“When do I feel valued as an owner? When I am buying a dog, paying a kennel or vets bill and re-homing that dog. For the rest of the time I am invariably ignored by the tracks, the media and the Greyhound Board.”
Billy Boyle, the best known member of the Bruiser Boys Syndicate, watched his first race as a five year old. His Irish granddad Bill bred and trained coursing greyhounds at Grange near Clonmel. His dad Willie was an owner and punter in London, and Billy has owned greyhounds all his adult life – writes Floyd Amphlett.
Contrary to popular misconception, ‘the Bruiser man’ is not fabulously wealthy. He describes his role as ‘line manager’ for Royal Mail and is supported in his interest by partner Sharon who is in the financial services industry.
Billy said: “Sharon is brilliant and indulges me in my hobby – probably more than she should! I do spend reasonable money on dogs but don’t buy in the top end of the market. I watch hundreds of videos every week waiting for something to catch my eye.
“In many cases it isn’t the winner who I am interested in. They would usually be overvalued. I’m looking for a glimpse of ‘something’. If they are special, you normally get a clue.
“But despite what most people think because of the high profile dogs, the vast majority of my dogs have always been graders. I have partners to share the cost as well as a few I own outright myself.”
So how does an ‘ordinary bloke’ get to own a megastar like Billys Bullet?
Bill said: “The story went back to a bitch that I saw run at Shelbourne, Droopys Start. I bought her in partnership with Scott Murray and when her racing career with Ian Reilly was over, I took up an offer from her breeder Michael Dunphy.
“He offered me a dog pup from the first litter. It only turned out to be a small litter with a choice of two dogs and I chose Billys Bullet. I could hardly have gone wrong though, the other dog was Touch Tackle.”
There are three active Bruiser Boys with a couple who participate a little less. The more committed members are ‘Big Al’ Mills and Greg Hatcher and the syndicate have owned two Derby finalists in Bruisers Bullet and Bombers Bullet.
The Bruiser Boys have been owners with Mark Wallis for many years, but have no other connection with the Imperial Kennels’ other successful syndicate, The Aayamza Boys.
Billy said: “A lot of people are confused by that and think we are one and the same. There is no bad feeling whatsoever between the two syndicates, but they are often our rivals in big races.”
For many years, Billy had ownership in between 50-60 greyhounds. He currently owns five outright, with interest in another handful. These days he is transferring his commitment to racehorse ownership.
Billy said: “I have become increasingly bitter about how owners are treated in greyhound racing and I don’t need that in a hobby that I have invested so much money and commitment in.
“I still enjoy the odd Friday night at Romford. I own a few at Hove. You always get well looked after at Monmore and Sheffield, but the only place where I really get a buzz is at Towcester. The place is full of greyhound enthusiasts which creates an atmosphere that you don’t get at any other track. At least I don’t.
“There is so much wrong with the greyhound industry and it has never been worse. Things have definitely deteriorated in the last couple of years.”
With the best will in the world Billy – that is a very sweeping statement. Can you be more specific?
“Okay – the owner experience isn’t good enough in greyhound racing. You arrive at the track and nobody would even know that you own a dog. There is no attempt to acknowledge that you have paid to put that greyhound on the track.
“Secondly, owners are entirely dismissed by the greyhound media. We had a runner in Golden Jacket Final. Julie Collier and the RPGTV cameras walked straight past our table ignoring us completely. This was our special day. Yet Mark (Wallis) told me they had been harassing him all day for an interview.
“It’s all about the trainer. I can understand why. They are only interested in the betting angle, not the greyhound owners.
“But what is Mark going to tell them realistically? ‘She is very well and if she leads I expect her to win.’ Big deal!
“We had a story that would probably have been more interesting and perhaps encouraged others to feel the buzz we felt that day. Instead everything is always about ‘Mark Wallis’ dog. Nothing against any trainer so where is the recognition for the owners?
“As for the Greyhound Board, they are not interested. I really like Mark Bird; I speak to him regularly. He always returns a call and in my view is doing his best to make it work, but most of his Board aren’t interested in owners in my view. The Board is run for the benefit of the tracks.
“How can he and the chairman claim that owners really matter when they look around the board. Some of the promoters on the board clearly don’t share his view.
“But question them and you just might get a solicitors letter or get banned from their tracks. Why? Are they so power crazed that they can’t be challenged?
“It is no surprise that attitude is reflected by their staff. I had a July puppy have a look recently. She was badly bumped and retaliated. I don’t question that, and their right to mark her ‘awkward’ or even ‘Disqualification’
“These days racing managers take a few minutes of reflection to decide on their next action which is a great idea. I phoned my trainer to ask what the process was, what the decision of the RO is likely to be and to also give my take on the incident and discuss what’s now best for my bitch. At the end of that day that’s all that matters really as a responsible owner we only want the best for our greyhounds.
“I asked that my trainer put our views across and promised to take my bitch away for extra schooling. My trainer called me back a little later and whilst it wasn’t said, I got the impression the RO wasn’t overly happy that my trainer had the audacity to discuss the incident with me, the owner.
“Would anybody want to own greyhounds if that is the attitude? In fact, I get fed up of being labelled a trouble maker because I want to highlight the frustrations that I and other people feel.
“I was chatting to some people recently and Paul Carpenter was being criticised for resigning from the Board. That just wasn’t fair and I said so. Paul gave it a real go and walked away when he realised he couldn’t impact change or effect much outside of welfare”
It was famously Margaret Thatcher who declared “I like Lord Young. Others bring me problems. He brings me solutions.”
So is there any Lord Young about Billy Boyle?
Billy said: “I haven’t got all the solutions but I’ve got some ideas including several that would make a big difference and are achievable.
“The obvious place to start would be to see the relationship change between owners, trainers and tracks. We are completely cut out of the equation. Why should a trainer be paid money won by my dogs? Why should he be paid bonuses for my dogs?
“I realise that trainers have to earn a living, but it should be up to me, just as it is in horseracing. The BHA, through Wetherbys, licence me as an owner and handle the finances. They take the fees and pay the prize money. My arrangement with the trainer is a separate agreement.
“In dogs, we are not even consulted. Sometimes I will get a kennel bill from Mark and there will be payments missing. When I query it, he will say something like, ‘we haven’t had the prize money from so-and-so yet, and I can’t afford to cover that until it arrives.’
“Now I must emphasis that there has never been a problem between Mark and I, but that is my dog that Mark is training, and my responsibility for its welfare and retirement. How come I don’t have a say?
“Yes, I’ve heard the argument, ‘the prize money goes to the trainer to stop him being caught by unpaid kennel bills’. But that’s bull. We all know that bad owners move their dogs onto another kennel and the trainers are so desperate that they take them in, no questions asked.
“If we had a system like Weatherby you can be fairly sure that the owner wouldn’t be able to leave a string of stable bills in his wake. An organisation like Weatherbys wouldn’t be impossible for greyhound racing in my view.
“When it comes to the difference between how racehorse owners and greyhound owners are treated in general though, the difference is stark.
“When I have a horse running, I will be sent between 8-15 complimentary passes. I arrive at the racecourse with my owners badge and have admission to an exclusive area for owners.
“There is a free lunch laid on for us. Not fancy but very nice. As an owner, I get access to the paddock area to chat with the owners and trainers. At the end of the race, there is a presentation and the winning owner is invited to a private room for a glass of champagne to watch a review of the race and a chance to chat to the clerk of the course.
“You are presented with a photograph and a replay of the race on a memory stick. The whole day is a memorable experience.
“Now I know some people would say, ‘it is a big race experience’. Rubbish. I am talking about winning a three grand race at (ARC owned) Southwell.”
So how do you tackle the issue of the media ignoring owners? The Star has always tried to engage with owners but it can be difficult.
We have no access to contact details and where syndicates are involved, it is almost impossible to engage. Quite often trainers don’t even know owners surnames. Yes – really. Dogs regularly run in the names of wives or girlfriends who may not have the slightest interest.
Often it takes a quick call to photographer Steve Nash to confirm who owners actually are, and hopefully a phone number.
Billy said: “I can understand that, but it is easily solved. Before every big competition, the tracks could be arrange a get-together, possibly half an hour before a previous race meeting. In fact as soon as the runners have been confirmed.
“Put on a bit of a buffet, nothing fancy, invite the press along to mingle with connections, get the sponsor involved too, and see the draw being made in public. A whole flock of birds – one stone. It is the sort of thing that they used to do at the Derby or even a bit like the call-over at the Waterloo Cup.
“It doesn’t need to be grand or expensive, but it would make owners feel part of the event and everybody would soon get to know each other and swap details.
“The only obstacle is whether anybody can be bothered. I repeat – do the tracks and GBGB value owners enough?”
Last but certainly not least – how do you break the promoter/media company’s stranglehold on the Board?
Billy said: “That is simply solved. You could leave the Board as it is. You might add a breeder to bring another area of expertise and balance and obviously you would need a new owners representative.
“The difference would be, the power to make decisions would have to lay with the independent directors. Everybody else could pitch their ideas and objections but the independents’ decision would be final.
“You cannot continue with the voting system as it currently exists. However you try to do it, it will be open to abuse, particularly if the directors put self interest first or have the means to apply pressure on the other directors.
“It can never work and we will never break this cycle. In fact, it will probably lead to the break-up of the industry.”