Jonathan Hobbs on greyhound racing situation plus news from Oxford and of a retiring speedball

Action from last year's Greyhound Derby - who will reign at Nottingham this time?

Trainers of open-race dogs breathed a sigh of relief on Monday when GBGB managing director Mark Bird announced that opens can begin again from June 29.

Such has been the work carried out to make venues Covid-19 secure workplaces, tracks already racing after two weeks of trials ahead of the resumption on June 1 have been fast-tracked from phase two of the GBGB’s Operational Policy to phase four.

It means no restrictions on the number of races which can be run during a single meeting (currently 10), and a reduction from 30 minutes to 20 minutes between races, which will likely see changes to the schedules published by Arc/TRP, SIS and RPGTV.

Owners had joined trainers in voicing their frustration at what they saw as open-race dogs being forgotten in the original plans for a resumption - and that strength of opinion has clearly expedited the move towards the return to a ‘near normal’ calendar.

The GBGB’s Open Race Planning Committee meets on Thursday to discuss and possibly even rubber-stamp a calendar of major events moving forward, but in the meantime one-off opens and minor events can return to those tracks wishing to stage them - and capable of doing so.

Towcester will have to wait given its welcome return to racing has been temporarily delayed, but the way has been paved for Nottingham on Monday, Newcastle on Thursday, Romford on Friday, and Crayford, Hove, Monmore and Sheffield on Saturday.

Towcester: Return on hold for now

Central Park, Doncaster, Harlow, Henlow and Sunderland will also likely join the party and it will be interesting to see how tracks deal with those events due to be staged which were cancelled due to lockdown - the Greyhound Derby being at the top of the list.

An October date for the Star Sports, Arc and LPS Greyhound Derby is still favourite for an event which should have been staged across April/May.

Given Sky Sports Racing have started broadcasting greyhound races - they will show Sunderland on Friday, Swindon on Saturday and Pelaw Grange (RPGTV also) on Sunday this week - it is safe to assume a Nottingham Derby will be on their radar.

July has been mooted, but these fixtures would effectively be behind-closed-doors even though restrictions will have eased by then. Plus SSR are broadcasting only when there is no evening horse racing - again favouriting October over July, presumably.

Some trainers have already taken the option to send runners to Ireland to restart their careers there, even though Ireland is still not racing. However major events have been scheduled across the water - and that has forced some handlers', er, hands.

Looking at the original GBGB Calendar, events that might be lost or will need rescheduling are the Regency at Hove, the Northern Sprint at Sheffield, the Rose Bowl and Guys & Dolls at Crayford, and the Silver Salver and Grand National at Central Park.

There are others, but the countdown to the Derby and then the Classic itself took priority over other competitions and so, to all intents and purposes, the period of lockdown was quieter than would normally be anyway - unless you had a Derby entry, of course!

What is all means for the Select Stakes is unclear and there has to be a doubt about that particular, famous one-off happening in 2020, but let’s hope not.

The longstanding Nottingham event always followed the Derby which, if staged in October, could mean any intention of bringing the English and Irish Derby champs together could be a problem given the Night of Stars at Shelbourne towards the end of the year.

Oxford return edges closer

Great to hear that efforts to return Oxford Stadium to its former glory took another step forward on Monday when council leaders rubber-stamped efforts to maintain the Cowley site for leisure use.

Greyhound racing and speedway were staples at the venue until 2012 but its longterm future came into doubt when Galliards Home emerged as a silent partner in the company which bought the GRA’s portfolio of tracks,

A viable plan to build a multi-purpose arena with social housing alongside is now being worked on - with the intention being to create a stadium that will benefit the local community as a seven-day-a-week operation.

One insider said: “For greyhound fans, Oxford was all about the Pall Mall and the many huge nights it staged for the sport, including hosting the TV Trophy. It featured on the BBC and then Sky Sports for many years.

“For speedway fans, it was the home of the Oxford Cheetahs - and who's to say other sports couldn't join the party. Just think of a major basketball team or netball team taking shape there? The possibilities are endless.

“The pressure is now definitely on Galliards to sell. The council has talked about a compulsory purchase order and Monday’s meeting showed the strength of feeling they have to return a vital local community asset to its rightful place.”

Retired Reel off to the paddocks

Finally, a story with a happy ending about Droopys Reel.

Angela Harrison’s prolific winner has been retired after a relatively short but very sweet career in which she added her name to one of the most famous rolls of honour when landing the Scurry Cup, the former sprinter’s Classic, at Belle Vue last year.

But it wasn't all plain sailing for the two-year-old. She was injured at Romford at the pick-up after blitzing round in 23.95sec and was off the track for a long time and, at one stage, connections feared her career was over.

Then en route to Nottingham for the heats of the National Sprint, Angela found herself stuck in horrendous traffic after a motorway closure and missed the competition, for which she was hot favourite to win.

Finally a serious bronchial infection in recent weeks led to an operation, after which the decision was taken to retire her. She will, in time, head to the breeding paddocks where this outstanding talent will now pass on her speed.

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