Greyhound racing’s night of the year takes place this weekend - albeit with a difference.
The annual GBGB Greyhound of the Year Awards celebrates the stars of the sport on and off the track and is usually held in a central London hotel, where a black tie occasion honours those who thoroughly deserve it. Then the sport lets its hair down and dances the night away - or heads to the bar!
This year, of course, everything is different. We are a behind-closed-doors sport - and that is a godsend. However it means a remote ceremony and a studio situation will now bring fans of the sport all the award winners with hosts Darrell Williams and, er, me in the chair.
A number of winners are already known such as Ben Keith winning the GWA Services to Greyhound Award, Megan Flood, who works for Romford trainer Maxine Locke, being named BAGS Kennelhand of the Year, and Monmore star Cold Mountain, trained by Paul Sallis, winning the ARC Graded Greyhound of the Year.
Dam of Best British Bred (Skate On) and Owner of the Year (KSS Syndicate) are also in the public domain as points winners - and Brendan Keogh and the McNairs will once again be saluted on Sunday - while Patrick Janssens will be officially crowded 2020 Trainer of the Year for the very first time. Well done Pat.
But the destination of the famous Greyhound of the Year trophy is a closely guarded secret and the winners of the various racing categories - standard, sprinter, stayer etc. - will be announced on Sunday. The overall Greyhound of the Year needs to win its category to qualify for the main prestigious honour.
And that looks as tight a decision as I can remember.
Usually there is a strong favourite, perhaps even a clear top two, but no greyhound absolutely dominated the sport in 2020 with a good spread of major winners. Therefore the connections of most of the nominees should believe they have a shot at the title on Sunday. Good luck to all.
Helping make it a huge weekend on Saturday night will be the semi-finals of the Ladbrokes Golden Jacket at Crayford and this fantastic competition is proving another tight affair, with a number of potential winners.
Broadcast live on SportyStuff TV, greyhound racing fans can expect another high-quality Crayford card given the heats of supporting competitions - the Peter Bussey Memorial (540m), the Welcome Hope Jeal Trophy (380m) and Chief Ramsbottom Hurdle Trophy.
Originally due to the place on the new Saturday morning show on SportyStuff TV, the open races have now been moved to the evening fixture.
The Peter Bussey and Chief Ramsbottom have long taken place alongside the Golden Jacket, with the former famous for Mark Wallis’s incredible record in the event - he has won seven of the last nine runnings - and the latter generally a six-bend one-off for hurdles. However this year it’s a dual distance event with heats over 380m and the final over 540m.
The Welcome Hope Jeal Trophy, sponsored by leading owner Nic Jeal, is a new competition which was down for decision last year until a power outage caused the abandonment of the meeting in September. However that one-off event has manifested itself into a two-round competition - so well done all.
Incidentally, well done to the Jeals after their Antigua Romeo was named RPGTV/GWA Greyhound of the Month for January after winning a fifth Coral Essex Vase at Romford for trainer Mark Wallis, coming within a length of the track record in the process.
Time will tell how the UK Tote Group’s new association with the sport will unfold - but the tie-up with Towcester certainly breaks new ground.
The company are now paying into the British Greyhound Racing Fund and, down the line, the prospect of big-money pools should excite all in the game. They operate alongside the fixed-odds firms in horse racing, so why not the dogs?
Of course, adequate liquidity is key before any talk of deductions to be reinvested in the sport can begin - and that is where the hard work will be done.
The utopian idea is for lucrative jackpots to be offered, at least on a weekly basis, to not just greyhound fans but sports betting punters generally.
And that is where Saturday mornings could be key.
When ATR was showing live eight-dog racing from Towcester on Saturday mornings a couple of years back an opportunity was certainly missed to engage the audience with jackpot opportunities on the greyhounds.
The idea was there but the technology was either lacking or the development work required not deemed worthy enough. However, that could be about to change.
In the meantime it’s fantastic news to hear a sponsorship portfolio is to be rolled out by the UK Tote Group at Towcester - a real boost for owners and trainers of open-race greyhounds, with hopefully these new events giving connections plenty of choice.
Choice is certainly the watchword when it comes to televised racing just now.
Sky Sports Racing are showing nightly greyhound meetings from the Arc tracks, giving the sport a brand new audience in some cases, and SportyStuff TV are doing likewise - two at a time, four on Saturdays - from the SIS venues as part of the RPGTV service on a brand new channel on the Sky platform. Again, a new audience mixed with the old?
Both are HD services and are showing greyhound racing in a great light - and they can drive each other on. Time will again tell how each service progresses and develops, but how each handles the major events on the Calendar could be interesting. They need to ensure sponsors get a good bang for their buck - and the winners rightfully celebrated.
And celebrating winners is exactly why the Hall of Fame initiative was launched at the LadbrokesCoral tracks last year.
Hove is the latest to update their roll of honour with a brand new plaque and presentation which honours the long history of racing at the Sussex venue. When crowds are allowed back in, this is definitely a must-see.
In the meantime a number of tracks have used lockdown to boost their website and social media operations - and whether it be live trials feeds, virtual racecards, racing results or Hall of Fame and past winners information, most have risen to the task.
Thanks to greyhound photographer extraordinaire Steve Nash for pointing out Sheffield’s effort in acknowledging its past winners with a pictorial history of the major races there among a section including trainer details and track records.