THIS time next week greyhound tracks will be busy staging qualifying trials ahead of a return to racing on June 1.
Trainers at certain tracks - not all, it should be noted - are preparing for the first of what will be daily trials sessions at most venues from next Monday (May 18) given that each greyhound will be required to trial twice - one can be a sprint - to be qualified to run.
Tracks with Arc/TRP and SIS contracts are awaiting new schedules for meetings - expected soon - with gaps of 30 minutes between races allowing social distancing and biosecurity measures insisted on by the GBGB to be fully implemented.
Early-morning fixtures are not expected to feature as part of the new schedules, but with sizeable gaps between races more tracks could be asked to race to fulfil the afternoon and evening fixture quota as the wheels are slowly set in motion again.
A five-phase return was detailed in the GBGB’s Operational Policy last week and, following prime minister Boris Johnson’s announcements earlier this week, greyhound racing is one of those sports able to return - albeit with strict guidelines.
Greyhound tracks, as with any workplace, need to be Covid-19 secure to protect staff, both based at the track and those trainers and kennelhands visiting, and across-the-board measures from car parking allocation to kennelling and racing process is covered.
Clearly tracks with ‘betting shop’ contracts are in a better position to return as the sport looks to re-start essential revenue streams to ensure greyhound welfare and protect livelihoods, but with a behind-closed-doors policy others are not so secure.
The usual Saturday night moneyspinning meetings at most tracks - excluding those on Arc/TRP, SIS and RPGTV - are not on the agenda until such time as government restrictions are eased and that is sure to impact on some.
Media rights payments underwrite prize-money at tracks and the online streaming of races in turns benefits the sport in terms of supporting the British Greyhound Racing Fund (BGRF) and a huge range of projects including welfare and British breeding incentives.
Similar incentives are required for trainers, breeders and owners, so the response to what was seen as open-racing being initially overlooked was positive.
Clearly, the first step has to be tracks operating safely again - and that would be via graded racing. However, efforts will soon turn to the open-race calendar and a schedule of events from July through to December. It should include the Derby.
Initial fears of open racing adding to the amount of travel was a red-herring. More of a concern was the amount of the people attending a track given more kennels are represented at an open-race meeting than a graded one.
This impacts on social distancing, so staggered kennelling times are likely to be included in any directive as and when open racing starts again.
In the meantime, tracks will look to stage high-end graded contests or invitation races - so that the stars of the sport can return. Why not Ice On Fire at Newcastle? Why not Bockos Doomie at Central Park? Why not Headford Ranger at Monmore?
Look at the list of trainers at each of those tracks mentioned - and many more besides - and some cracking one-off events or 12 or 18-runner competitions can be scheduled even before the letters OR appear on a card.
THOUGHTS with Mary Pledge and all at Norah McEllistrim’s kennel.
Mary, a former Kennelhand of the Year who joined McEllistrim’s Hersham kennels in 1974, is seriously ill in a hospice in Surrey and lockdown has denied the chance of those closest to her from visiting their former ‘head girl’.
Associated with a number of champions trained by former longtime Wimbledon handler now Hove-based McEllistrim, Mary has worked with such kennel superstars as One To Note, Awbeg Ball, Cloheena Cash and Ballymac Marine.
Known as one of the most dedicated kennelhands the sport has known, Mary lives for her greyhounds. Staff at the McEllistrim kennel recall how she once went on holiday to Cornwall with friends - and took seven greyhounds along to keep her company!
Best wishes to Norah and all at Hersham, but especially Mary.
STILL on a Wimbledon theme, good to hear that Paul Donovan is to return to the training ranks.
Paul trained the outstanding Droopys Bradley to win the St Leger at Plough Lane in 2010 and could soon be supplying runners to Central Park once his licence has been renewed. It follows a period away from the industry.
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