Jonathan Hobbs on greyhound racing's potential resumption and three dogs he'll always remember

A sign at Crayford reveals greyhound racing's impending suspension

Jonathan Hobbs ponders the short-term future of greyhound racing as those behind the scenes look to get the show back on the road.

Not for today or tomorrow, and probably not for a few weeks, but the question will arise soon. To play or not to play, to race or not to race?

Many will countenance none of it, understandably so.

People are dying of coronavirus and the infection levels have yet to peak, they will rightly point out. Heeding government advice and listening to scientists remains key and potentially life-saving for all of us.

However, there will come a time when sport will restart - in all likelihood behind closed doors. In the meantime leagues will be cancelled, major championships delayed or postponed indefinitely, perhaps even trophies handed out as they stand.

But long before other sports make that move, horse and greyhound racing will surely need to act given potential animal welfare issues.

The betting industry wheels need to turn again to look after our horses and dogs. They are inextricably linked and trainers and handlers need those wheels to turn to enable them to keep these wonderful athletes in top condition.

Mark Bird, managing director of the Greyhound Board of Great Britain (GBGB), effectively said as much last week when asked to comment on a number of tracks and their promoters outlining April 14 as a possible return date.

“I have been speaking to politicians this week and they understand the position of UK greyhound racing... and I have reiterated the need to get back to racing as soon as it is safe to do so,” he said.

Bird has been in regular contact with government bodies and politicians and says they are aware of the responsible steps greyhound racing took in the period after horse racing was halted, when the dogs became the only show in town.

And it worked. Social distancing measures even included loading the greyhounds into the traps at different times and handlers being kept apart at the pick-up. Unlike in horse racing, no medical help is required on-site. Just a vet.

All this should put it at the front of the queue of sports eyeing up a resumption, but in the short-term, greyhound racing can cope.

Tracks and their promoters are supporting the trainers on their strength with weekly payments depending on the number of greyhounds they have racing. On average this amounts to £5 per greyhound, per week.

Most trainers will be linked to certain tracks and those that are not - in the main smaller handlers or open-race trainers - will be afforded financial assistance from the GBGB. Again this will be due to greyhounds on the racing strength.

Of course, most trainers have retired greyhounds to look after as well - which might not necessarily fall into the above categories. There will be other ways to source help and funding here, but none of this is a bottomless pit.

A return to racing will solve a host of issues, not least in the revenue generated via online streaming and, of course, the prize-money payments made to owners and trainers which supports the greyhounds in their care. It is a circle.

Whether that comes on April 14 seems unlikely, but that was the date originally set out by a number of promoters, so there is a hope and willingness to get back to some sense of normality as soon as possible - again only on government advice.

Businesses and livelihoods depend on a return - as they do in the wider world, of course, and yet greyhound racing is almost unique in its requirements. In the meantime it’s about keeping safe.

Join me on a trip down memory lane...

A question posed on Twitter had the memories flooding back.

Social media has, in the main, lightened these interminable rainy days. Lists, whether they be favourite footballers or horses, or how people are spending their time - jobs in the house, their tipple of choice etc. - keep us entertained.

Ryan Corrie, sports manager at SIS (@nedondo11), asked for three greyhounds that “had a huge impact on you and our wonderful game” and put up No Can Waltz, Cagey Luke and Barnfield On Air - three great choices.

Mine started with Ballyregan Bob.

The world record-breaking greyhound, trained by George Curtis for Cliff Kevern, catapulted greyhound racing into the mainstream - his 32nd consecutive success even interrupting the nine o'clock news on BBC One.

Top greyhound Ballyregan Bob sets world record

We happened to be at Hove for his debut. What is remarkable is remembering we were at Hove because of Bob - his reputation coming before him, which meant hordes turned out to see this apparent superstar of the track.

He was beaten, a combination of crowding and obvious greenness costing him, but what pace he showed down the back-straight - a trait which would establish him as probably the greatest greyhound to ever grace the track.

Next would have to Scurlogue Champ.

This freak of a greyhound - yes, I stand by that word - would drop himself out and almost come to a standstill on occasions, then start up and run the second lap faster than the first - NO greyhound does that.

When he came to Catford, the terraces would be packed and the roof raised as he started to make his move, and it was same at any of the London tracks we visited - Wembley, Wimbledon, Walthamstow - and those further afield.

Scurlogue Champ - TV Trophy Final 1986

He didn't win all the time - but even then there was a story, a conspiracy theory. At Peterborough after he was beaten by Sneaky Liberty we were told he’d been hit by a stone, even a laser was mentioned.

Then there was Wembley and the ‘Showdown’. Like two heavyweight boxers who avoided each other, the clamour for Scurlogue Champ and Ballyregan Bob to meet grew until the four-runner invitation when the Champ stopped at the first bend.

But then if Scurlogue Champ was involved, there was always a story. Check out YouTube for some amazing performances - and those crowds. In my lifetime, the only greyhound that ever commanded a personal appearance fee.

Finally, a greyhound by the name of Pretty Orchid. No household name but a fond favourite at my local track Catford. The traps open and this huge fawn dog was quickly in full stride, soon clear and landing another A1.

The fact he was ours made it all the sweeter.

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