Jonathan Hobbs on greyhound racing and the Derby

Jonathan Hobbs brings you his latest column

The Greyhound Star summed it up when news broke this morning that Central Park had withdrawn its interest in staging the 2021 Greyhound Derby.

‘And then there were two...’ is how editor Floyd Amphlett headlined his tweet, referring to the fact that just two tracks remain in the hunt to stage the world’s greatest greyhound race next year - namely Nottingham and Towcester.

Detailed bids for each landed on the desk at GBGB Towers over the weekend and a special panel will deliberate the pros and cons of each before deciding on where next year’s Classic will be hosted.

We expect that decision very soon - and either way greyhound racing will be the winner, because both tracks have proved in the past more than capable of staging the race.

Between them they have staged the last four runnings of the Derby - Towcester taking over from Wimbledon in 2017 and 2018 before Nottingham picked up the pieces of the Northamptonshire venue’s sudden closure to host the event in 2019 and this year.

Without seeing the finer detail of the respective bids, including who is backing who in terms of sponsorship, it remains impossible to make a choice.

Either way, the sport should once again put its heart and soul behind its main event - which is effectively what Central Park promoter Roger Cearns said in his announcement today.

Cearns’s family built Wimbledon Stadium, so the Derby is very much close to his heart and he would dearly love to stage the competition at some point, albeit not just now given the continued doubts about crowds being allowed to see the great race unfold.

But his suggestion of staging a number of trial stakes UK-wide, perhaps also including Irish tracks, looks a good one.

They were regularly staged back in the day with the winners of each gaining free entry into the Derby.

They build publicity nationwide and can be staged along with the host track’s own trial stakes which gives hopefuls experience over the Classic course and distance - albeit perhaps not guaranteeing entry, let alone free entry, in this instance!

So, plenty to debate moving forward - even once the decision to award the Derby to either Nottingham or Towcester.

Over to the panel...

Talking of panels, the annual GBGB Greyhound of the Year Awards will be held remotely in 2021 with Sunday, February 14, the date for the virtual ceremony.

Awards categories will ostensibly be the same, albeit the way the voting is handled is to change and the GBGB is currently finalising this process.

At least one award is unequivocal - and that’s for GBGB Trainer of the Year 2020 which sees Patrick Janssens end the long unbeaten run of his former boss Mark Wallis.

Mark was crowned top trainer for the eighth consecutive year in 2019 and holds a record 11 champion trainer titles.

However, having been pushed by Patrick last year, his former assistant now takes the title after a storming year littered by Category One successes among 105 open-race success and 872 points won.

Check out the final Trainer of the Year table here

Belgium-born Patrick’s is a fantastic story and the sport will celebrate him and wife Cheryl realising an ambition in becoming Trainer of the Year.

Janssens finished 193 points clear of Wallis (679), with the top six completed by Liz McNair (594), Kevin Hutton (394), David Mullins (347) and Ernie Gaskin (315).

All qualify for the Trainers’ Championship Meeting, one of the best fixtures of the year, which should be staged in 2021 after a barren 2020.

The meeting sees the top six trainers compete in an eight-race shootout and has provided some memorable meetings over the years.

Returning the fixture to the calendar in 2021 is a must, with the recent disbanding of the Greyhound Trainers’ Association perhaps opening up other opportunities. The onus will now be on the host track - or the sport itself - to seek sponsors etc.

Central Park leads the way again

Central Park staged the last open races of 2020 and will host the first opens of 2021 on Sunday - for what is hoped to be a busy year for the Kent venue, albeit without the Derby.

They signed off in terms of major events this year with the BGBF St Leger Final which saw a one-two for Angie Kibble’s kennel - to complete a fantastic week for the Swindon handler.

Just before Xmas her Ballymac Trend showed older rivals a clear pair of heels to win the Property192 Oaks and then Zaha and Emotional provided Kibble and owner Jonathan Miles a one-two in the British-bred showpiece.

Amid all the bad news of 2020, the regular staging of British-bred races and competitions has been a high point in the sport - so well done here to all encouraging British breeding, from the British Greyhound Racing Fund to SIS and to the BGBF itself, not to mention participating tracks.

Now, we need a supporter of hurdles racing to revive and boost that particular scene.

Again, it was Central Park who led the way here with the Kent County Hurdle on Sunday sharing the stage with the BGBF St Leger.

Well done here to Nomansland Flyer and trainer Ricky Holloway, although runner-up Droopys Rex looks one to follow for David Mullins.

He was having only his second hurdles start in the final and already looks a leading contender for The Springbok, the novice hurdlers’ championship over C&D.

Old friend will be sadly missed

Before then it’s the Coral Essex Vase at Romford, the first GBGB Category One competition of the year - starting on January 8.

It’s a quick turnaround for the event given the 2020 running was only staged earlier this month, but a reshuffle of the major 575m competitions at the Essex track was recently announced.

David Mullins’s Kilmessan Puma could go for an incredible double, but no-one would begrudge Ernie Gaskin another victory in the event.

Ernie won with Droopys Aoife in 2019 and that same runner showed her wellbeing with victory in the recent Brighton Belle at Hove on a night when the kennel’s Newinn Jacko - another Essex Vase possible - won the Coral Olympic.

Of course, that big-race brace was overshadowed by the sudden and sad passing of Ernie’s wife Yvonne, the Romford trainer, just a few hours later.

Ernie has taken over the licence at Romford temporarily and best wishes to him, daughter Gemma and the rest of the family who are synonymous with greyhound racing.

It has been a hugely tough year for so many people, not least Ernie. Hopefully he can take solace in the outpouring of affection for Yvonne, who will be missed by all at Romford and those of us who have been regular visitors over the years.

RIP Yvonne.

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