‘You are only as good as your dogs’ is a popular phrase among people who understand the game and it has certainly applied to us for the last couple of years. No matter how hard you work and how much knowledge you think you have, you will always be at the mercy of fast dogs . . . . . and people looking to take advantage.
We all know that replacing dogs of the calibre of Swift Hoffman, Newinn Yolo, Windy Millar, Mileheight Alba, Dairyland Sue and The Other Reg can take years. But I don’t think it has ever been more difficult and I would put that down to three main reasons.
Firstly, the loss of live SKY coverage has cost greyhound racing a great deal. The national profile cost sponsors, and that extra glamour along with the loss of events, or reduced prize money in those competitions that have taken place, has cost the industry some very important, and badly needed, owners.
Luck has always played a part too. No matter how many bases you try to cover, sometimes you have to accept a good kicking from fate. It might be the loss of an exciting young dog through injury, or in our case, a disqualification. I am talking here about Northern Puppy Derby winner Droopys Trawler who had his card marked soon after we bought him from Andrew Wood.
Andrew had no idea the dog would fight, neither did we, and he has ended up a decent hurdler with Seamus Cahill when he was going to be our six-bend challenger for this year. No one was to blame – just bad luck.
The far bigger issue, and one that really gets under my skin though is being ripped-off by breeders and dog owners.
This could sound like I am having a pop at ‘the Irish’, I am not. My entire family on both sides is Irish and we buy the vast majority of our dogs from Ireland. But within those people – in Ireland – who sell greyhounds – are a large number of people who totally lack any decency or integrity.
In the last year, we have asked owners to fork out between £10,000 to £15,000 for probably half a dozen greyhounds who were not worth a fraction of that. But I am not talking about dogs who picked up injuries, or dogs who didn’t progress, I am talking about greyhounds who were clearly priced four or five times what they were worth.
Now I accept that buying unraced pups is a risk. But while they may not have marks in their Irish cards, they certainly aren’t unknown. I am not asking anybody to pay £10K for a dog who has never been on a track. What has actually happened is that I have put my faith in people who have ripped my off.
I know within two trials of those dogs arriving in my kennels that I have been had over.
I understand better than anyone that some pups progress more than others and I can understand breeders trying to make sure that they don’t undersell a good dog. But that is nothing to do with with what I am talking about here. Quite simply, there is no way, that the people who sold these expensive dogs didn’t know that they were ripping us off.
We had one who cost £10K, who sold on just a few weeks later for £2K. There was another, sold to a man whose wife had just died. I pleaded with the breeder to do his best. We ended up with one bad dog who was replaced with another bitch who fought. We paid £15,000 from a different breeder for a dog who is now running bottom grade at Perry Barr.
Not everyone is like that. We have an on-going situation at the moment with a top breeder who has realised the dog we bought has fallen short and has promised to do something about it. That is all I ask for.
Thankfully, we still have owners like Robert Ferrari and Tommy Smith who keep the faith and are still looking for good greyhounds.
We have just bought two from John Saunders who breeds the ‘Bower’ dogs. John is an absolute gent and when things have gone wrong in the past, he has always put them right.
We are just looking to be treated fairly. It shouldn’t be too much to ask.
With the open race strength struggling we returned to having a few graders at Belle Vue roughly 18 months ago. I have never regretted the decision for a minute.
We have constantly had a full kennel of 28 runners, of which probably 18 are on the graded strength at any one time. Although I miss the top races, I haven’t missed the traveling, I think age is catching up with me. Also, financially we have been much more secure.
So I was disappointed to get a letter this week from Clive Feltham explaining that our runner money and travel money was being reduced following on-going negotiations with ARC.
It is disappointing, particularly for a track that has two BAGS fixtures and a busy Saturday night. But, I am not privy to the finances so can’t really comment on whether the reduction can be justified.
Although it isn’t welcome, I am happy at Belle Vue and don’t have any plans to go anywhere else. I particularly love the atmosphere created by a big crowd on a Saturday night. You don’t find that anywhere else.
Unfortunately not everyone else is in my position and I am aware of at least two decent sized kennels who are considering moving tracks.
I really hope a solution can be found because as we discovered at Wimbledon, once a kennel strength goes below a certain point in becomes difficult to keep a track open.
How ironic if a shortage of dogs caused the end of Belle Vue, not a property developer.
Finally, I would like to add my condolences to the Fortune family following Michael’s death this week.
I got to know Michael very well due our close mutual friend Seamus Graham, particularly at the time when he owned Cool Survivor with Phonsie King.
Michael was great company and a great greyhound man. He will be missed by the entire industry.