A one word summary of our industry from Gordon Bissett, who, at different times, headed up both Ladbrokes and SIS’s greyhound operations.
On that particular long distant occasion, he was referring to stadium management.
At the time, Crayford and Monmore were each racing five times a week and the strain to keep the show on the road was unceasingly intense.
Now while Gordon might have been addressing the issues facing everybody from his GMs; trying to run fresh and innovative marketing campaigns, through to the cleaners sweeping up tote tickets and cold chips, it was the same grind. Ditto the track staff. And of course, the trainers and kennel staff who, to quote Graham Holland in his brief spell as a contract trainer at Hove, ‘I was a professional van driver not a greyhound trainer’.
Compare that to most other sports. Despite what the missus might claim, football only takes place twice a week for ten months a year, not five times a week for 52 weeks.
The repetitious nature is both greyhound racing’s greatest strength and biggest challenge.
Greyhound racing is a comparatively cheap sport to operate and in the betting shops is the equivalent of the bars of Cadburys Dairy Milk next to the till.
Aside from the minimal number of greyhound punters, is the ideal distracter for the punter popping into the shop to have a couple of ££ on the horses, golf or footie.
The days are long gone when dozens of sets of eyes were directed away from the football coupons and to the TV screens hoping to see one of Stan Kennett’s or Roger York’s Hackney graders romp up in the 11.18 on Saturday morning.
That ‘sausage machine’ delivery of racing has also affected the track customers.
When tracks raced three times a week in the summer and twice a week in the winter, there was a significant number of regulars who never missed a meeting.
By the time they got to five meetings per week, including midmorning and afternoon cards, they gave up trying.
Punters attend in dribs and drabs to a point that it takes a special occasion, such as a Boxing Day meeting, to see the regulars and occasionals in the same place at the same time.
Yes – they all know where the dog track is – they just don’t want to attend it regularly.
For an impoverished industry, the only way that tracks and trainers could remain financially viable was to remain on this increasingly brutal treadmill.
The one thing that seemed likely to stop it, was for the betting industry to pull the plug, or at least settle for a lower gear in the form of a ‘single service’ to the betting shops.
I have always been against this – on behalf of the trainers and tracks – because of the inevitable casualties for both.
Let’s not forget, BAGS took the piss out of tracks and trainers for years when they held a monopoly. It was the abuse of that power that directly led to the media rights war.
Conversely though, it becomes very difficult to justify a treadmill that appears on the point of imploding.
Our (my) naïve assumption that the betting industry would ease its demands, have proven wrong. At least so far.
But this isn’t going to move towards another rant about re-homing or the rights and wrongs of too much racing, it is a straightforward observation about numbers.
I spent a bit of time looking at the data following SIS’s decision to publish their schedule in the Racing Post last week.
There are various ways of breaking it down, but given the risk of number blindness, here is how I have chosen to do it.
If my figures are correct, the total number of ARC meetings, incorporating the Entain input, will actually be down since Crayford will be racing less.
However, the SIS schedule is being ramped up to cover the loss of the lost 1,196 Entain meetings per year.
2024 meetings v (2023) Suffolk Downs 5 (4), Towcester 5 (3), Doncaster 5 (4), Harlow 6 (6), Henlow 2 (2), Oxford 5 (4), Valley 3 (1), Askern 2 (0).
Now just about every figure should have an * next to it, explaining an infinite number of variables. For example, this doesn’t cover the number of races per meeting, but you get the idea.
So, take those 9 extra SIS meetings, multiply by 12 races, multiply by six runners per race. That works out at 648 runners.
Now some of those dogs will be able to run more than once a week, though given the four day rule, there will have to be some complex rotation.
We also need to factor in the surplus requirement of a racing strength due to injuries, off colour, in-season and of course, lack of suitable races on any particular meeting.
(If a dog races on Monday, and there is no grade for him on Friday, he won’t be available).
With the best will in the world, there will be a requirement for 800 extra greyhounds for the SIS schedule – and that includes an allowance for the extra Irish meetiings planned.
Where do those runners come from? Some kennels may want to jump from one provider to another? How many will be legally able to do so? How many more kennels can Kevin Boothby buy?
Then of course, there is the financial implication. Thus far, the bookies have found greater depths to their grubby pockets than they have previously admitted.
Will they want to keep forking out?
Word on the street suggests that there is some ‘flexibility’ in the SIS schedule. There may have to be.
As stated previously though – January 1 is merely the starting point.
It’s going to be interesting to see if the wheels start to come off the treadmill.