Jonathan Hobbs: Hats off to Yarmouth’s go-ahead attitude

Jonathan Hobbs casts his eye over the latest developments in the greyhound world

HATS off to Yarmouth then.

The popular east coast track will become the first to allow customers into the restaurant after the local council approved the family-owned venue’s plan for a socially distanced return of crowds from Monday. It means that Saturday nights are back on the agenda for the superbly appointed stadium.

Its spacious restaurant area and executive boxes are perfect for socially distanced tables and promoter Simon Franklin anticipates a crowd of 500 can be catered which is probably the minimum they need to cover operations costs, including prize-money, but what a fantastic boost for owners and trainers there.

Yarmouth was down to just two meetings a week on the TRP and RPGTV service, but the return of Saturdays gives the track a chance to give its strong kennel strength a chance to breath - not to mention an opportunity to join all the other holiday attractions now open in Yarmouth and the surrounding area.

The holiday season is valuable to Yarmouth, of course, but once again the coastal track has led the way. It’s multi-million pound grandstand redevelopment in the 1980s was ahead of its time, as was the owning Franklin family-supported local home-finding scheme for retired greyhounds which remains one of the most successful of its kind.

Compare Yarmouth’s go-ahead attitude and resilience through the Covid-19 pandemic to Peterborough’s almost resignation to the prospect of no crowds - admittedly it had just one paid-for meeting a week as opposed to Yarmouth’s two - and the sense of disappointment for all those connected to the Fengate track is palpable. It has now closed.

The word is all might not be lost at Peterborough given a lease offer potentially on the table down the line, but greyhound racing cannot afford to hold its breath and must now look forward and invest in what it has and can offer - and from a racing perspective there is plenty on the table, especially this weekend. Read on.

Incidentally, other tracks are looking to follow Yarmouth’s lead. Local councils ultimately can give the go-ahead to stadia reopenings and Pelaw Grange, Sheffield and Towcester are understood to be ahead of others in terms of negotiations - with Towcester having pencilled in Sunday, September 6 for a first meeting with paying customers.

And the exciting news from the Northamptonshire venue is that Saturday night meetings have been slated from Saturday, September 19. Promoter Kevin Boothby has always maintained his intention to stage open-race cards at the weekends, although the graded strength at the track has since grown to fulfil its SIS schedule.

Towcester TV is also set to make a return, a concept which proved popular under the track’s previous management and looks set to be resurrected.

On to the racing

SO to the racing - and Thursday sees the RPGTV All England Cup Final at Newcastle.

The ‘North East’ Derby was won last year by Ice On Fire on his way to being named Greyhound of the Year. He was Derby favourite until suffered a potentially career-ending muscle injury a few weeks back and a decision on his future is expected next month. Fingers are firmly crossed for a return to the track for Jimmy Fenwick’s star.

In his absence, this year’s event has proved wide-open and Thursday’s final is competitive, to say the least. There is a story about each and every finalist, although no-one would likely begrudge the consistent Bramble Reggie and Steve Anderson their moment of glory, or Pat Rosney with Bower Luke after Belle Vue’s demise.

Thursday’s Newcastle card is top class, with a host of finals scheduled, and the Arc-owned track has played a blinder to ensure these important events are being staged. It might be too late to save sister track Sunderland’s annual UK Festival of Racing in 2020, but hopefully management can get these competitions back in 2021.

Seemingly nothing has been lost from the Ladbrokes/Coral group of tracks and credit goes to head of stadia Ian Smyth and his team. Monmore’s Summer Festival is on the horizon, but Hove takes centre-stage this weekend with a real ‘Super Saturday’ featuring the Coral Sussex Cup and Coral Regency finals.

The Sussex Cup always coincides with Goodwood, but the Regency was rescheduled from April. Like the All England Cup, both Hove events are GBGB Category One competitions and potentially give ante-post favourites Bockos Doomie (Patrick Janssens) and Antigua Fire (Mark Wallis) a chance to vindicate the bookmakers’ view.

Neither have had a smooth path to the decider, albeit do take unbeaten records into their respective finals - Bockos Doomie especially. Success on Saturday would make it 12 successive wins at the Sussex venue for this strapping son of Droopys Jet and he is a joy to watching with a stunning burst of back-straight pace.

Antigua Fire remains the best stayer around, although will still need to be at the top of his game to win on Saturday and it was interesting to hear Mark Wallis talk about a possible TV Trophy bid for his star six-bender who produced one of the best runs this year over the trip when coming from way off to win his semi-final.

After Hove, Central Park stages the final of the RPGTV Champion Hurdle on Sunday where both Ricky Holloway and Seamus Cahill both eye a fifth victory in the event. Then attention will turn to Monmore for the Ladbrokes Gold Cup, Ladbrokes Summer Stayers Classic plus supporting competitions.

In normal circumstances these comps would have been the target for two of Ernie Gaskin’s stars in Lambeth Way and Roman Empire. Sadly, top sprinter Lambeth Way suffered a career-ending muscle injury last week, but worse has befallen Roman Empire who connections sadly lost to lymphoma.

Thoughts with Ernie himself after a torrid year - and to Roman Empire’s owners Kevin Dear and Paul Carpenter. Both are loyal and fantastic owners and, in Roman Empire, had one of the most exciting greyhounds the track has seen in recent years. They adored him, as did Ernie, who rated him as high as any greyhound he’s been connected with.

Social media

ON a happier note, we all understand how crucial social media is to keeping greyhound racing in people’s minds, so hopefully Steve Katz circulates some fantastic shots of a batch of Magical Bale pups enjoying life he sent to RPGTV this week.

Out of his bitch Lemming Boleyn, the litter features a dozen Magical Bale lookalikes playing in the paddock - and no doubt there is a champion lurking in there! The footage absolutely encapsulates the hope and anticipation that drives and inspires owners and breeders to make the efforts they do.

Magical Bale was one of the best on the track, making both the English and Irish Derby Finals, finishing second at Shelbourne in 2018 before making the decider at Nottingham a few months later. He had earlier won the 2017 Puppy Derby at Towcester and is now making a real splash as a leading stud dog.


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