Jonathan Hobbs on greyhound racing including new licensing initiative from GBGB

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The Greyhound Board of Great Britain (GBGB) is the sport’s administrator and regulator.

It has the best interests of greyhound racing at its core and will defend its corner vehemently. It ensures the sport is transparent in terms of injuries, is fantastically well policed and has the welfare of the greyhounds as a priority.

And if anyone believes otherwise they are absolutely mistaken.

Nevertheless the reaction to the news that the GBGB is to change the licensing process to make all trainers professional handlers has not all been positive - and perhaps this move needs to be understood and certain reassurances given.

Given the amount of emails sent to RPGTV, it is clear there is real concern out there as to what impact this may have.

The launch of an owner-trainer licence a few years back was trumpeted and celebrated - a move seen to make the sport more inclusive.

It effectively allowed and encouraged one-man-and-his-dog to take on his or her professional counterparts. With the drop in trainer numbers and litters being registered, it was seen as a boost to tracks looking for runners.

It was also an opportunity for part-time handlers to make the big-time, paving the way for major success for the small man or woman.

It gave owner-trainers a chance to do what Bruno Berwick had done in winning the Derby with Salad Dodger. That was very much a one-man-and-his-dog fairytale success, as was John Gardner’s with his home-trained Coolavanny Bert.

Bert was a 2012 Derby finalist and regularly featured on Sky Sports at the time. He was filmed on the sofa, being let out in the back garden, before jumping in John’s estate car on the way to the track - for a Derby heat!

Or how about John McGoldrick, a window cleaner by trade, who qualified Bright Redcliffe for the 2011 Derby at Wimbledon a year before? Sky producer Dave Lawrence even had me washing the windows on a kennel visit. I say kennel visit, it was John’s front room!

Now, it should be stressed here that all the above held a greyhound trainer’s licence as opposed to an owner-trainer one - and had kennel facilities which had passed GBGB inspections.

However, what these stories do is build a narrative of what is possible - and the initial reaction to this licensing change has been to believe such stories can never be repeated, but they can. The one-man-and-his-dog story is here to stay, hopefully.

Perhaps the current crop of owner-trainers need reassurance about this, that such opportunities still exist and can be achieved - given most already meet the kennel requirements to be granted a professional trainer’s licence.

What the GBGB has reacted to is a spate of positive tests, largely due to cross-contamination in the home or the kennels, by either unscrupulous or naive handlers. There have been general welfare situations, too, again requiring the GBGB to step in. All absolutely right.

Critics will argue the actions of a very small number are now being felt across a larger swathe of handlers. Very possibly. However, you cannot blame the Board for acting and ensuring certain standards are met - for the betterment of the sport in the long term.

There is constant pressure from Defra to ensure standards are maintained and anything that could have a detrimental effect on the sport and its power to self-govern i.e. maintain UKAS accreditation needs to be stopped.

Therefore new licensing rules have been announced, to be introduced in 2021, which will ensure kennel standards meet the GBGB’s welfare and integrity standards.

These kennels can still be at home, of course, although must pass inspection and meet certain criteria, with any improvements completed before a licence is issued.

These inevitably will come at a cost - and therein is the issue. Some believe they might be priced out of the sport and need to be reassured that is not the case. They need to be encouraged to take up a professional licence - and take great pride in that.

It’s about accentuating the positive - and that is where, if anything, the Board has fallen short in this instance - not in the detail or intention. Stress that becoming a trainer is a real badge of honour - and help given to achieve this.

Any misgivings or concerns owner-trainers have need to be individually addressed and help provided, either by the GBGB or track promoters, to ensure no-one is lost to the sport.

The GBGB has clearly not taken this lightly, but somewhere along the line the message has been skewed to one of negativity gauging by the reaction at RPGTV Towers - and cannot be put down entirely to the hyper-sensitive times we live in.

There are some experienced handlers expressing concerns here, with one suggesting that if similar restrictions and red-tape was enforced on the equine world, point-to-pointing could be wiped out - and what sort of impact would have for National Hunt racing?

That is a separate discussion clearly, and might be a poor analogy, but is certainly food for thought.

AFC Wimbledon back at Plough Lane

Food for thought this week has also been AFC Wimbledon’s return to Plough Lane.

It understandably sparked huge media interest, with the club back at its spiritual home and its fans congratulated for remaining loyal and then raising millions via a crowdfunding situation to help with the move and the stadium build.

For us greyhound fans, there is absolutely a feeling of what might have been had similar investment occurred while the famous track was there - remember it was home of the Derby and most of greyhound racing’s major competitions.

Housing could have surrounded the greyhound track long before the GRA sold its soul - but a lack of ambition ultimately saw the stadium and the rest of the company’s portfolio of tracks snapped up by property developers, ostensibly Galliards.

They chose football over greyhound racing for their development which, as much as that’s tough for fans of the dogs to stomach, is hardly surprising.

Yes, it became rather bitter with AFC Wimbledon when it came to a battle of the sports between local football fans and those at the greyhound track, but at least the stadium was built when most greyhound fans believed it would never happen.

As a sports fan, and very much a football fan, I’m delighted that at least one set of fans realised their dream. It looks a superb stadium and good luck to them. The local council paved the way there - let’s hope they do the same for us at Oxford and Belle Vue.

Happy retirement to top commentator

It's all in the name - and owner-trainer Gary Vincent knows all about names. The tougher to say, the better!

Upset at a throwaway line from Romford commentator Steve Woodward a few months back, Gary set about trying to get his own back and named his subsequent purchases Shesellseashells and Pippapippapops. Try a greyhound commentary including either of these two!

His ambition was to get either or both to race at Romford - and cause the unflappable Steve some tongue-twisting issues. The problem is Steve has hung up his microphone now after 26 years of fantastic work at the Coral track - although it’s unlikely the two things are linked!

Indeed, Steve was very much in on the joke. He apparently approached Gary in the paddock on his last Friday night working at the stadium to tease the owner-trainer about being very naughty with his names. It sounds like a score-draw in my book.

Happy retirement Steve - fingers crossed for a comeback!

Grand plans

Racing-wise it’s a fantastic week.

We’ve already had the BGBF British Breeders Stakes heats at Nottingham; Thursday sees the start of the RPGTV St Leger and the M Lambe Birmingham Cup at Perry Barr, while on Sunday it’s the start of the Ladbrokes Kent Derby at Central Park.

It continues a busy period at the Sittingbourne venue after the Colossus Bets Grand National Final on Sunday, which saw Ricky Holloway win again.

The jury is out on how many Grand Nationals the local handler has won - either as an owner or trainer. Steve Willey was down as the trainer of his 2007 winner Jo’s Cigar, although the dog was owned by Holloway and he was very much hands-on.

Either way, jumps guru Ricky has vowed to win the next two Grand Nationals to establish himself as the most successful trainer in the race’s history. Now that’s ambition!

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