Some of you will recall that many years ago the Irish Government decided to include greyhound breeding in an ‘alternate’ farming program.

They were going to offer grants to breeders for fencing and kennels with more incentives geared towards the production of pups.

Yes it might seem very ‘non PC’ now, but at the time it made sense in terms of the Irish bloodstock industry with the thoroughbreds already getting tax breaks and Irish farmers suffering from EU agricultural overproduction.

I was the Sporting Life breeding columnist at the time and thought it sounded like a great encouragement for breeders.

One of the first people to speak out against it was trainer Dolores Ruth.

To paraphrase her point ‘You will only encourage the breeding of mediocrity. If there is money available, put it in at the top and it will filter down’.

The view wasn’t met with universal approval – though most of her critics were crap breeders. For me it was as though someone had turned on a light – Dolores was spot on!

If you want this industry to survive, pour gold on the top of the pyramid and let it percolate. Without the opportunity of a jackpot, nobody buys a ticket.

But this isn’t really an observation about breeding. It’s about applying the same principle to acknowledge the absolute urgency of high class open racing for the continuation of the sport.

Open racing is the reason that breeders breed, trainers train, and owners own. Correctly managed and financed it elevates the entire industry, from the value of the dogs to the professionalism and working conditions of the kennel staff and the expertise of the vets.


Now I do NOT believe that open racing – overall – is beyond hope. In fact, in some ways it is thriving.

Take a look at the list of open events lined up between now and the end of the year and who couldn’t be impressed?

And that isn’t the complete list. We are still waiting to hear if ARC can resurrect the Champion Hurdle and Grand National – cancelled due to issues over track lighting earlier in the year.

Then on Friday, Oxford are hoping to be granted their license by GBGB.

Promoter Kevin Boothby has previously indicated that they have enough sponsors for a minimum of two Cat One events for every remaining month of the year – including a £20K Pall Mall.


And thereby lies ‘the problem’

How do you fit them into the GBGB Calendar under the current open race guidelines?

Sheffield have already lost a £15K puppy event, delayed until next year due to fixture congestion.

And how ridiculous that the industry could be turning down £150K in open race prize money with the associated feelgood factor of a great track re-opening!

Conversely – why should other tracks be bullied out of competition slots that they pledged to support at the end of last year?

(I’m also told that Doncaster are trying to squeeze a couple a couple of Cat Ones into the Calendar but have made little progress.)

Now I can almost hear the sound of trainers scoffing:

The more the merrier! Let them have a free-for-all bidding war and let the trainers choose.

But it isn’t that simple is it?

Imagine two big competitions run in tandem, 100 miles apart.

Does one, or both, failing to fill leave trainers better or worse off than before?

Yes we know that currently, in a 48 runner event there might be 10 ‘serious’ fancies , plus maybe another 10 with reasonable chances, allowing for more than half the field to be local graders.

But do we want to end up with 36 local graders in a 48 runner Cat One event?

Whichever way you view it, there are a finite number of top class hounds.

Because open races – by definition – were designed for that elite 2%.

Last year there were 72 Category One/Two races combined. Yet they were contested by a mere 279 greyhounds with the top hounds making a stack of finals: Aayamza Royale (6), Blueberry Bullet (5), Bo Shine Bullet (5), Brookside Richie (5) Jaguar Macie (5) Signet Ace (5), Savana Volcano (5) etc etc

That is 279 individuals – less than 6 x 48 runner competitions – spread over a year – and over all distances including hurdles.

This year, even prior to any Oxford announcement, there will be a minimum of 74 competitions.


But there are many more issues . . .

The rising cost of diesel . . .Combined with the new ‘four day’ rule . . . Combined with the ‘must trial’ edict at certain tracks is destroying minor opens.

Ted Soppitt has been running around the country trialling dogs for minor opens that don’t fill. Hundreds of pounds worth of diesel and dozens of hours on the road for nowt.

To make matters worse, he dutifully gave his ARC Puppy Trophy winner Biscuit Billy a solo trial at Monmore, in order to contest a race there and the pup broke a hock!

All this in the name of welfare!!!

Rab McNair is now struggling to get the exciting Havana Lover into the Gold Cup at Monmore because she would need to trial to comply with the rules of the competition, but the ‘four day’ rule doesn’t give him enough time before entries close.

This is going to become a regular theme going forward with owners being asked to take their dogs off the strength for a week in order to qualify them in trials.

Mark Wallis picked up the issue of Saffrons Dash, the young dog who has just about made himself outgradeable. But if he, or dogs of similar ability, don’t progress to be a Cat One/Two performers, there are now virtually no minor opens for them.

(And where they do fill – take a week off for a trial at every new track before they can race there)

As was recently highlighted by Rab McNair, even assuming the minor opens fill, why would trainers want to enter them if they are running for less money than the graders?

£100 runner-money should be mandatory for all opens.

It is true that the doubling-up of major competitions by ARC and Entain has been a fantastic innovation by enabling trainers to turn up multi-dogged and reduce the exes. But it doesn’t work for everyone.

For example – it has been suggested that Sheffield stage their £15K puppy event alongside the GAIN Nutritions Three Steps competition.

But would GAIN really want that?

And could Sheffield justify forking up probably £25K for minimal additional footfall?

SKY Racing coverage does greyhound racing minimal favours but even on RPGTV there is no financial incentive for tracks to stage Cat Ones instead of D4 sprints.

Top competitions on TV – whoever the broadcaster – should come at a premium.

Should minimum prize money to qualify for Category One/Two classification be raised?

Or should any additional cash be spread around the competition?

Should prize money be fixed to a set formula? 30% to the comp winner, another 20% to the other finalists and 50% for the qualifying rounds? Or whatever percentages were deemed appropriate?


To round it up . .

It appears to me that there are three major issues here:

  • The recently introduced ‘Four Day Rule’.

As previously pointed out it is a crap and unnecessary innovation that could have been avoided had people taken responsibility for their actions. And I am including racing offices and trainers.

I know many professional greyhound trainers and not one of them would ever allow their dogs to be over raced. Asking a racing office ‘not to grade the brindle bitch this week’ is part of the fabric of greyhound racing.

Poor bullied trainers worrying about their contracts? It’s bullshit!

Can you imagine the outcry if a racing manager even tried to force a trainer to race a dog against its best interests?

And I know that a number of promoters are still bristling at being blamed for introducing this rule, which might have stretched to five days.

By all means have a monthly limit on appearances, but after 50 years in this industry, I see nothing whatsoever to justify the four day rule.

If common sense is to prevail, and GBGB hasn’t painted itself too deeply into a corner, let it live up to its edict – as proudly quoted by Ian Foster recently – that ‘every rule is always open to review’.

Well review it – because you certainly can’t justify it!

  • The necessity for ‘course knowledge’ for open races.

This isn’t a rule of racing and if it ever became one, we might as well jack the game in now.

This was brought in due to sloppiness of racing offices – and again – trainers. Bad trainers seem particularly adept at leaving the scenes of their own car crashes.

Like the Four Day Rule, this smacks of cosmetic surgery by chainsaw.

There are plenty of options open for racing managers of ‘specialist’ tracks to deal with unexposed dogs.

Personally, I would defend the right of any racing manager to refuse to change a seeding without a trial. Or insist on a trial where race and trial comments conflict.

But can you imagine Bob Rowe, Peter O’Dowd or Peter Shotton bottling it by hiding behind a rule like this?

Please Ms Corden and Mr Smyth, listen to the trainers and perhaps even your better racing managers. Review the evidence, and if there is no data to suggest this is necessary, consider tweaking or scrapping this nonsensical idea.

Because in my view, these additional trials are likely to bring more negatives than positives.

  • Shake-up of the open race calendar.

This is long, long overdue and we have now reached the end of the rope.

Personally, I would hate to try to unravel this one. There cannot be a perfect solution, merely a least worst one, because of the number of moving parts.

For my two pennysworth, I would set out a basic calendar allowing certain competitions to be set in stone: the great events: the Derby, Leger, Oaks, Sussex Cup, Steel City Cup, Monmore Puppy Derby etc – though they would have to be backed by an agreed minimum prize money pot.

Then I would add in at least an additional major event for each track. The East Anglian Derby for Yarmouth, the Doncaster Leger, the Sunderland Classic etc.

Once all those fixtures had their slot on the map, I would see where the gaps lay, and invite bids for those slots. Two events could run simultaneously though not within 100 miles or over similar distances.

But whatever happens –  please please please – have trainers as part of the consultative process.

The benefits are two-fold.

Firstly – they have a unique insight into issues that the current open race committee may not appreciate.

Secondly – the buck stops with the trainers (subject to approval of their recommendations). It’s a ‘clean hands’ decision for GBGB.

In my view to continually ignore the opinions of greyhound trainers is entirely counterproductive.