How many dogs? How many races? How was 2020 affected by Covid?

Analysis of returns from 2020 provides us with some interesting clues as to the current state of racing.

The first data to analyse is the effect of the pandemic is the number of races lost due to the lockdown and reduction in racing. The final figure was 39,697, a decline of 17,042 – almost exactly a third less races.

It is the lowest figure on our (incomplete) records going back several decades. Certainly between 1970-80, prior to lifting of legal restrictions, there were normally around 44,000-48,000 races per year.

As the chart shows, the numbers had been pretty constant between 56,000-60,000 for most of the last decade. In the last 30 years there have been a couple of ‘waves’ culminating in a 1996 ‘high tide’ of 74,000 (38 tracks) and a 2007 record of 75,600 (28 tracks).

It is unsurprising that the number of GBGB registrations also fell from last year – from 7,252 to 6,820 – though the comparatively small decline of 432 (around 6%) should come as a pleasant surprise to many in the industry given the great uncertainty of the time.

Between 2012 and 2019, the registration figure fluctuated 7,252 and 8,094. A look further back once again shows ‘waves’. Between 1989 and 1996 there were never less than 10,000 greyhounds registered. There was also a ‘five figure’ second wave between 2002 and 2006 including an all time record of 11,912 in 2004.

It goes without saying that the re-homing issue will have operated in tandem.

The final two graphs are less important in terms of the physical number, as to their indication of ‘trends’. The ‘races per dog registered’ chart (above) is designed to compare the ‘workload’ of the country’s racing strength over two decades. It divides the number of racing performances by the number of dogs registered for racing that year.

It is, by its nature, intrinsically flawed in that many of the races staged in 2020, for example, will have been contested by greyhounds registered in the previous two/three years. But it was always thus.

It still shows that, contrary to popular belief, greyhounds have not been asked to contest every increasing numbers of races. Though it would have been interesting to know whether the 2020 would have continued the recent upward incline, but for Covid.

The final chart is even more obscure in its figures, though arguably more definitive in its results. It is created by dividing the numbers of litters born in each year (British and Irish combined), with the number of GBGB registrations that year.

The clear trend (again subject to a time lag) is that larger percentages of litters are being registered for racing – as confirmed in the rise in the number of ‘namings’ as reported by the ICC earlier this week.

+ One note of caution though. These figures do not imply that only three pups per litter (2020 figures) became racing dogs. The litter figures would also include all greyhounds who never left Ireland, or were destined for hare coursing, breeding, or died before reaching adulthood.