IF you have a greyhound you fancy for next year’s Derby and, ahead of that are going to the GBGB  awards bash in January, be sure to get on the same table as GOBATA heirarchy Martin White and Chris Page in 2013.

Last year the dynamic duo sat  down with Steve and Beckie Taylor, whose Taylors Sky went on to win the Derby, and this year their dinner partners included Mark Currell, and we all know what his Blonde Snapper did at Wimbledon last week!

Never one to miss a trick is Page, who says he is “open to offers” from anyone who has faith in third time lucky!
YOU wouldn’t expect any track records to be broken at Sittingbourne for some time yet while the 50-odd tons of sand laid there recently beds in, but what you might anticipate once all has settled down is a general improvement on the clock.

While fresh sand was laid all over the track, particular attention was paid to the bends which have been banked by up to five inches and which were handled rather gingerly by many of the dogs during Tuesday’s 40-runner trials session.

“I felt a few of them were feeling their way round,” said racing manager Jess Packer, “but when you lay that much sand it will inevitably produce slower times initially. We’ve done the job, the bends are banked, but ideally we need to raise the hare rail.

“We are looking at the possibility of installing a new hare rail, a costly business you won’t need reminding, but for the time being we’ve done as much as we can with the rail we’ve got.”

Fair play to Sittingbourne for this initiative, the track is a tremendous gallop, the prizemoney  compares favourably with most other tracks but it an enigma why Messrs Packer and the team still wonder what they have to do to drum up support for Sittingbourne’s open races.

“More often than not we are hard pushed to fill the races and why this should be is beyond me,” added the RM. “This Sunday’s opens close today but I’m sitting here with an entry book with three of the races advertised so far attracting only two runners in each, frustrating is not the word.”

Come August however the racing office should be inundated with entries with the Kent Derby and the Grand National running side by side and culminating in a big-race double header on finals night. If the meeting proves to be as successful as last year it will be a night you shouldn’t miss. Both are Category 1 competitions and the John Smiths Kent Derby and the National (sponsor to be announced) are each worth £7,500.

Talking of initiatives, another is the open race trainers’ bonus the track introduced recently, whereby the name of every trainer who has a winner at the Sunday meetings (eight of them) goes into a draw for a cash prize.

The first recipient was Dave Firmager, who was awarded £1,000 for being first out of the hat, Nick Savva collected £500 as runner-up and Miss Bernie Connolly £250 for also finishing in the frame! Obviously it is an initiative no track could afford ad infinitum but Sittingbourne are not shy of dangling a carrot, although the bonus is it not currently running having just completed the first eight-week series.

Banked bends, one of the best gallops in the country and the trainers’ bonuses, what more do you want, you have to hand it Sittingbourne, go pay them a visit, they deserve it.
TINAS NOVA, who reached the quarter-finals of the Derby at Wimbledon, is among the entries for the Bettor.com Northern Irish Derby at Drumbo Park, which gets under way over 550 yards at the County Antrim track on Saturday.

Among his scalps at Wimbledon were Westmead Maldini and Farloe Ironman in the first and second rounds respectively but Tinas Nova was eliminated in the quarter won by Coolavanny Bert, who went on to finish third in Saturday’s final.

Other entries (entry fees are being paid by the sponsor) include Pat Buckley’s Paradise Martini, beaten favourite in this year’s Produce Stakes final at Clonmel, and Lemon Velvet, the Tennents Gold Cup winner last year and track record-holder at Drumbo over 575 yards.

Buckley also has a 575 yards record-holder himself in the list, his Future Gem holds that clock at Limerick while Fraser Black runs his Brae Boy, who got through two rounds at Wimbledon but went out in the third.

Another notable runner will be Whiterock, who trialled at Drumbo on Saturday and boasts the fastest 550 yards time there so far this year.

£25,000 awaits the winner of the competition for which entries close at noon this Wednesday but as yet there is none from English-based trainers. The Sky televised final night is Saturday, 23 June.

THE arguments continue over the Taylors Cruise ‘did he or didn’t he’ have a pop on his way to winning the Derby Plate final at Wimbledon on Saturday and will be a talking point to take out of the weekend for some while yet.

We are not going to intensify the debate, suffice to say that our understanding and justification of the rule on disqualification applies to greyhounds guilty of aggressive interference, of which there was none on behalf of Taylors Cruise. However, despite the no contact bit there are those on the forums who insist the dog should have been disqualified.

Yes, he had a word in the ear of Freds Champ as he went past him near the line, which Wimbledon interpreted as ‘awkward,’ but the bottom line is that no contact was made! Yes too, his behaviour would persuade most sensible punters to sever their Cruise allegiance from now on as they know what they might expect otherwise, at best dodging up and at worst turning his head.

If you have but a grain of sense when it comes to backing a dog then Taylors Cruise would be one of the first of your list of ‘leave alones.’ Such a pity that his famous win in last year’s Scottish Derby final has been tainted by his antics, not only on Saturday but the Saturday before also.

But he will be back, he is too fast a dog for trainer Charlie Lister OBE to discard and his future, we assume, will be decided by owners Steve and Becki Taylor. But who knows, Charlie may work the oracle by straightening him out, and he certainly wouldn’t be the first dodgepot he has put right!

In Australia, greyhounds are marked with a ‘failure to pursue’ line if they are considered to be dodging or not chasing properly. Quite what the punishment is for those misdemeanours we are unsure, but a series of mixed trials we imagine would be an obvious requirement.

Their contribution this year peaks £400k!

GREAT news from Derby sponsors William Hill is that first prize at Wimbledon next year will rocket up to £150k, thus consolidating the company as by far and away greyhound racing’s largest sponsor, not to its mention best friend!

Their PR director, Kate Miller, was faster away than Ravage Again in making the announcement during Saturday’s Sky coverage from Plough Lane and now it’s up to the GRA to play ball by doing  something about the disproportionate also-ran money in the final.

While Blonde Snapper went home with £125,000 in the bank for his troubles at the weekend but Westmead Adonis and Judicial Ruling, fifth and sixth in the decider, picked up just £2,500 apiece for their five weeks of hard labour at the Don.

And don’t go pointing the finger of blame at William Hill for the imbalance, their arrangement with the GRA is that they stump up the winner’s prize while they incur considerable expense in marketing the competition and in hospitality.

The also-ran money is down to the GRA entirely and we would like to think they would be somewhat more than embarrassed if the hierarchy insisted in keeping the beaten dogs’ ‘earnings’ to their current level in 2013, perish the thought!

As for William Hill, their ongoing commitment to the sport is to be applauded. Miss Miller wasn’t too far wide of the mark when she told us that their greyhound contribution this year is around the £400k mark and, when you consider that they also sponsor the Sunderland Festival, the Oaks and the St Leger, that is not difficult to believe. Fair play to them.

Second winner for Wallis as defending champ Taylors Sky is bundled out of it...

IT may not have been a vintage Derby final - too much rough and tumble from the boxes up to and rounding the first bend - but if ever a race brought out the true passion of an owner wildly in love with the game it was Mark Currell, whose pride and joy, the Mark Wallis-trained Blonde Snapper, avoided the aggro at the first bend and skipped away to make it third time lucky for him in the classic final at Wimbledon last night.

Currell was literally lost for words, choked up with tears and unable to respond to the many post-race questions but he will be basking in glory today, tomorrow . . . having seen his two previous finalists, Blonde Mac (second to Westmead Hawk in 2005) and Blonde Dino (third to Loyal Honcho three years later) beaten in the big one.

It was a scrappy affair up to the first corner, with the two early pacers Farloe Ironman and Coolavanny Bert bumping each other at the boxes, Ireland’s Judicial Ruling clobbered at the corner along with defending champ Taylors Sky and Westmead Adonis unable to go the early clip, though his day will come when upped in distance.

While all this was going on, Blonde Snapper did a Houdini at the first bend and went on from that point and it looked curtains for the rest as he turned the second in front and, galloping strongly, the race looked all over, and so it proved.

But the heavily backed Farloe Ironman, 9-2 down to 6-4! (more on that betting conspiracy theory later) came alongside down the back stretch and looked a serious threat. But the Dartnall dog could not sustain the effort as the Snapper pulled away going home to beat him nearly two lengths in 28.65sec. on normal going, as it was throughout the meeting.

Things aint what they used to be!

THERE was a time, and not so long ago, when a trainer would jump at the chance of a track attachment and the security, well almost, that such a position offered.

Those times however have gone, track closures mean that the demand for greyhounds is considerably less than it was say 15 years ago and the knock on effect is that there are fewer trainers in business.

Trainers are not, however, a dying species, although they are certainly in decline, as is the racing greyhound breed itself, the number of litters bred in Britain and Ireland has been falling for several years now and consequently a number of tracks are reporting a shortage of runners and have been for some time.

The re-opening of Coventry has offered a lifeline to some and fair play to trainers, they are supporting the track in numbers. Conversely however, concern over the future of the GRA and its five tracks has everyone on tenterhooks and we are advised to expect an announcement from our biggest promoter once the hullabaloo of the Derby has gone away!

Walthamstow, despite the tremendous efforts of Ricky Holloway and company, still looks dead in the water, although many are hanging onto the coat-tails of Boris Johnson in the hope that he can fire a warning shot across the bows of would-be developers of the site, L&Q.

Irish businessman and staunch supporter of the sport, Paschal Taggart, has £30 million pounds worth of big plans for Wimbledon but any possible re-development there is some way off, if it ever happens that is, but we live in hope.

But let’s get back to where we came in for never can we remember seeing  so many adverts for the services of trainers as we have in the past few weeks, with Hall Green, Sittingbourne, Oxford and Swindon all advertising in the Racing Post for candidates!

And still on the subject, a racing manager at one of our top tracks told GOBATA this week: “There was a time when we kept a list of trainers all wanting a position with us and if we required a trainer we would simply refer to a list we kept from applicants and then make a few phone calls. But not any more, these days we have to put our thinking caps on and make the approaches ourselves.”

Just about sums it up, doesn’t it!
Any one of them could win the most competitive final of recent years... 

THE old lady that is Wimbledon Stadium is tired and not a shadow of her once pristine self, it is shabby, you need the neck of a giraffe to get a full view of the racing and waders too when it’s raining to avoid drowning on the short walk from the car park to the admissions area - in a word the place is a shambles.

But none of which, you can bet your bottom dollar, will deter that diehard throng of dedicated greyhound racing fans from making the trek to South-west London on Saturday for the most exciting greyhound event of the year, Derby final night!

That is one of the most competitive finals of recent years adds to the fascination of a race which, following more than a month of qualifying, will be all over in less than half-a-minute and see the lucky owner £125,000 better off.

Great if you’re the winner, but spare a thought . . .

THAT hoary old chestnut of also-ran money will rear its ugly head again on Saturday when, in the Derby final of all races, there is, in our opinion, a complete imbalance of prizemoney distribution.

In total, but excluding the rewards for the winning trainer, breeder and kennelstaff, £145,000 will be shared by the owners of the finalists and the lion’s share of that, £125,000, will go to the winner.

Great if you own that winner of course but spare a thought for connections of the last two dogs across the winning line, they will receive the princely sum of £2,500 each.

The runner-up at the weekend will earn £8,000, the third £4,000 and the fourth £3000, which means that the five beaten finalists will share just £20,000 of the pot even though they have gone through nigh on five weeks of fiercely competitive combat!

Agreed, everyone loves a winner and he will deserve every penny he gets, but we are not alone in feeling that the also-ran prizemoney in the Derby final borders on the ridiculous, not to mention insulting.

For Derby sponsors William Hill, to whom the sport is indebted, a win prize of £125,000 looks wonderful, but so too would £100,000, why not in future chop the winner’s prize by 25k and spread that amongst the also rans? It has been mooted that winner next year could be on £150,000, perhaps the also-rans will get a look in then in twelve months’ time.

*The Derby-winning trainer will receive £2,000, the breeder £1,500 while £500 will go to the kennelstaff of the successful trainer.

“He loves his toast and honey,” says Gardner

COOLAVANNY BERT will be out to atone for his half-brother’s odds-on defeat in the Derby final two years ago when he steps out for the big race at Wimbledon on Saturday for his owner and trainer, John Gardner.

And like his half-brother, Toomaline Jack, who was beaten whiskers in fifth place in Bandicoot Tipoki’s blanket finish Derby, Bert could also start favourite to grab the £125,000 first prize at Plough Lane.

“If he can clear Farloe Ironman [trap one] at the boxes that could be the key to the outcome,” said Gardner of Bert in trap two, who took over training the dog in March, up until when he was with Kelly Findlay, who won the Henlow Puppy Derby with him in February.

“But let’s make no mistake, this is a quality Derby final coming up and a case could be made for all of them,” said Gardner, whose kennels are near Hitchin in Hertfordshire. “That said, I don’t think I could have my dog in better shape for the race, so it’s all down to him now.

“Physio Ron Mills gave him a thorough once over on Wednesday, in fact he spent almost an hour and a half with him, so I’m satisfied that all is well but, like all the finalists, he is going to need that little bit of luck in running.”

The trainer has, however, some reservations, having expressed concern over the going at Wimbledon during the Derby, and he is hoping for real top of the ground conditions at the weekend. “My dog needs it fast but when I was on the track the other day I stuck my thumb in and it was dry underneath.

“Okay, so they send the bowser round during the meeting but the water doesn’t really soak down well enough in my opinion and it is a worry. Having said that, Bert is staying on better these days and all of us here are just happy to be in the final, it is an honour.”

That Bert has settled in well in his new surroundings is quite obvious, he has had five races for Gardner, all in the Derby, and has won three times and been second twice. “He is a happy dog and I like to keep him sweet, that’s part of the trick with him,” he said.

More than kept sweet it seems, the dog eats kiwi fruit and bananas and “loves toast and honey in the mornings.” Also part of his diet is Wheatabix and yoghurt and any other titbit that’s going. “He was sniffing round the table at breakfast this morning but declined a raw mushroom but offer him a cooked mushroom and he’ll whoof it down!”

Coolavanny Bert is related to Toomaline Jack through their dam, Mercury Queen, but there will be no more Coolavannys from her, she sadly passed away recently. “It was a great pity as she would always throw a good pup or two,” said Gardner.

Races for Bert after the Derby may include a shot at the Champion of Champions race at the big  Tralee meeting in late June. “I am keen to take him over to Tralee, he started his career there and runs the track well. Let’s hope he runs well at Wimbledon on Saturday!”