Jonathan Hobbs on greyhound racing and prospect of Virtual Greyhound Derby

Greyhound racing action

After the success of the Virtual Grand National on Saturday - well done to those who drew or backed Potters Corner, and to everyone who placed a bet to support the NHS - could the Virtual Greyhound Derby be next on the agenda?

Behind the scenes, work is under way to stage a canine equivalent of Saturday’s race with monies raised aiding rehoming charities and beleaguered trainers.

However, unlike with the animated action from Aintree, replacing the postponed 2020 running, this is NOT instead of the sport’s main event, which could still take place later in the year post-lockdown long after both horse and greyhound racing resumes again.

The inspiration for a Virtual Greyhound Derby comes from two GBGB Ambassadors Gail May and Kim Sanzone, who are co-opting the help of IT specialists to produce a competition which can be enjoyed by must-stay-at-home greyhound fans.

"We’ve seen the greyhound community really come alive on the various social media channels, swapping pictures, videos and stories - so this could be the perfect way to bring them all together, have some fun and raise much-needed funds,” says May.

The owner of one-time Greyhound of the Year Spiridon Louis is a passionate greyhound supporter and, as a GBGB Ambassador, has been involved in a number of welfare-positive initiatives - as has Sanzone, another well known name in the sport.

A former Betting Shop Manager of the Year and PR manager at Romford Stadium, Kim returned to her native Blackpool after many years based in Ireland and remains very much in tune with the UK greyhound racing scene.

She feels a Virtual Greyhound Derby could be a much-needed distraction, saying: “I think we’ve all felt the impact of lockdown and something like this will grab the attention of greyhound folk both sides of the Irish Sea.”

A decision on when, or if, the 2020 Greyhound Derby will be staged is still to be made with initial thoughts that the £100,000 Classic could be staged in June, its traditional slot having been moved forward to avoid a clash with Euro 2020, now optimistic.

Even if the dogs follows horse racing with a May 1 return - and everything is subject to Government measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus - the preparation of top-class runners necessitates trials and a re-aquaintance with Nottingham.

Given the Irish Derby is staged across August and September, the English Derby could therefore only be held in July or October to ensure runners from both the UK and Ireland could enter - otherwise might trainers be forced to make a choice?

For many, talk of any Derby is premature given the day-to-day operation needs to restart first. Trainers are now either receiving financial assistance from the tracks they are contracted to, the GBGB - or will soon receive Government help.

The GBGB has already handed out almost £250,000 in welfare payments to trainers to care for the greyhounds in their charge. This is short-term help through the lockdown, although a behind-closed-doors return remains the preferred option for most.

Turning those wheels again is important, whenever that may be.

'They don't make them like that any more'

Tales from a bygone era are the order of the day in a series of programmes called ‘Flappers’.

Produced by Wapping Assassin TV, the company run by longtime greyhound fan Steve Katz, this eight-part series is the brainchild of former trainer and leading fundraiser Maurice Newman.

Newman has assembled a few of his friends - bookmaker Gary Wiltshire and legendary trainer John ‘Ginger’ McGee among them - to swap tales of gambles and high-jinks from yesteryear.

Catch those - plus some fantastic photographs and race footage from tracks old and new, including a young Paul Young leading in Minnies Siren after her victory in the 1989 Cesarewitch final at Belle Vue - on Youtube.

Wapping Assassin TV - FLAPPERS PART 1

Let's get together and feel all right

When everything is back to normal - fingers crossed here! - maybe the time is right to relaunch the kennelhands ‘do’.

Staged for many years at the Starlight Rooms, Enfield, the night gave trainers an opportunity to treat their staff to an old fashioned knees-up and a chance to meet up with other kennelhands across the UK.

It was the more relaxed alternative to the sport’s annual awards and was usually held just before Xmas at a venue in north London which was perfect for those who worked in and around the-then many tracks in the capital.

Times have changed, of course, and the location of such a night would need thinking about - as would the funding for such an event. Heaping more pressure on trainers is clearly not the way to go - cue sponsors and general industry support.

Either way, after this period of self-isolation and social distancing is over, a chance to meet up with old friends - and rivals - could just be the ticket.

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