Jonathan Hobbs on greyhound racing situation including open racing and Sunday's Silver Salver heats

Romford hosts open races this Friday

This is a big week for the sport of greyhound racing given the release of the annual injury and retirement statistics - and an update to the GBGB’s Greyhound Commitment.

The data can be accessed here and shows progress across the board, with the sport’s transparent approach to what happens on the track and at the end of a greyhound’s career welcomed by Government.

Animal welfare minister Lord Goldsmith said: “I welcome the continued transparency shown by the Greyhound Board of Great Britain in publishing its annual data on greyhound injuries and retirements from the sport.

“It is encouraging to see the progress that has been made; with the number of injuries on a downward trajectory and improved circumstances for retired greyhounds. We will continue to work with the sector to build on this progress in years to come.”

The GBGB are on course to meet welfare targets, although the Board’s managing director Mark Bird has warned against complacency despite a fall in the number of greyhounds economically euthanised and in the number of greyhounds fatally injured at the track.

He said: “When we launched these targets last year, we were clear they were ambitious and challenging but were determined to do whatever we can to achieve them. It is therefore very pleasing to see strong progress being made in reaching both targets.”

An update to the Greyhound Commitment has also been released, reflecting the challenges faced by the sport during lockdown, including financial support, and the efforts and guidelines put in place to ensure greyhound racing was the first to return.

That return takes another significant step forward on Friday when the first open races since March are staged, with Romford hosting an all-open programme including the heats of two Category Three competitions backed by RPGTV.

Then, on Sunday, Central Park stages the heats of the Colossus Bets Kent Silver Salver - a Category Two competition with a great history dating back to Southend in 1933. It was just the Silver Salver then, but could have been named the Essex Silver Salver!

Following a spell at Canterbury in 1988, the competition was renamed the Kent Silver Salver in 2002 when switched to Central Park, then just plain Sittingbourne - and is now one of the best known sprint competitions in the GBGB calendar.

It was won last year by Magical Houdini in a field including a former Greyhound of the Year in King Elvis - subsequent Sprinter of the Year Troy Bella was a non-runner - and trials suggest this year’s event can match previous years in terms of overall quality.

Watch: Magical Houdini wins the 2019 Silver Salver

Return to happy hunting ground

Hayley Keightley is a former Silver Salver-winning trainer, having won it in 2017 with her Scurry Cup champion Roxholme Hat.

A kennel with a fantastic team of open racers, it was therefore interesting to hear from her assistant Craig Morris that the Newark-based set-up will shortly have its first runner in graded races at Sheffield having initially been linked with Towcester.

The Keightleys have joined the Owlerton Stadium where they intend to give experience to a few pups they have bred, as well as supporting the track’s opens when they re-start.

Roxholme Nidge famously won back-to-back Steel City Cups (2018/19) at Sheffield so the south Yorkshire track is very much a happy hunting ground for the team - and Morris is hopeful of a good rest of the year for their runners.

He confirmed an RPGTV All England Cup prep trial at Newcastle for Hiya Boyo, and believes Roxholme Socks could be one to follow. The two-year-old runs at Romford on Friday in the 575m competition and remains a real talent.

The likes of the Roxholme Dolly, Butt, Poppy and Kristof will also serve the kennel well he hopes, albeit Poppy is on the way back from season and Kristof is on the easy list ahead of a hoped-for late-autumn return.

Open question

Still on the subject of open racing, it was interesting to hear Sheffield venue director Dave Perry’s comments that opens might not be staged at the track until customers are allowed back in. It is hoped that will be soon.

Sheffield is on the TRP schedule, currently supplying four meetings a week to their betting shop service. However, non-bookmaker owned, it relies heavily on footfall which has been denied given the current behind-closed-doors policy.

The track is one of the best-appointed in the UK, with a casino and newly opened conference centre adjacent to it - and is keen, when safe and possible, to open its doors again and flourish in the leisure market it excels in.

It has some of the UK’s most successful trainers on its books, with a kennel strength bolstered by a few of Belle Vue’s handlers moving across the Pennines given the plight of the Manchester track, not to mention the arrival of Team Keightley.

With horse racing set to trial a return of owners into racecourses, greyhound tracks will be keen to follow with local licensing authorities ultimately giving the green light to customers returning. This week’s reopening of bars and restaurants could be a key indicator.

Hunt down this interview

Finally a cracking interview with one of the UK’s brightest trainers Nathan Hunt is worth a read. It features on Derby part-sponsors Star Sports website, as well as elsewhere.

A former Kennelhand of the Year, Hunt stepped up and took over from Phillip Simmonds at Romford in 2019 and has quickly made his own mark, albeit with the continued support of Simmonds in terms of the business side of the operation.

In the piece, the young handler stresses the important of social media in spreading a positive message about greyhound racing - and currently has litters of pups who can be seen enjoying themselves on his Twitter feed @NHunt67.

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