There is a fine line between genius and insanity. On the 2nd of January 2018 when I phoned Matt Newman, my colleague and co-founder of Blue Tick Racing, we teetered on the precipice of the latter as we formed the syndicate that would start in the U.K but would take us to the other side of the world – writes David Mitchell.
We had both spent a couple of decades in the sport by that point, a passion built on the flaps at Gretna for me and at Catford for Matt. As owners, breeders, punters and tipsters, we’d been involved all over the emotional rollercoaster that we all love, greyhound racing.
In March 2017 we fronted the myracing.com syndicate with three pups from the Dunphys, trained at Kelva kennels by Jim Daly. A 30-share syndicate, the majority of whom had never been involved in ownership before, served as a launching pad for an idea considerably more ambitious and far reaching.
A Category 1 performer is what owners, trainers and breeders alike aspire to and we are certainly no different. The 2nd of January phone call built upon an idea both of us had secretly been harbouring for a while. Lots of owners in the game have dogs in the UK and Ireland but how many can add Australia to that number?
The seed had been planted in talks for the English Derby bidding to try and get some international interest in the event once again. The likes of Lyreen Mover had been a big talking point and Ben Keith of Star Sports was fascinated with Australian greyhound racing and the prospect of pitting the best from each hemisphere head to head.
I spent time working contacts and we reached an agreement in principle with dogs from both the USA and New Zealand looking to come across for the UK’s flagship event, but transport and quarantine legislation made a tough task harder.
Another serious issue was with prize money levels in Australia. Their big events made a $200,000 maximum payday in England look paltry by comparison, with no-one showing an interest in sending a dog over here.
In fact, until Amendment 13 ripped the heart out of Floridian greyhound racing, that had also been on our radar. Hire a villa with a pool for a couple of weeks around the big races and watch our dogs win in the States. Sadly, Virginia and Iowa lack the same sunny appeal so Australia it was.
It’s tough sledding to go from 0-100mph from a standing start so the plan began with another UK syndicate but this time with 100 shares at £200 each to buy a 20K dog from the Dunphys.
Jim Daly’s relationship with them was a huge help and he was kind enough to give us a couple of his home bred pups to add to the deal. Things have not quite hit the heights that we would’ve liked so far in the UK – despite Blue Tick George making the Romford Puppy Cup Final – but that isn’t for lack of effort and it brought another swathe of new owners into the sport, with a number of them joining us on the Australian adventure.
It wasn’t until the 25th February 2019 that we officially began our journey in Australia. Contacts made while fishing for potential dogs to come over to run in the English Derby included journalist and RSN stalwart Simone Fisher as well as Mick Floyd, the racing and media manager for Australia’s premier track, Sandown Park.
Both helped to point us in the direction of Kel Greenough, a trainer who has been there, done it and got a wardrobe packed full of t-shirts as well as breeders Tyrone Whittington and Greg Sprod who were the owners of now Irish-based sire, Azza Azza Azza.
A series of phone calls in the early hours of the morning UK time convinced them that Blue Tick were genuine about invading Australia and we were on our way to adding to our string of hounds ten thousand miles away.
Of course, everything is not all sweetness and light there and it would be remiss of me to try to convince otherwise. It is true that their model of funding, their tracks and the prize money are streets ahead of the UK but it’s easy to miss the little touches.
Kennel visits on a Sunday are the biggest loss. Anyone who owns a greyhound will know that getting to know their characters and idiosyncrasies is one of the greatest pleasures of ownership and there will always to critics.
As we have found with antis in this sport, those who shout loudest are generally those who are heard so it is no surprise that we have had a number trying to pick holes in what we do. It certainly is not for everyone but those who start with a closed mind on any subject will never find true enlightenment!
Working at the better end of the sport in Australia tends to mean that the races are on at times that are suitable for us in the UK with dogs running on the evening cards. I have, however, spent a few nights watching runners at 2.30 am and sending updates straight out for the syndicate to wake up to.
Despite being 10,000 miles away, communications with the kennel are excellent with Kel embracing our WhatsApp group and the banter from the ‘whinging poms’ within. The use of social media to keep owners updated is a huge part of what we do. The importance of keeping everyone updated cannot be underestimated, helping a feeling almost of family within those who have been a part of this from the start.
We are lucky enough to be in a position that we will be the first official foreign owners officially allowed by GRV (Greyhound Racing Victoria) to register but we won’t be the last with a number of prominent UK owners looking to invest in their own Australian greyhounds shortly but that is their story to tell, not mine.
We currently have 4 dogs in Australia, Blue Tick Erin who is yet to race, Blue Tick Fern, Fern’s litter brother One Night Only and the current flag bearer, Captain Dynamite who sadly came off sore in the Sandown Cup. More details on them to come next week.
There are plans for further expansion in terms of numbers there over the coming years, in fact Matt and I have both five and a ten year plans A, B and C mapped out for the future but with a forever changing horizon, this may extend to D and E before long.
These include breeding in both hemispheres as well as the shuttling round of pups, splitting them into groups that best suit them in terms of ability as well as our own needs as owners, whether that is here or there.
In the mid-nineties there was a cartoon, Pinky and the Brain. Every episode contained the same exchange, Pinky would ask Brain “what are we doing tonight?” with Brain answering, “the same thing we do every night Pinky, try to take over the world!” That’s us, I won’t go into details of who’s Pinky and who’s Brain, however, those in the syndicate will have a fair idea already I’m sure.
That will, no question, make the naysayers smile when they read it but that only drives Matt and I harder to prove the doubters wrong. The plan remains domination of the greyhound world and if we fail, it sure as hell won’t be for lack of trying!