Tracks across the country are coming to the end of what has been a successful first week of trialling behind closed doors, following the temporary cessation of racing.
The trials process constitutes the first of five phases, as set out in GBGB’s COVID-19 Operational Policy. This week has therefore been an important step towards the sport demonstrating its readiness, in line with the government guidance, to move onto Phase Two – the resumption of behind closed doors racing – from 1st June.
In preparation for trialling, GBGB licensed racecourses have been putting in place a whole host of new measures and changes so that social distancing and hygiene levels can be maintained, whilst still prioritising greyhound welfare and integrity. To support this, GBGB’s field force of stipendiary and sampling stewards have been present at tracks to ensure the Operational Policy is fully understood and able to be implemented effectively.
An important part of the past week has also been establishing clear routes of communication and feedback, to highlight and address any issues that may arise through the implementation of the Policy. All those getting back to work for trials have been encouraged to raise any questions or concerns with the racecourse’s Compliance Management Officer (CMO) in the first instance, or with their area steward. Likewise, any welfare concerns can always be raised via GBGB’s confidential welfare hotline on 020 7822 0917.
Commenting on the return to trials, GBGB Senior Stipendiary Steward Paul Illingworth, said: “All in all, it has been a positive first week back and it is clear that racecourses have done a huge amount of work to ensure they are ‘Covid-secure’. We are very grateful for the way that everyone involved in the sport has played their part and helped to make the week run so safely and smoothly. The mood at racecourses really has been upbeat as trainers see their greyhounds get back to some exercise and enjoyment on the track.
“In preparing for trials and an eventual resumption of racing, we were always conscious that it would be an iterative process and would need regular review, feedback and monitoring. But what is fantastic to see is the Operational Policy in place and working well. Where there have been minor issues or areas of uncertainty, we have been able to pick these up quickly and ensure they are remedied.
“Nonetheless, whilst this week has been a successful one, at no point can we become complacent or rest on our laurels. I know that tracks are now turning their focus to refining these processes ahead of the more complex task of returning to racing. For some, this may mean using next week to host more mixed trial sessions so that, whilst still on a small scale, they can get used to the new social distancing procedures at loading and pick up.
“Getting back to racing safely is one step at a time but I am pleased that this initial week has been successful and I would like to thank everyone for helping make it so. The work being done now proves that, subject to any further government updates and the announcement of fixtures, tracks will have everything in place for races to restart from 1st June as planned.”
Peter Harnden, GBGB Trainers’ Director, said: “This has been a tough time for us all but my own dogs have certainly enjoyed getting back on the track this week. On a personal level, it has also been good to see some familiar faces again and know that everyone is safe and well, albeit from a safe distance. Of course, we all desperately want to see our dogs back racing as soon as possible but the most important thing is keeping everyone safe and healthy.
“From speaking to trainers, there is a lot of praise for all the safety measures the tracks have put in place and, while we all expect some teething issues, overall things seem to be going well. Now more than ever we all must work together to ensure that our sport can get back up and running again safely as soon as possible.”
John Coleman, GBGB’s Owners’ Director, said: “I know many owners will be thrilled this week that their dogs are getting back on the track for their exercise trials. The past two months have been very difficult for owners who have had to be patient as the infrastructure was put in place for a safe return to racing. Whilst racing remains behind closed doors, this patience will have to stretch even further, but with trials taking place I am pleased that we are moving in the right direction.
“We have all had to adapt during lockdown and I want to praise the hardworking trainers and kennel staff who have been doing a stellar effort keeping in touch with their owners in lieu of visits. There are evidently still challenges ahead, but I am confident that by working together as a sport, and listening to everyone’s voices, we can come out the other side even stronger.”