FORTY years in greyhound journalism and I cannot remember being at such a low ebb. 

In the early 70s the sport was buzzing. More than 50 tracks in the UK were treating us to some great action.

Brilliant performers such as Patricias Hope, Jimsun, Myrtown, Balliniska Band and Lacca Champion were thrilling the public and crowds of around 30,000 regularly attended Derby finals, which were run on lush turf at White City, London.

We were also drenched in publicity, thanks to the Greyhound Express, The Sporting Life, Sporting Chronicle, Greyhound Owner and Greyhound Magazine, while the Mirror, Mail, Express and Sun gave dog racing brilliant extra national coverage.

Inevitably, the opening of betting shops in 1961 was gradually starting to eat away at crowd levels.

This hungry off-course threat that would, over the years, lead to half of our stadiums being devoured was still not being treated seriously. 

 
 
GRA expected to advertise for two trainers following McEllistrim’s decision to move on.... 

WIMBLEDON won’t want to spend too much time looking for a replacement trainer for Norah McEllistrim, who last weekend handed in her notice at Plough Lane and is on her way to Hove where she will fill in the gap about to be vacated by Brian Clemenson’s impending departure.

As soon as Clemo moves out so Miss McEllistrim will move in down at the seaside, taking with her the 30 runners she currently has on the Wimbledon strength, a strength which temporarily will be depleted to the point whereby the track will find it difficult, if not nigh on impossible, to maintain their current schedule of two 12-race meetings a week.

 
 
NORAH McELLISTRIM told GOBATA on Sunday that she feels “very attached to Wimbledon” but her association with the GRA flagship track will come to an end on March 31 when she will take up the position vacated by the outgoing Brian Clemenson at Coral-owned Hove.

The move will mean more miles from her Walton-on-Thames kennels, more meetings, more diesel no doubt, but countered by the added attraction of better prizemoney would have swayed her decision while the uncertain future of the GRA as we know it would also have been close to uppermost in her mind. 

 
 
But venue and sponsor yet to be confirmed...

MARCH fast approaches but there is no firm indication thus far over the venue and timing for the TV Trophy, a standing order for live coverage on Sky Sports and one of the most eagerly-awaited greyhound shows on the box.  

The delay has consequently seen a number of trainers expressing concern about the event, traditionally staged in the first half of the year, either in April or May, actually taking place.

However, there was reassuring news yesterday from the show’s producer, Dave Lawrence, that the competition will go ahead and a September slot is looking favourite.

“There is every intention on the GRA’s part, and ours, to stage the TV Trophy and it would be helpful if a would-be promoter would come forward with an offer to put it on while we would also like to hear from a potential sponsor,” he said.
 
 
New home for the Grand National...

THE GRA have played musical chairs with their big races again, but with a different spin this time. Stadium closures over the years have seen our biggest track-owning combine shuffle around major races such as the Cesarewitch and Scurry Gold Cup to the point that it became difficult to keep up with what event was where!

They kept those competitions within the group but the GRA have given the boot to the Grand National at Wimbledon, an event which nearly died a death this year until Primus Telecom stepped in with a sponsorship deal.

In future the National will no longer be staged at a GRA track but at Sittingbourne, who will run the competition alongside the Kent Derby with the two finals scheduled for August 21. Sky have provisionally booked live coverage of what will be a bumper meeting.

 
 
King to quit Swindon at end of month  

‘IT’S alright for those trainers who have a BAGS contract, they’ve no need to worry where the next penny’s coming from’ is the the sort of line trotted out only too often these days by trainers with no such contract and even more so by those with no track attachment either.

Being a greyhound trainer at present is not the most enviable of occupations, it’s pretty grim out there just now, and the big worry is that there is little sign of things turning round, no matter how much is thrown at the game in the form of prizemoney, such as in the ongoing BAGS Championship.

None of that money trickles down to the majority of trainers and it certainly was no incentive to Swindon trainer Steve King to change his mind about leaving the sport, despite the fact that he is attached to a BAGS track, Swindon.

 
 
Forum raises funds to sponsor Belle Vue annual... 

JUST how tight are the purse strings at the GRA who, having ‘salvaged’ the Grand National from the jaws of extinction thanks to the not inconsiderable backing of Primus Telecommunications, now owe a debt to their owners at Belle Vue for coming to the rescue of another popular annual.

The Northern Flat, a race steeped in tradition and won by many of the best middle-distance runners of their time down the years, is the latest GRA competition rescued by ‘outside’ sources, namely the Manchester track’s Owners’ Association.

The word put about by guess who was that the race might not take place, a la the Grand National, if a sponsor could not be found and this prompted an appeal on Belle Vue’s owners’ forum. The appeal succeeded and the race goes ahead next month as the ‘Belle Vue Owners’ Forum Northern Flat.’
 
 
But would the jumpers’ classic have died a death but for outside sponsorship? 

THE more we hear from the GRA the more we are amazed at just how much grovelling they can come out with! 

The latest example came this week when it was announced that a sponsor had stepped forward for the threatened Grand National that will now go ahead at Wimbledon later this month after all. 

Clearly, the GRA are not prepared, or rather are in no position, to throw their own money at races which are held in esteem in the
sport. Look how they cut back on prizemoney for the Oaks, St Leger and Scurry last year – and downgraded our classic races!
 
 
WE often get a laugh out of Muttley’s column in the Racing Post on Saturdays but this weekend we didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. 

The author, whoever he was, referred to the surprise £2m extra the sport will receive this year and went on to suggest that it is invested in giving a huge facelift to Wimbledon. Honest he did! 

In years gone by we could have invested in other GRA tracks, like West Ham, Clapton, White City, Harringay, Catford, Kings Heath, the list goes on and on... 

“Give us a stadium fit to stage a Greyhound Derby,” said Muttley. Nowt wrong with that but the first priority is surely to give us a
promoter who is fit to stage the Derby, and that rules out the GRA, who have long since lost the promoter plot.

And just in case you’re wondering, Saturday wasn’t April Fools Day!
 
 
WHATEVER one may have thought about Steve Taylor’s interview on Sky Sports in which he rallied against the inequity of failing to water an inconsistent track surface ahead of the first Derby quarter-final, thereby compromising, it seemed, the chances of the inside runners, the reality is that this scenario is symptomatic of the entire malaise encompassing the sport and in particular the GRA right now. Taylor’s point was entirely valid. 

The management at Wimbledon are being asked to do a job with one hand, or possibly two hands, tied behind their back. The owners of Wimbledon and the Derby may have impeccable reputations in the city as businessmen, however they are venture capitalists and their business is for sale as freehold.

They have no affinity with greyhounds or greyhound racing, and they certainly feel no sense of history or obligation to the Greyhound Derby, sponsored this year by William Hill. They have denigrated the Derby for years. This manifests itself in a myriad of ways that we are all too familiar with and all under the control of a governing body infused with politics and self interest, and unwilling or unable to face up to their responsibility to confront stubborn promoters.

Connections of Derby dogs have spent years, months, and countless thankless hours of toil to get their charges to the last stages of the Derby. Was it too much to expect the rights holders of our Greyhound Derby or the many GBGB staff present to ensure that the track be properly prepared for the last 24 dogs left standing? Where was the concern about integrity on Tuesday night?