Jonathan Hobbs on greyhound racing: Trials signal beginning of 'new normal'

Evening action at Romford

June 1 remains the date for greyhound racing’s return and preparations are well under way at several UK venues - but not all.

The LadbrokesCoral tracks of Crayford, Hove, Monmore and Romford all staged extensive trials sessions on Monday and it is expected these four stadia will form the backbone of the SIS coverage streamed online - given betting shops are shut.

They will be joined by Central Park, Henlow and Doncaster, all of which hosted major sessions on Monday and have others planned throughout the week - as do the LadbrokesCoral venues. Each greyhound will be required to have at least two trials.

Perry Barr and Sunderland were two Arc/TRP tracks which hosted trials on Monday, followed on Tuesday by Derby hosts Kinsley, Nottingham and Sheffield.

In normal circumstances, Nottingham would have still been carrying the glow of staging the world’s greatest greyhound race - the Star Sports, Arc and LPS Greyhound Derby - which was originally scheduled for April/May but could now be staged in October.

Schedules for the restart are still awaited, but tracks are set for a behind-closed-doors return with strict guidelines on social distancing and biosecurity with GBGB regulations ensuring that stadiums are Covid-19 secure workplaces.

It might be the ‘new normal’ but the overwhelming response from those working at the tracks, whether that be stadium staff or trainers and kennelhands with greyhounds, was one of positivity. There are challenges ahead but the sport is ready to roll again.

Tracks have intimated that top-end graded contests and/or invitation races could be included on racecards to ensure open-race greyhounds can also be catered for - restrictions on travel have precluded open racing until at least July 1.

However, graded racing will ensure that greyhound racing can begin to work again, to provide live action for the betting industry, which supports tracks and helps them to pay prize-money to owners which in turn pays the trainers with the greyhounds in their care.

The wheel is beginning to turn with the start of trials this week - and when you see the names of some of those greyhounds put through their paces it whets the appetite of fans of the sport, who can look forward to enjoying their racing again.

Romford's Mark Arkell was one of a host of racing managers to report positive feedback from the Essex track’s comeback trials session on Monday.

"It was great to see the first greyhounds go round the track after such a long period off," he said. "We’ve spent a lot of time planning this return to trials, so it was great to see the dogs come out of the traps. We’re all delighted to be back."

Romford is expected to be one of the first tracks to return open-racing to its programme for the rest of 2020, with its Friday night meetings on RPGTV especially popular.

Pending the release of schedules, it is expected the channel will also return on June 1.

Trap-to-line success

Well done to Dave Mitchell, Matt Newman and host Dave Clark for their 'Trap To Line' interview with track promoter Kevin Boothby.

Known as the #lockdowntapes, this latest in a series of interviews with industry figures focused on Boothby, who last week was given the go-ahead by the GBGB to restart racing at Towcester.

The Northamptonshire venue last staged a greyhound race in August 2018, but following a ten-year lease deal with the Hesketh family, Henlow promoter Boothby has added Towcester to his portfolio of tracks.

A deal with SIS has been mooted and trials could start as early as later this week, with greyhound racing just part of his future plans for the site - to include everything from open-air cinema and theatre events to point-to-point racing.

A greyhound owner for some 30 years, Boothby’s desire for top-end open racing could even see a future bid to stage the Derby, which Towcester famously hosted in 2016 and 2017. Before then, expect Saturday open-race nights to become a regular feature.

Oxford on the comeback trail?

From one 'new' track to another. Could Oxford be ready to make a comeback?

An independent recommendation has favoured keeping the site at Cowley for leisure use and could see a return of greyhound racing and speedway to the venue, which closed in 2012.

For greyhound fans it was home of the Pall Mall and for speedway fans it was the home of the Oxford Cheetahs. The sports are set to combine to help ensure leisure and employment opportunities for the local community.

One source said: "Oxford was owned by the GRA, which was bought out by a property developer. Thankfully the local council has baulked at their attempts to build houses on the site - and a newly refurbished stadium with some social housing is a possible route now.

"There is a council meeting on June 8 when this new independent advice for the area will be ratified, which could force a sale - and bring Oxford Stadium back!"

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