Jonathan Hobbs ponders the special significance of the TV Trophy ahead of Saturday's heats as he brings us the latest from the world of greyhound racing.
TV Trophy holds special appeal
Greyhound racing has always had a special relationship with the TV Trophy.
The one-time BBC Television Trophy was a staple of those midweek Sportsnight programmes back in the day, Harry Carpenter and Gerald Sinstadt bringing us our once-a-year fix of live greyhound racing with names such as Sandy Lane, Minnies Siren and, of course, the incomparable Scurlogue Champ.
Surely no other greyhound has attracted more new fans to the sport than Ken Peckham’s freak of a racer and watching him win back-to-back TV Trophys in 1985 and 1986 remains fresh in the memory of those now in middle age - and older!
It’s how so many people were first introduced to greyhound racing, more so than the Derby finals the BBC also showed in the 1970s and 80s, or ITV with its coverage of Wembley and Harringay when bad weather claimed horse racing cards and they needed the dogs to make up the popular ITV7. Not a bad idea now, I say!
Anyway, given greyhound races can be viewed seven-nights-a-week on RPGTV and once-a-week on Sky Sports Racing, not to mention during the day in betting shops and online via SIS and TRP - 24 hours a day if you include the US and Australian action - then times have changed. And some.
But greyhound folk still hark back to the TV Trophy, which has a special place in our hearts. Michelle Brown, the talented trainer daughter of Michael and Hazel Kemp, said as much when I asked her about Micks Little Gem and her next target - Saturday’s Coral TV Trophy heats at Hove - following another exciting victory at Romford last Friday.
Michelle said it was the family’s favourite race, given her dad - like so many of us - had enjoyed the TV Trophy on the Beeb for so many years. Michelle is far too young, of course, but the Kemp family’s ambition remained - to one day compete in the TV Trophy, then perhaps to win it. This year they have every chance.
Their brilliant Micks Little Gem is certainly a leading player and will renew rivalry with Aayamza Royale in next week final - should both qualify from Saturday’s heats at the Sussex venue. The pair served up arguably the race of the year in the Cesarewitch final at Romford a few weeks back when Mark Wallis's outstanding bitch just shaded it.
Both will attract huge support - and rightly so. But with the likes of Affirmed, Antigua Fire and Droopys Bird in the field, nothing can be taken for granted.
And then there’s Roxholme Kristof. Yes, Roxholme Kristof.
I don’t often retweet trial sheets, but last week did - given what potentially could happen next.
While most expected Hayley Keightley’s dog to be aimed at the upcoming Ballyregan Bob Memorial over the same 695m he had just trialled so brilliantly over, I wondered otherwise and thought maybe, just maybe, connections would be thinking TV Trophy - knowing that the Keightleys have always placed their dogs brilliantly well.
Competitions are planned out, in some instances months in advance, and they have never shirked a challenge. Two easily spring to mind - Roxholme Girl winning major events over four, six and eight bends - including in the TV Trophy, of course - and Roxholme Magic’s own TV Trophy attempts even though she couldn’t run the ‘old’ Towcester.
They relish a challenge - and so will Mark Wallis with Aayamza Royale in his corner. She was brilliant in the Cesarewitch at Romford, performed with great credit in the St Leger, and then ran amok in a trial stakes over the 945m trip last week. Mark also loves the game, the sport, and will relish taking Kristof on.
It’s a great prospect and great for punters who have a choice - simple on paper. Will he stay? Those with Roxholme Kristof will suggest his six-bend talent will see him a mile clear, those against him will point out 945m at Hove is beyond even the means of some regular eight-bend performers. It’s certainly a test.
No-one can be absolutely certain - Saturday will tell us more.
Open appeal especially important
Ernie Gaskin is one of a number of trainers urging tracks to maintain their regular open races.
Quoted on the GBGB website following Newinn Liz’s second-round success in the Property192 Oaks, Gaskin said: “I think for the younger dogs coming through there’s a need to make sure tracks put on one-off opens - puppy races, maidens, winner of ones etc. It’s important for their education.”
Ernie is right, of course, and a regular series of open races at tracks must surely be the way forward - along with regular major competitions.
To be fair to the GBGB and promoters, a good number of GBGB Category One and Category Two events have been run this year - praiseworthy given the Covid-affected 2020 we have endured. Any criticism of the schedule is out of line given the pressures all faced to shoehorn events in - and that includes any clashes.
Recent positive announcements from Arc and SIS shows the commitment for open-race competitions remains in 2021, but while one-off opens have still run alongside major events this year, there is a real fear from trainers these will be dispensed with - or reduced - over the next 12 months. They are urging tracks to think again.
And surely, regular opens are in the interests of everyone. This top end of the sport drives owners, trainers and, most importantly, breeders - but they also ensure punters keep playing. Throw in a few open races on each and every night on RPGTV and everyone’s happy - support the Nottinghams, Romfords and Central Parks of this world!
All three tracks have their ‘nights’ on RPGTV when open-race fans get their fix. Others dip their toes in, of course, but they need to be more regular.
On this day...
There's been a great reaction to ‘Please Mister - The Golden Age of Greyhound Racing’ - the latest superb offering from Charles Blanning.
A wonderfully presented historical tome, I promised to drip-feed stories from the past which caught the eye leading up to the festive period and the account of Wembley’s opening meeting - not to mention the business dealings signed off to pave the way - is superb.
A crowd of 63,000 people attended that first meeting, including a host of sporting stars of the time and celebrities and, appropriately for this piece, that meeting took place on this day - December 10, 1927. What a shame we’re not celebrating the anniversary there!
Click here for purchase information.
Cast your vote!
Finally, make sure you vote for RPGTV/GWA Greyhound of the Month for November - especially given a fantastic set of nominations.
It’s a competitive award given Birmingham Cup winner Droopys Carat (Angela Harrison), Kent Derby champion (Patrick Janssens), British Breeders Stakes victor Queen Dolly (Liz McNair) and St Leger heroine Smallmead (John Mullins) make a top-class quartet up for the vote, which takes place via @rpgreyhounds on Twitter.
So get involved - each has a fantastic story to tell and deserves the accolade.
Voting closes this weekend - and the winner announced soon after. And chances are December’s award will match November’s for quality given a number of major events coming to a conclusion.
These include the Coral Olympic and Coral TV Trophy at Hove, the Star Sports English Puppy Derby at Towcester and the Property192 Oaks, not to mention the BGBF British Bred Derby at Sheffield and RPGTV National Sprint at Nottingham.