I have already mentioned my thoughts regarding the running of this years Greyhound Derby. But we now know that racing definitely returns on June 1 and the picture, indeed this unique opportunity for the sport, becomes much clearer.
GBGB Managing Director Mark Bird this week described the chances of the Derby being run in November and December as ‘unlikely’.
“I’d go a step further and call it ‘absurd’. So basically, in the next few days, the GBGB, Nottingham and the sponsors (surely a ‘no-brainer’ for Star Sports) have a big decision to make.
Do we have a summer Greyhound Derby or not?
Don’t forget the Derby is normally ran in June anyway and was only brought forward because of the European Championships that are now being held in 2021.
So if somebody can see a down side to starting a 96 dog derby on Friday/Saturday July 11th/12th and ending on Saturday August 9th, then please let me know!
Ireland have been more cautious than anybody else regarding the Covid crisis and won’t start racing again until June 29th at the earliest.
So it would surely be a blessing in disguise to put the start of the Irish Derby back by a fortnight or three weeks which would not only make both Derbys possible, but also practical.
It has obviously been a tough two months for the horse and dog racing industries, but they are going to be the first major sports to restart, and have every chance of quickly getting back on track.
Some of the top horse racing trainers (no chance of that with the dogs) have been instrumental in setting up the brilliant programme for their return.
In the next few weeks, more people will watch the Guineas at Newmarket, and the Derby at Epsom, than have done for decades because there will be no other sporting events going on.
When was the last time a Derby winner at Epsom was on the back pages of the nations newspapers?
This year they may well be on the front and greyhound racing needs to make sure it doesn’t miss out on that type of publicity.
Horse racing has somehow managed to keep all of the big races but in dog racing we uniquely have only the one blue ribbon event and if the holy grail of the sport doesn’t take place for the sake of a few quid, it will be an absolute disgrace.
Already open race trainers up and down the country are asking serious questions about what is going on and putting on this mid summer Derby would ease much of that stress and worry.
99% of owners whose dogs optimum trip lies between 450 and 600 m will want their dogs to run in it.
To be fair, the Nottingham track wasn’t built to hold an event like the Greyhound Derby Final. And they had a few problems on the big night itself with the crowd size and hospitality.
But the Derby itself ran like clockwork with none stop live coverage, information and trap draws on Racing Post TV. They would be guaranteed to cover the event again this year, if it takes place, and the betting turnover would go through the roof.
So being held behind closed doors is only a very small negative and one that every sport and venue is going to have to cope with for a while.
I’ve only spoken to Kevin Boothby once (when buying a set of hurdles for Coventry) but if Nottingham make the wrong decision, I would be happy to bet a shade of odds-on, that he will be banging on the door of GBGB!
He Knows trained by Barry Draper won the best ever race to take place at Owlerton Stadium Sheffield when he beat Toms The Best and Blue Murlen in the 1997 Dransfield Invitation.
He was a fine big strapping son of the imposing black Slaneyside Hare. Another son to inherit his father’s stamp was a magnificent fawn pup, that I just had to buy the first time I saw him – Lagarto Dorado.
I was also registered as the trainer but in reality my job was to be kennel-hand/racing manager. So all I had to do was find the right races to put them in . . . . and listen.
Because most of the time staying with me in the small cottage next to the 7th fairway on Lindrick Dale Golf course, near Worksop, was none other than Don Cuddy, a man who has trained 5 American Hall of Fame Greyhounds. (In 2000, he was also voted Trainer of the Century by Greyhound Review)
It is a record that we now sadly know can never be broken. It really was the best of times. We were like father and son but also best mates.
Don could be the toughest bastard on earth at times as his family or anybody who worked for him will tell you.
But like he used to say himself about others, “he had a heart as big as a watermelon”.
And I simply adored being in his company and getting up every sun up with him was so exciting.
We knew that the first golfers on the course would take at least 50 minutes to get to the 5th hole and we could casually walk there in 10. Lindrick Dale held the Ryder Cup in 1957, resulting in the only post-war victory for GB and Ireland, and its still a strictly members only course that is rarely played and is always in pristine condition.
Most of the members struggled with the fact that thanks to an ancient by-law we were allowed to walk the dogs around the courses footpaths whenever we wanted.
But I have often wondered what they would of made of the early morning sport on the 5th fairway that took place two or three times a week!
Don, as you can imagine, was often ‘anti-establishment’ purely because he always put the dogs first and was brave enough to say what he thinks. It was almost certainly because of that attitude that he was ignored for the NGA’s Hall of Fame for so many years.
But finally, in 2004 we made the journey to Abilene for him to finally receive that recognition.
That trip gave us the opportunity to go to the famous greyhound trials and sales in Kansas before enjoying some racing at Derby Lane in Florida.
And while we were there we took the opportunity to buy (the best in the world according to Don) American collars, leads, muzzles and coats for the dogs we were about to train.
But before we left the store, Don picked up two ‘squeakers’.
The fifth hole was a long up hill par 4, a gradual climb getting slightly steeper at the top and crucially there was a patch of rough in front of the tee box.
It was the perfect place to handslip two greyhounds knowing that they won’t leave any marks on the ground as they take off and gain their balance before poetically striding up 330 yards of a grass covered snooker table to whichever one of us (we used to take it in turns) was standing at the top waving one of the squeakers. Both of which had by now been sewn inside a fox skin.
It didn’t take long to work out that Lagarto Dorada (Teddy) was going to make the grade, though we were very disappointed with his opening effort at Walthamstow, only having one look round beforehand was our excuse.
It was the two ‘moderate at best’ performances in the heat and final of a maiden competition at Hall Green which was much harder to work out.
Back on the golf course he was absolutely flying as usual and he always impressed if we took him to Charlie Lister’s for a change of scenery and a work out in Newark. Between us we thought we hadn’t left a stone unturned before having a few quid on one last time in a heat of the Midland Flat at Hall Green.
From the inside of the track he genuinely looked more like an anorexic Labrador than a racing greyhound, he was at least five lengths behind when he reached the first bend from trap one. He finished a poor last having gone off a well backed 11-10fav.
It was only when I got to the pick up and whipped off the muzzle that I finally worked it out. His mouth was still closed. He had hardly had a race.
I was talking to a couple of trainers back in the kennels five minutes later and like me they couldn’t believe it, he was bouncing!
It was on the horrible drive home that the penny dropped and I knew where and how we could at least get some of our money back next time out.
The two squeakers were identical to look at but not to smell because one of them was sprayed with coyote piss and that was the one that used to send most of the dogs crazy but none more so than Teddy.
Whenever I caught him at the top of the fifth hole afterwards he literally had foam or bubbles coming out of his eyes!
Bob ‘The Builder’ was a local retired painter and decorator who helped us out in the kennels in the morning.
An important member of the team (he prepared the breakfasts) and he was part of the plan.
I entered Teddy in a race at Sheffield where there is a desolate 200 yard walk from the old kennel area to trackside.
The only thing you pass was the tea bar where Bob was standing by the door with the smelly squeaker under his jacket waiting for the dogs to appear. As we walked past each other Bob whipped out the squeaker and quickly flashed it under his nose.
It turned him into a lion and the biggest problem was going to be getting him in the traps.
In the ring they opened up 4/6 Charlies Lister’s favourite in trap three and Teddy was 2/1. My dogs were nearly always under priced and looking at the card the punters rightly steamed into the jolly and we went 5/2 which my pals then piled into.
He was so excited at the boxes that I expected a moderate break. He was just under a length behind Charlie’s dog at the boxes, but still had the race put to bed before the first bend and won easily.
It was one of my favourite ever wins and we managed to do the same thing at Nottingham a week later.
Don Cuddy told me to always warm up the dogs while on parade with a 30-40m jog whenever the best opportunity arose. (Normally as I first arrived behind the traps). As he used to say ”does Michael Johnson have a jog and a warm up before he runs in the 400m?”
It was a matinee meeting and very quiet on parade and as we turned around at the first bend to walk back towards the traps, I jogged with Teddy towards the mid-point of the first and second bend where a pal was waiting to meet us with a wave of the old fox skin.
In the ring it was 4/6 to 4/9 and he was over four lengths in front coming out of the second bend.
I had noticed that the squeaker had wound up a couple of the other dogs that day and within 10 minutes of Teddy crossing the line we were already well away from the stadium.
So I wasn’t surprised when I was once again hauled in front of the stewards down in London.
I told the story, as I have today, in detail, and I distinctly remember thinking that three of them thought it was a blinder and that I deserved a pat on the back.
While the other trio would of been quite happy to take me out the back and watch me face the Guillotine.
I was grateful to receive only a modest fine!.
Sadly Teddy picked up a serious injury in that race at Nottingham, despite winning easily, and never raced again.
Don Cuddy, so deservedly, also became a member of the Irish Hall of Fame in 2010.
Don sadly passed away in November 2013. I miss him and think of him every day.