on their heels by the announcement of the new schedule without having been given notice to alert their staff and trainers. The bookmaker owned tracks are among our most professionally run stadia and there were some very unhappy managements around.
2) Because so many trainers at Harlow, Henlow, Doncaster and Central Park are amateurs, those stadia have limited availability for the morning or afternoon meetings. That causes an imbalance with less evening slots for the bookmaker owned tracks. That in turn results in potentially more frustration for their owners wanting to see their dogs race at night.
3) That loss of evening meetings is also challenging when it comes to employing part-time staff. To go from three or four nights per week to one or two might be the difference in keeping or losing your work force. It was no surprise that Crayford and Romford have subsequently been added to the Saturday night schedule
4) As picked up by Jonathan Kay in Racing Post, Doncaster are already contracted to BAGS, from whom ARC has inherited their contracts. But Donny have also been allocated four SIS meetings each week. Will ARC allow the Yorkshire track to do both? “Absolutely not” I was told by a well placed source this week. “Their legal people are all over it.”
5) Some of the contracts being offered by the SIS tracks are staggering. At some tracks, fairly small trainers will pick around £750 in monthly retainers with nearly double that for bigger kennels. Runner bonus money could add on several hundred pounds on top of that. Small surprise then that some trainers are looking to tear up their GMG contracts. Once again, I am assured, they will be pursued by the ARC lawyers.
6) The weekend issue will also affect the smaller SIS tracks. Some will need to increase their runner strength by more than 100 greyhounds just to fulfil their new daytime quota. How many will also be able to race on the traditionally popular Fridays and/or Saturday nights?
Following some early promoter whingeing, ARC have – since the last Editors Chair – increased their financial support for their tracks. Their amended schedule is out next week and I would expect to see Doncaster on it.
So how many meetings are SIS short of a full service? As explained before, there are two sets of figures to consider.
The first is SIS’s contract with the betting shops – believed to be around 1,500 meetings per year, which works out at around 29 per week.
So the four bookmaker owned tracks are now, creakingly, up to 23 meetings per week.
It would be quite feasible for Harlow, Henlow, and Central Park to supply another six meetings per week between them, with or without Doncaster.
But – this isn’t just about supplying product for Corals and Ladbrokes shops. This is a battle to produce THE greyhound product of around 41 meetings per week for the entire betting industry.
SIS – with the majority of the High Street shops committed to five year deals – would not want to see the same shops also taking the ARC service.
Meanwhile, the current ARC tracks currently stage 40 meetings a week between them – albeit, some are starting to creak with the loss of non-contracted trainers to SIS.
Of their number, Towcester, Sheffield and Yarmouth could probably easiest pull up another fixture, but as with the SIS tracks, those 40 meetings also includes the treasured Saturday night fixtures.
So the respective battle plans are – more or less – on the table.
But as with every military campaign in history, clever strategy will get you so far, but resources invariably win out. To win this war, ARC need to show long term commitment, and that means cash.
This is, and has always been, about money.
I attended the second Innovation Committee meeting this week and feel we are making real progress.
The panel was set-up by Paul Ephremsen and it is certainly not my job to announce our observations and recommendations.
The only point I will make is that Paul’s plan to increase syndication ownership looks an absolute winner in my book.
The benefits are for everyone, new customers for the tracks, more money for breeders, a sharing of the welfare bill, and a suggestion I particularly liked, a minimum but significant daily kennel charge for every participating greyhound.
One of the GBGB’s most high profile critics phoned me last week with questions about various integrity issues. He believes that some have simply been swept under the carpet.
The first concerned the ‘second Derby positive test’ which by coincidence – the inquiry was already scheduled – came to light earlier this week with Theres The Bell going before the stewards.
The second concerned a ‘buried Cat 1’ positive for the drug Meloxicam which is now three years old without conclusion.
When I checked up, GBGB’s Duncan Gibson explained that there were actually in the region of 18 cases in limbo including the Cat 1 runner.
It appears that there are unresolved issues as to the long term effects of this particular drug and its clearance time.
GBGB – in deep frustration – are awaiting a report with potential threshold levels from Greyhounds Australasia before they can conclude their inquiries.
Now while a three year delay cannot be acceptable, I find it infinitely better than the old system of fining trainers on inaccurate evidence and bad science.
The stewards invariably swallowed the supposed expert’s evidence and the trainer – without the expertise or resources to challenge that view – was hung out to dry.
I understand that the annual meeting of the Race Course Promoters Association (pedantically, why is it not ‘Racecourse?’) is on the horizon.
Traditionally, the bookmaker tracks do not engage in elections for directors who are then forwarded as the promoter directors on GBGB and ‘The Fund’.
Tradition has also seen en bloc voting which means that all the current directors are members of the GMG camp.
However whispers are now reaching me that the SIS tracks are now considering putting forward their own candidates.
Given, since last year, we have already lost the chairman and CEO (hooray!!!), seen the arrival of new owners and trainers representatives, and now potentially new promoters (John Curran is retiring irrespective), don’t anybody begin to tell me that “nothing ever changes”.
If anyone has any questions about any of the above, I have been invited to appear as a guest on RPGTV on Monday, so get in touch on the day.