Jonathan Hobbs on greyhound racing including trialing fans at Yarmouth and Ice On Fire latest

Fans are back in grandstands at Yarmouth - as well as on the beaches

Yarmouth has rightly been praised for paving the way for crowds to return to greyhound tracks and a socially distanced throng descended on the east coast track on Wednesday for the heats of the RPGTV 74th East Anglian Derby.

Restrictions on numbers have been placed on restaurant covers and for those enjoying general admission on the terraces. Staff are wearing face coverings and, as is the case in pubs and restaurants, customers are kept in ‘bubbles’.

It is working well and gives this well-appointed track in one of England’s most popular seaside resorts a chance to continue operating at a vital time in terms of the wider business. The local council has supported one of its major assets in the town.

The East Anglian Derby will be concluded across the next two Wednesdays, live on the sponsor’s channel, and if this week’s heats are anything to go by the event remains wide-open and, as ever, looks set to produce some great stories.

Admittedly a setback forced the withdrawal of ante-post favourite Hiya Boyo, which was a disappointment. The Keightleys won last year’s EA Derby with the outstanding Roxholme Nidge and hopes were high for the dog formerly known as Droopys Pension.

However, his absence lets others in, and Angela Harrison landed a double with Northern Puppy Derby champion Levante Beach and the exciting Droopys Dazzler. It eased the pain, albeit only slightly, of a career-ending injury to kennelmate Droopys Nadal.

Harrison has a Yarmouth expert in her corner, of course. Kennelhand Ian Sutherland used to work for the now-retired Charlie Lister OBE who numbers only 12 East Anglian Derby wins - and Ian was a major part of a number of those in recent years.

Another great story was provided by Alex Hopkins. The Doncaster trainer is taking a sabbatical from the sport - ish - having recently had a baby. Let’s say baby Niall was a very pleasant surprise six weeks ago, but meant a hasty dispersal of the kennel’s racers.

Kilara Lion therefore headed down to Patrick Janssens, which could be an inspired move given less travelling for the dog in his EA Derby bid - and Wednesday’s heat success was cheered on by Alex and Niall, plus his team of owners including the great Harry Crapper.

In terms of eyecatchers, Kilara Lion impressed and will improved, although faces a very tough third semi-final next week against Levante Beach and Swift Lettuce, both heat winners, plus Gold Cup runner-up Bockos Boss in a crackerjack affair.

Troy Firebird, who goes in the first semi, ran an excellent comeback race for David Mullins and hopes will be high for qualification, although Droopys Dazzler lived up to his name in winning his heat and will start a warm order again for the spoils.

Open season at Romford

Romford joins the GBGB Category One party on Friday - twice over.

The Essex track stages heats of both the Coral Puppy Cup and Coral Champion Stakes for a fantastic 12-race all-open card, a result of the lockdown break forcing a number of events to be rescheduled. Sister track Hove recently hosted both the Sussex Cup and the Regency concurrently.

There had been talk of Central Park opting for the same with the Ladbrokes Kent Derby and Grand National as a potential double-header, but the jumpers’ Classic has been pencilled in for heats on October 25 at the Kent venue - pending discussions with potential sponsors.

The latest Vue

So to Belle Vue, which sadly proved surplus to Arc’s requirements, with the lease on the famous Manchester venue not being renewed.

It seems the track has been stripped of its fixtures and fittings, ready to be returned to its owners Crown Oil Pension Fund. Presumably the keys will then follow and Arc can concentrate on its portfolio of tracks - Newcastle and Sunderland, which they own, and Perry Barr and Nottingham, which they lease. Incidentally, crowds could be allowed back in soon at these venues judged on recent developments. Watch this space.

As for Belle Vue, it appears another sad end for an ex-GRA track, and reminiscent of how Wimbledon was allowed to be stripped bare and then controversially bulldozed to make way for housing and a home for Wimbledon FC. Stomach-churning for greyhound fans, but a return to their spiritual home for Wimbledon fans. C’est la vie.

Belle Vue itself is a historical site where greyhound racing first started under rules in 1926 - and it could still rise again believe many, through the foresight of Simon Walmsley, the chair of Friends of Belle Vue, who secured the site as an Asset of Community Value (ACV) in 2018.

The ACV affords Simon and the FOBV the opportunity to bring together a group of investors, to then make a bid for the site.

Any such group would need to represent both greyhound racing and stock car racing, as part of a design for a state-of-the-art sporting arena to be in use seven days a week. This is essential for the stadium to be economically viable.

There are obvious parallels with what is happening currently at Oxford. The local council there are pro community assets and have opposed planning permission, so now another group is in the process of agreeing a price with Galliard Homes for the land.

Galliards could play hard ball over Oxford - and so could Crown Oil Pension Fund at Belle Vue. But are they in a position to in a Covid-19 world, or even a post-Covid-19 world?

It is widely believed not all office workers will be returning to their place of work. For many that place of work is now home, so in the major cities there will be swathes of unwanted office space - perfect to ease any housing crises. It is the perfect solution.

Therefore, how much need will there truly be in the coming years for additional space for housing? Bricks and mortar had been closing in on greyhound tracks, local football and cricket club, parks and recreation areas. Perhaps not anymore.

Ice On Fire on trial

Nottingham will once again stage a batch of Star Sports & Arc Greyhound Derby trial stakes on Monday - and Ice On Fire will again trial.

The career of the Greyhound of the Year and longtime Derby favourite looked over after a gracillus muscle injury, but after treatment in Ireland he is back on track. However, it remains one trial - and one step - at a time.

Trainer Jimmy Fenwick noted how the multiple GBGB Category One winner lost his stride pattern on the run for home in his workout last week, but believes the issue could be more mental than physical - in that IOF is learning to use that particular muscle again.

Ice On Fire trials over four bends on Monday and how he comes through that will determine the next step in what could still be a remarkable and fairytale recovery. Fingers crossed for him, Fenwick and owner Dave Spraggon.

In the meantime, attention turns to Shelbourne Park again this weekend as the BoyleSports Irish Derby reaches the quarter-final stage. A brilliant competition is unfolding and good luck to all connections as they eye a place in the semis a week later.

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