IMPERIAL KENNELS - 1989-2005 - LINDA JONES
|Linda Jones and her husband Doug moved to Lakenheath in 1989 and formed the now famous Imperial Kennels. Starting with four racing greyhounds and a couple of litters of pups set in the Suffolk countryside the kennel quickly established themselves on the local tracks of Swaffham, Mildenhall and Yarmouth. Mark Wallis joined Linda in 1990 and with daughter Sarah (Mark’s future wife) the family business gradually built a kennel strength of over 30 race dogs. Imperial Kennels was also now being recognised on the open race scene and Linda’s favourite dog Lonely Mixture achieved their first big win at Bristol winning the William Hilll Sprint Championship.|
Linda’s major breakthrough came in 1994 when gaining a lucrative contract at Romford and, with the kennel picking up bigger prizes and attracting more quality greyhounds, the scene was set for Linda’s rise to the top. 1998 was a special year with the kennel breaking through the 100 open race winners in a year for the first time - 138 winners in all putting Linda into 7th place in the Trainers Championship. Better news came when one of the top six trainers dropped out of the Trainers Championship Meeting (top six invites only) at Walthamstow and Linda was drafted in as first reserve. Despite being 100-1 outsiders, Linda’s team brilliantly won the meeting. 1999 also saw one of the winning greyhounds from the championship meeting, Secret Crystal, perform admirably to provide the kennel with their first Greyhound Derby Finalist, finishing a creditable 4th.
On 1 November 1999 Linda took another major step on the road to success when landing a contract at the country’s premier track Walthamstow. This was to prove a major success as a month later Honky Tonk Girl raced to glory in the Essex Vase at former track Romford to give Imperial Kennels its first Category One success. This was quickly followed up with Mumble Swerve winning the Eclipse Final at Nottingham a couple of weeks later.
The Millennium Year was another outstanding year with 212 open race winners and 632 points that propelled Linda to second place in the Trainers Championship behind Linda Mullins. Courts Legal’s East Anglian Derby and Laurels success in the space of a few weeks was the highlight of a year which also provided the kennel’s second Derby Finalist Greenfield Deal who was a creditable third behind Rapid Ranger.
2001 was to provide not just Linda and the kennel with an incredible year, it was also to see the triple Category One winner Kinda Magic - Pall Mall (Oxford), Golden Sprint (Romford) and Peterborough Derby, burst onto the scene. Along with Pinewood Blue (Kent Derby at Sittingbourne) Imperial Kennels raced to an incredible 235 open race winners and 1001 points enabling Linda Jones to be crowned Champion Trainer of 2001.
The success continued in 2002 with Kinda Magic making it four Category Ones when retaining the Golden Sprint at Romford. With Vancouver Jet winning the Arc at home track Walthamstow and Top Power winning the Essex Vase at Romford alongside prolific open racer Rossa Ranger (leading open racer of 2002), Linda and Imperial Kennels ran up an amazing tally of 323 open race winners and 1081 points to land a second Champion Trainer title.
2003 (3rd) and 2004 (5th) were reasonably quiet years with Special Trick (2003) and Ronnies Flight (2004) being the only Category One successes when landing the Grand Prix at home track Walthamstow. These enabled Linda to amass 13 Category One successes before deciding due to ill health to step down from training with Mark Wallis and her daughter Sarah taking over the reins at Imperial Kennels.
Linda has happily regained her heath and now works tirelessly with greyhound welfare and family commitments and is still on hand to help Mark if called upon. Her past achievements and continuing work endorse her legendary status in the greyhound industry.
IMPERIAL KENNELS - 2005-PRESENT - MARK WALLIS
After taking over the training from his mother-in-law Mark kept the Imperial Kennels success story going straight away, although after a few near misses in finals few people could have predicted the amazing success to come in 2005. Fear No One’s Peterborough Puppy Derby win was to start an avalanche of big race wins, Go Commando providing Mark with the first important category One win in the Gymcrack Puppy Final at Hall Green when fairly bolting up in an incredible 28.11 (2 spots outside the track record). Fear No One then went on to win the Peterborough Derby and the East Anglian Derby (Yarmouth). Ronnies Champion (Nottingham Puppy Classic), Bell Legend (Steel City Cup at Sheffield), Fear Assassin (Romford Puppy Cup) and Lethal Rumble(Grand National) were all pivotal in making Mark Champion Trainer 2005 at the first time of asking with 1445 points and 305 winners.
2006 started a bit slowly and didn’t get going until the Trainers Championship Meeting at Wimbledon in March and although not as big a price (10/1) as when Linda won in 1999 (100/1) the kennel bolted in with some great winners like the “Queen of Walthamstow” Star of Dromin. Category One winners were to come in the shape of Fear Robben (Nottingham Puppy Classic) and January Tiger leading home an unbelievable 1-2-3-4 for the kennel in the Grand Prix at the Stow. Roswell Starship (Puppy Cup Romford) and current sensation Eye onthe Veto who won the Essex Vase at Romford in December to completed another excellent year with 329 winners and over 1131 points amassed.
2007 started very well for Imperial Kennels with Eye onthe Veto’s success in the Category 1 Emerald Cup at Coventry being the highlight early on. We had big runs from Butterbridge Ali who’s second in the important Monmore Puppy Derby behind Rough Ronaldhinho was a great achievement. This followed Ali’s runner up spot in January’s Zigzag Puppy Championship. Raging Jack reached two big finals (Birmingham Cup and the Walthamstow Arc) while Daisyfield Seani and Blackmagic Guy were second and third respectively in the Golden Jacket.
This year’s Trainer’s Championship meeting was held at Hall Green. We defended our title won the previous year at Wimbledon with great credit and only lost on the last leg after an epic battle with Charlie Lister. A great performance by all our team and encouraging for the year’s target of regaining our Champion Trainer title in which by the end of the month we had a 100 point advantage over our rivals. April was the launch of this highly acclaimed web site and Centaur Decree was a great Ocean Trailers winner. Our next big race winner in September came in the shape of Eye Onthe Veto in Romford's £10,000 to the winner Champion Stakes. Plenty of finalists but no wins until that fine specimen of a greyhound Eye Onthe Veto won his fourth Category 1 race in his career when defending his Essex Vase title, a feat that earned him a nomination for 'Greyhound of the Year'. Directors Chair was a fine 4th in the St Leger final and confirmed the promise when winning the Midland St Leger at Hall Green. We ended the year in 3rd place in the trainers' standings with 276 winners and 926 points, about 72 points behind winner Charlie Lister.
2008 Well here we are again, the end of another year and wow! what a year! Our kennel has proudly won back the Trainers Championship we last won in 2005 with some 315 open race wins that included the magnificent performance of Centaur Decree in the £13,000 to the winner Ladbrokes Arc Final recording our 15th Category 1 win in four years. 2008 included twelve Category 1 finalists (1 win, 3 seconds, 3 thirds, 1 fourth, 2 fifth, 1 sixth and 1 ko'd,) four Category 2 winners and twenty Category 3 winners + 19 wins on Sky TV which got us up to 985 points for the year, over 200 points clear of our nearest rival Seamus Cahill.
Ourselves and the sport have had to suffer the dramatic loss this year with the closure of Walthamstow Stadium in August and along with the downturn in the economic climate we have survived with our heads held high. Still with all this Greyhound racing has seen some phenomenal stars on the track with the likes of Boherna Best, Lenson Joker, Bubbly Totti and Flying Winner who are all fighting for the Greyhound Of The Year title and with ambitious plans for stadiums like Harlow and Henlow and a new ruling body in the GBGB there is a strong hope that the future of the sport can grow again.
2009 will go down in history as a stellar year for Imperial Kennels. Even after I have put it down in writing it is still hard to believe we achieved so much. Where do we start?
Yes looking back over 2009 we do have to pinch ourselves, can you believe it! Our first Greyhound Derby winner in Kinda Ready sprouting wings to catch Charlie Lister's Fear Zafonic, so sweet !
A brilliant double for owners and kennel with our first St Leger winner as well from Kinda Easy in an epic duel with our own Droopys Zach who himself had been a revelation for most of the year landing a Category 1 Summer Stayers at Monmore.
The second richest prize a whopping £40,000 was landed with the ultra consistent Jogadusc Ace in the William Hill Classic at Sunderland. The year started and finished well with the scintillating victories of Bomber Bailey in the Springbok and Corrig Vieri in the Arc at Swindon and then the emergence of Eye Onthe Storm who went on an amazing run of eleven consecutive wins landing both the Puppy Classic and the Eclipse in glorious fashion at Nottingham propelling him to Derby favouritism for 2010.
Not forgetting some great performances from the likes of Eye Eye Pickle, Eye Onthe Flash, Kindred Sparky and many more. We broke records galore in our defence of the Trainers Championship ending the year some 585 points clear of our rivals in amassing 1,327 points with our kennel being the first ever to pass the £250,000 barrier in win prize money. In total we finished with 322 open race wins at a healthy strike rate of 25.7 %.
In what was an astounding year we won over £250,000 in win prize money, a record for the sport, we landed 7 Category 1's including a Derby and St Leger and had 322 open race winners scoring over 1,300 points nearly double our nearest rival Charlie Lister. What a year!
2010 It has to be said looking back on 2010 it has mostly been a year to forget. We were always going to struggle to beat an epic 2009 with our record breaking efforts but after a slow start to the year we picked up nicely in March and at the end of the month were standing on top of the world after a dramatic win in the Trainers Championship meeting at Doncaster with superstar Eye Onthe Storm clinching a nail biting victory in the last leg to land us the title we had not won since 2006. Eye Onthe Storm landed us our only Category 1 success of 2010 with an unbeaten run in the Blue Riband at Hall Green and was a clear Greyhound Derby favourite going into the first round way back at the end of April with us standing some 80 points clear at the top of the Trainers Championship standings. The whole story is well described in the review below but no one will forget in a hurry how the injuries to the likes of Eye Onthe Storm, Bomber Bailey, Eye Eye Pickle, Droopys Zach, Corrig Vieri, and to a certain extent Kinda Ready, Blonde Snapper and Blonde Ross have had on our year. We finished third in the Trainers Championship behind Charlie Lister in second with a first title going to a well deserved Seamus Cahill who had the kind of year we had previously, of course without that magical Derby win.
2011 Another year gone and one we can reflect on with pride. Altogether in 2011 we had four Category 1 winners, two Category 2 winners and 11 Category 3 winners as well two valuable one off races (see below). We amassed £120,940 in win prize money and had 216 open race winners (the GBGB table only shows 204 but we had a dozen open wins in races off less than £150 that don't count towards the Trainers Championship). We scored 857 points which in most years would be good enough to win the title but Chris Allsopp had an exceptional year and he and his team just shaded us by 30 points and congratulations to Chris. Looking back at my review through the months I'm kicking myself over a few hard luck stories and the fact that back in August Sittingbourne were only a few quid short to make the Kent Derby that we won with Jazz Apollo a Category 1 and not a Category 2 that scored 30 less points, exactly what we lost the title by!
The highlight of the year was without question the sensational double at the William Hill Festival of racing at Sunderland. Blonde Fletch landed the richest staying race of the year worth £15,000 namely the William Hill Grand Prix in a tight finish and then a race later Blonde Snapper broke the track record when scorching to victory in the William Hill Classic worth a fabulous £25,000. I gave this as the performance of the year as Blonde Snapper had been hit by some serious injuries and was a first round elimination in the Derby when well fancied to land outright honours but bounced back to prove to everybody that he could win a big one. What a great night for both ourselves and owner Mark Currell!
Blonde Fletch is one of a few dogs that's worthy of a mention. At the start of the year he was well known as a bit of a clumsy but fast four bend runner but I had always said that when he was stepped up to a distance with a bit more of a gallop he would be sensational and indeed he proved me right. As well as the Grand Prix he landed the Category 1 Regency at Hove as well as two Category 3's and the valuable Betfred Select Stayers at Nottingham. Both he and Lil Risky were the leading open racers in the country of 2011 with 19 open race wins to their name.
Lil Risky had a tremendous year and after being sent down to us by the astute Jimmy Fenwick who kept a share in him with Scott Fraser and Brian Usher he won a little Maiden stake at Romford and then just improved out of sight. Before the end of July he won another three titles at Romford and then dropped down to two bends he took some notable scalps and won at five different tracks.
The superbly welll bred Jazz Apollo came along slowly at the start of the year but after a decent run in the Derby he was quickly making waves in the four bend department and his highlight was a Westmead Hawk type finish to land the Kent Derby at Sittingbourn. 15 open wins altogether in 2011 dosen't quite tell you how unlucky he was not to have captured another big one or two in 2011 but maybe 2012 will be his year.
Aero Majestic only had his first race in May but it wasn't long before he was stepped up in trip and he looked a serious prospect. I thought the St Leger might have come too soon for him but 'boy' did he prove us wrong. Showing a scintillating burst of pace he took an 8 length lead by the third bend that was never going to be pegged back. A terrific win not just for the kennel but his patient owners the Forsdike family who had at last landed that elusive Category 1 classic.
All the dogs just mentioned have been recognised in the nominations at the forthcoming GBGB awards night though I think Blonde Fletch is the most likely to pick up an award on the night, still a great thrill just to be nominated.
Other dogs that have served us well in 2011 include Bourne Masons, Dalcash Scolari (now retired), Rookery Pedro, Mountjoy Orion and Ayamzagirl who was one of the most talked about greyhounds all year. She ended up being the top Sky dog with six wins during a great year full of ups and downs. She should have been nominated in the Marathon Category but her indiscretion when disqualified at Crayford counted against her.
The industry in general has faced some tough times for the last three or four years in a tough economic climate and I won't lie when I say we have came close to calling it a day on a few occasions this year with ever spiralling costs making it almost impossible to run a profitable kennel which in turn makes it difficult to keep loyal staff in a job and with more and more owners who seem to be dropping out of the game it's almost impossible just to make ends meet but looking back on the year I wouldn't swap my job for anything and we will have to go bankrupt before I packed in doing what I love.
There is light at the end of the tunnel. We haven't lost any tracks in 2011 and at last the bookmakers who control the purse strings in our industry are beginning to realise that in Greyhound racing they make huge profits and they need to put some more money back in to keep that alive. The new 'Owners Bonus Series' and the Bags/Begs 'Intertrack' are hopefully the start of things to come. We have a new dedicated Greyhound channel and Sky still do a fantastic job of showcasing our great sport. The GBGB have their critics and I for one urge them to talk to the likes of GOBATA who can help them to stop any further decline but overall they are getting things right. GOBATA have not gone away like so many similar organisations in the past and in its chairman Martin White we have a proper gentleman who is passionate to keep our sport alive. The promise of a 'Premier League' has turned into a fact because of GOBATA which in itself has sparked some in the sport to 'up their game'. Walthamstow is still not dead and buried yet and we have SOS to thank for that. Talks of a new track at Towcester and the return of the fantastic galloping track at Coventry are all probabilities rather than pipe dreams so the future is brighter than this time last year. I truly hope we can say this time next year that our sport is healthy than it's ever been and that Imperial Kennels is still where it belongs, at the top!
Talking of the future, I do feel we are starting 2012 with a decent squad of dogs that can help us go one better than in 2011. I am currently just doing a 'Class of 2012' on our Feature Page that will show all our kennel strength individually and owners can download and fill in a Q & A form and I'm sure some will make interesting reading! I will take this opportunity to thank all my loyal owners that have supported us through thick and thin and hope they continue to do so in the future.
Once again I would like to also say a big thank you to all my full time staff Patrick, Pete and Sid, also to Cheryl for her hard work as well as Kevin, Ria and Duane who help out, to our Physio Ron Mills for his continued expertise, a big big thank you to my mother in law Linda for all her help and support and most importantly to my wife Sarah, not just for putting up with me! but for all the work in the background that nobody sees without which we couldn't function. Thanks again to Mick and Maureen for their unselfish work producing this superb website and to all my suppliers and friends that support our kennel. Here's to a great 2012 be lucky!
2012 Well where do we start!! What a year! I don't think I've experienced as many emotions in this one year as I have in the previous seven since I took over the licence at Imperial Kennels, a second Greyhound Derby victory that you could write a film about from the magnificent Blonde Snapper being the ultimate highlight of a stellar 2012 on the track. A fourth Trainers Championship for the kennel and one that I will cherish for the rest of my training days. Politically the sport has also seen a wave of emotions but for me it's all about the stars on the track and this year we can talk about plenty and for deserving owner Mark Currell and his family his greyhound dreams have more than come true.
At the start of the year, having just lost out narrowly to the emerging force of Chris Allsopp in the Trainers Championship in 2011, our kennel was rocked by the news that long time assistant and friend Patrick Janssens was leaving to seek other business interests which left many sceptics predicting our kenne's downfall. With Charlie Lister still running a high class kennel you could never rule him out of adding a fifth Trainers Championship and young guns Matt Dartnall, Dean Childs and Kelly FIndlay all looking to get their first but most importantly Paul Young's well backed kennel it was going to be tough to reclaim the crown we last won in 2009.
In all in 2012 we won 252 opens (11 not recorded as they were worth less than £150) and amassed nearly £242,000 in winning prize money. We finished with an astonishing 1215 Trainers Championship points some 331 points ahead of our nearest rival. We won six Category 1's including the Derby, four Category 2's and ten Category 3 titles in an extraordinary year.
The sport has had some real problems this year with the financial plight of many trainers seeing discontent on a large scale. A new GTA election, the first for 13 years, has seen Rick Holloway in the Chairperson seat and he has certainly caused waves. The GRA have shown their true colours with only one thing on their minds and that is to be nothing more than property speculators and the closure of Oxford has left a sour taste in all our mouths. The final nail in the coffin for a return of Walthamstow Stadium was put in by Boris Johnson and we still await the opening of Towcester. Coventry's return under the leadership of Harry Findlay was the brightest note of the whole year. RPGTV is still with us and has a chance of becoming very successful but sadly Sky as we know it after 15 years of coverage has come to an end which has already caused some big events at the start of the year to be scrapped. This must be rectified or we could face huge problems. The GTA will push for better prize money both graded and especially open racing which has been completely ignored over the last few years and both the GBGB and BGRF will have to change their stance on a few things or I can only see major disputes from those they are supposed to serve in the very near future.
2013 After riding the crest of a wave at the end of a monumental 2012 not even in my wildest dreams could I predict what an eventful and emotional roller coaster of a ride 2013 was going to be! Where do I start?
You would think after all that success in the year before things would come a little easier, the expected burst of new owners with top class canine talent banging on our door never happened and if I'm brutally honest that was disappointing, so much so that at the start of the year we had around 70 race dogs but by the end of the year we have only around 40 which really makes what we have achieved this year in winning a 5th Trainer Of The a Year Championship all the more unbelievable! along the way staff have came and gone and I owe so much to the loyal staff who surround me and to my wife Sarah and Mother in law Linda without which none of our success would be possible.
Yes a 5th Trainers Championship wow! one that has seen a different leader each month for the last 6 or 7 months of the year and the battle between ourselves Charlie Lister, Paul Young and Chris Allsopp has seen us all trade at odds on with the sponsors Ladbrokes at some point in the year, with only 6 or 7 weeks of the year left and over a 100 points behind the leaders we were actually quoted at 25/1 to retain our title but a stupendous November and December saw us amazingly win the title by a clear 76 points, the performances of Reel Trickyone, Adageo Bob and Bridge Honcho to name but a few were truly brilliant in that time.
A historic achievement for the kennel was reached early in December as Reel Trickyone landed our kennels 50th Category 1 title, when winning the Coral Essex Vase , since Linda trained Honky Tonk Gal to win the same race back in 1999, I have been fortunate to have been involved in all 50 victory's including two Greyhound Derby winners and I was struggling to hold my emotions as I held Reel Trickyone on the podium that monumental night!
After a good start to the year we were rocked by some injuries to top class dogs as the season progressed, dogs like Castlebride Dan, who I actually fancied to go a long way in the Derby, and Glanmire Lad were a real blow to our kennel, Glanmire Lads short but very good career came to an end after sustaining a broken hock when leading a hot 400m race at Romford, of course injuries will always play a part in our sport and like those above the greyhounds can be fixed to make great pets but we had more than our fair share in 2013, Planning, Benkaat Boy and Baran Bugatti were other top performers to be forced into retirement far to early while high profile runners Garryglass Rodge and Benkaat Nero both owned by a luckless Dan Daley have missed a large part of the season through long term injuries, if that was not enough owner Peter Bridges two superstars Bridge Honcho and Bridge Ruth suffered career ending injuries in the very last week of the season, both won top class competitions and races in 2013 but that is small consolation as both had a lot more to offer on the track in 2014.
As well as an injury hit season we have said goodbye on the track to 2011/2012 stalwarts Lil Risky, Jazz Apollo and Blonde Reagan and what brilliant dogs they have been for Imperial Kennels, all irreplaceable, we suffered two spells of poor form that had many critics saying we were on the slide and couldn't win the Trainers title, our 2012 Owner Of The Year Mark Currell decided half way through the season that he needed a break from the sport and was to sell his current crop of greyhounds, respectful of his wishes it was still a huge blow to our kennel
So what were the highs of 2013? after all we secured 1027 points only 188 less than 2012 where we won a Derby, St Leger and a T.V Trophy amongst others, we had 218 open race winners in total again only 34 less than 2012 and remember this year we had no Sky in place until March and the open race scene was vary bare in the first two months of the year. In any trainers books winning four Category 1's, four Category 2's and 6 Category 3's in a year would be incredible but I suppose after 2012 we would only be described as reasonably successful, to me we have achieved this under immense pressure and without such depth in quality and numbers as in previous years and that's something we can be proud of more than anything.
Bridge Ruth was an inspiration all year, so good sometimes, so unlucky others, a major title looked likely to elude her but if there was one track built for her then that track is Hove and in the Brighton Belle she showed just how good she is with a scintillating 7 1/2 lgth success in a flying 29.44 calc, as much as two or three of our kennel stars won bigger races she is our websites choice for our Greyhound Of The Year.
There can be no doubt Reel Trickyone is a close second and would win by a mile if he had had another month earlier in the year like December, a Category 1 title in the Essex Vase at the start of the month was followed up by the Category 2 Henlow Cesarewitch at the end of the month, believe me this clever little dog knows he's no.1 in the kennel at present as he struts around the place with his head held high!
Adageo Bob (formerly Blonde Bobby) along with Blonde Razor were two of Mark Currell's higher profile dogs put up for sale and after a month of no takers with a few forumites saying they were only expensive graders, Dick and Ann Barfoot of Glanmire Lad fame stepped in to buy the pair of them, they were quickly rewarded with a plethora of wins and Trophy's by both but most importantly Adageo Bob won their second Category 1, almost a year to the day since Glanmire Lad won the Romford Puppy Cup for them, in a nail biting finish he just got up on the line to take the inaugural British Breeders Stakes at Nottingham sparking a superb run of form for the kennel, a brave runner up to Reel Trickyone in the Essex Vase last month must make him the bargain buy of the year in the whole sport, and there will be more to come in 2014! despite having his moments we still haven't seen the best of Blonde Razor yet but I'm positive he can be a big race winner!
Hometown Honey was immense in our Trainer Of The Year battle winning our first Category 1 of the year at Sunderland after a thrilling finish to the William Hill Grand Prix she dead heated with Ted Soppit's Calzaghe Lilly, when she is in form she is as good as any stayer in the country as scalps of superstars like Farloe Tango proves and her wins in December were crucial, she should still be a force in 2014.
Bridge Honcho is the fairytale story of 2014 as well documented, brilliantly fast he came back from a broken tibia bone last December to record some stunning trials, his racing comeback has been hit and miss and it looked as if that Category 1 success was beyond him, a finalist in the Sussex Cup and the East Anglian Derby were great efforts and eliminations in the first rounds of the Derby, All England Cup and Olympic were all unlucky, it seemed his best chances had gone but a victory in a hot heat of the Betfred Eclipse at Nottingham was followed up with destructive semi-final win, still not over fancied in a class final containing category 1 winners he popped out the boxes and cleared the dangers at the first bend, staying on strongly he crossed the line over 3 lgths to the good in a stunning 29.29 winning a first ever Category 1 for his delighted owner Peter Bridges,most definitely the performance of the year from our kennel, obviously losing him and Ruth from the track doesn't bare thinking about.
Others of note have to be Aayamzabella who was unfortunate to come to the fore in a very hot marathon division this year but she still had her moments and broke three track records at Coventry and more notably Newcastle and Sittingbourne, not yet three years old she should still be a major player in the 2014 T.V Trophy, Aero Twizzle has shown awesome early pace and he could be a real force in the sprinting division in 2014, Bridge Bandit won plenty of races without being noticed this year, Jazz Tilly had some fine moments and Ayamzaman though lacking that vital yard of pace of old still notched up plenty of wins, Murlens Crash was an unexpected hero in December when we needed one, Garryglass Rodge was much talked about in 2013 but injury has meant he hasn't reached his full potential yet, he may well do that in 2014 and still remains our main Derby hope as we stand today.
As for the industry as a whole in November I decided to take a step back from the politics of the sport, I relinquished my roles on the GTA and GBGB Committees to concentrate on our business that at one point seemed like it was in real trouble but hopefully we are now going the right way, trying to balance the books as a greyhound trainer is nigh on impossible and I feel I have done my bit for the cause and have to leave that part to others now, I did find the GBGB side of things a real eye opener and can see things from both sides of the fence, to me if anything goes wrong in our business the buck stops with me and I know it, I wish the same could be said for the GBGB, to me our leadership at the top has to take a leaf out of my book and give up other things to concentrate solely on the job in hand, the main part of that job is to negotiate with off shore bookmakers and make them understand that we have a seriously underfunded industry, that is an industry that gives them loads of turnover and decent profit margins!
2014 will go down as a very special year in the history of Imperial Kennels for many reasons. Writing the review below has taken many hours but it's certainly been most enjoyable when you read back what we have achieved in a fascinating 12 months.
In a year where I celebrated my 50th birthday we superbly won our third Trainer Of The Year award in succession and in the ten years since I have taken over the reins from my mother in law Linda Jones we have now won this title six times.
This year it was gained really through a fantastic start to the year, the magnificent first four home in the Coronation Cup led by the brilliant Reel Trickyone in January paved the way for a year where we simply just didn't stop having winners.
The highlights were undoubtedly our first Golden Jacket winner with one of my favourite all time bitches in Hometown Honey and probably even more notably our kennel's first ever Oaks winner with the brilliant Cashen Maureen, something I had purposely set out to win this year.
We made history in two different ways. Cornamaddy Jumbo will go down as possibly the sport's all time best competition hurdler ever as he unbelievably won all three major hurdles events in 2014 starting with the Springbok and the Champion Hurdle at Wimbledon and then gloriously landing the Grand National at Sittingbourne. His honours might not have finished yet as he's a leading player in the Greyhound Of The Year award later this month.
Our other history making achievement was a promise I made to myself some three years ago when I said we would have the first winner at Towcester and this came true when Fairest Royal scored on a memorable first night at the first new venue to our sport for nearly 20 years.
So Towcester, yes here is the future of not only our sport but our kennel. We left Yarmouth with a burst of winners in the Bags/SIS Championship and we had nearly five happy years at the East Anglian venue and a big thank you to the Franklin family for all their help in that time. We now will concentrate on Towcester and all that is promised there and I feel our future is safe in the hands of Lord Hesketh and his team led by the breath of fresh air that is Kevin Ackerman. It's a pleasure working with Racing Manager Chris Page again and we are all looking forward to 2015.
2015 Our exploits in 2014 with the likes of Cornamaddy Jumbo, Hometown Honey and Casheen Maureen was always going to be a hard act to follow in 2015 but boy! did we give it a good go, it's fair to say we totally dominated the Trainer Of The Year battle from start to finish and a fantastic 7th title looked in the bag as early as March. A plethora of open race winners resulted in us reaching the 100 mark by the 19th April at an incredible strike rate of 38%, that was never going to be maintained but what we did do for the last four months was rack up three memorable Category 1 victories.
2016 Since I took over an already legendary kennel from my mother in law, Linda Jones, at the start of 2005 I must admit that not even I could have possibly envisaged the level of success we have achieved over the next 12 years. 2016 will go down in history as the year we won a record 8th Trainer of the Year title beating John McGee's record that many said would never be broken. Of course that's a personal triumph that makes me so very proud and it will be an emotional night at the GBGB Awards night later this month when I receive the trophy again but really it's a triumph for all our 'Team Wallis' as no way could I have done this without my family Sarah, Linda and now my son Daniel who has worked a full year in another astounding season. We all have our staff to thank as well headed by the popular Sid Huett and Justine Slater who joined us in 2016, my friend Kevin Ulla, who does our racing and trials, has put some miles in this year that's for sure! and a big thank you to Ron Mills who continues to keep our dogs free from injury with his superb physio twice a week, my part time helpers Ronnie and Pete have also been a big help.
2017 A ninth Trainer of the Year award with four Category 1 titles to our name sounds like just another ordinary year at Imperial Kennels but I can assure you it was not, far from it, a roller coast ride all year long gave us all the ups and downs that you can get in our beloved sport, and that's just on the track!
We could not have wished for a better start to 2017 as we racked up a century of open race winners in less than 100 days which is a first for the kennel, along the way we dominated the Sky cards with wins in the Category 2 Coronation Cup and Prestige and followed that a couple of months later with our first two Category 1 victories as grand old servant Clondoty Alex landed the Coral Golden Sprint and Harlow's first ever Group 1 competition went to Rubys Razzle. She had a golden first 4 months which has earned her a nomination in the 'Bitch of the Year' category for the annual awards bash later this month, in the second half of the year it was Rubys Razzle's brother Rubys Rascal who dominated proceedings culminating into a fantastic William Hill St Leger victory, a 5th one for the kennel! he looks a shoe in for the 'Stayer of the Year'.
Then to turn a good season into another exceptional one Bruisers Bullet scored a well deserved Category 1 win taking the Coral Olympic in fine style!
Of course we have highlighted all the above in depth here but does it tell everything, probably not, a trainer like me is only as good as the staff they have, the owners that supply the greyhounds to us and of course a decent track to be attached to. I have thanked many times all the people that have got us to where we are but for some reason it's been tougher than ever this year and for the first time in my training career I thought long and hard as to whether it's all worthwhile. The jealousy from within our sport is downright nasty at times and I'm a sensitive person believe it or not, the continued lack of understanding of what we do to keep our Greyhounds in the best possible condition by the very people who make millions out of our sport is disheartening and when you step up to the mark and voice your concerns and make a stance the lack of support form your fellow professionals is disgusting. Most would rather see us disappear for good but I have news for them Team Wallis is hear to stay!
Apart from from the highlights mentioned above we have to mention the Star Sports Greyhound Derby at Towcester. What a brilliant few weeks for the sport and only not having a runner in the final stopped it being one of the greatest sporting days I have ever witnessed. Towcester continue to lead the way in nearly every aspect of our sport and long may it continue.
In total we amassed 1087 points with 277 open race winners at a healthy 25% strike rate, we won an incredible 31 competitions , 4 Category 1's, 4 Category 2's and a stunning 27 Category 3's plus 3 valuable invitation races worth £1,000 or over.
So that's a ninth Trainer of the Year award and a sixth one in succession. Looking at our Website Awards my personal highlight was the brilliance of two old sluggers Clondoty Alex and Calco Flyer, both were magnificent until they retired and Kevin Dear, Nick Cheeseman and Paul Carpenter joyously celebrated a 2nd Category 1 victory with Alex as he landed the Golden Sprint. What pleasure they brought and now both have beautiful homes which makes it even better. Who would have thought Shlowdown Sally, a bitch that 18 months ago couldn't win an A8! would be our leading race winner with 20 victories (15 opens). My Performance of the Year award was for Aayamza Breeze's amazing last to first victory in the 8 dog Dorando Marathon, the crowd on Derby final night hit a noise level that most of Northamptonshire must have heard as she picked off her rivals one by one to get up and snatch victory right on the line, magical!
Bruisers Bullet's stunning Olympic win capped a great year off and without doubt he is one of the top 5 fastest dogs we have ever handled, if he stays sound he has the potential to land us a Derby or 2 and I couldn't be more pleased for the fantastic owners headed by Billy Boyle who so richly deserve plenty of success, Roswell Romanov is in danger of getting to that Adageo Bob stage of not winning a Category 1 in his prime and sometimes unfairly gets some stick but Evan Herbert's charge was still a force to be reckoned with and racked up 19 open race wins in 2017. Last but not least, John Clarke's duo of Rubys Rascal and Rubys Razzle have given us a proper year to remember. It's not all been plain sailing for both but Rubys Rascal at times took your breath away and after his St Leger victory and year long campaign against the best dogs in training rightly see's him as our Websites Greyhound of the year.
2018 The records show that during 2018 we won 182 open races and scored 983 points in defending our Trainer of the Year award. It was our 10th title since 2005 but this year's success certainly came at a cost, amongst some brilliant triumphs, including four Category 1 victories, we suffered a catalogue of injuries on a level I’ve not seen before. One huge highlight was a superb night at Towcester where we won the GTA Trainers Championship meeting against the odds and a month later we enjoyed another Derby night special from Towcester where our kennel steered both Bombers Bullet and Bruisers Bullet to the final. Although unsuccessful the two made it seven finalists (two winners) in our kennel's illustrious history. In total we had 19 Category 1 finalists many of whom won heats or semi finals which was instrumental in gathering our haul of points.
Our world was rocked in August as we received news that our home track Towcester was to cease racing immediately and was in the hands of administrators. Exactly 10 years after the closure of my beloved Walthamstow the dream of a bright future had come to an end, not only that but I was deeply hurt personally by the way it was all done and we were left out of pocket by over £20,000. A track that was the shining light in our industry, one that I had help to start was now no more.To say it was a difficult time was an understatement but thankfully Kevin Boothby and Henlow were more than accommodating and by September 1st we were having our first graded runners at the Bedfordshire track. We have, in the last four months, made the most of the situation and we do have hope in 2019 with Henlow’s massive commitment to Greyhound racing.
Our monthly review highlights what a mixed year we have had and how resilient our kennel is. My staff and family have been sensational all year and I would like to thank them all (Sarah, Daniel, Emily and Linda with Sid, Justine, Kat, Kevin, Kiera, Roy, Pete and Ronnie) and again we have to thank our expert physio Ron Mills for his services and I would also like to thank vets Stefano Malegori and Mario for their incredible dedication and time and, in what was a difficult year, not one of our injured dogs was put to sleep and that I’m sincerely thankful for.
Of course none of us would be here without our loyal owners and at times they have stopped me calling it a day with their unwavering support. I never like to single any out but a few have been more than just owners, they have been incredibly kind, generous and supportive to myself when faced with adversity, a huge thank you to them.
My highlight of the year, hence the award for Performance of the Year was Rubys Rascal coming from way off the pace to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in the Stayers race on Trainers Championship night, this landing us the title. Gathered with some 30 or so supporters in one of Towcester’s executive boxes screaming their heads off was an experience that will live with me for a long time, my staff know, why and how we won that event and what it meant to me personally. Rubys Rascal along with Roswell Romanov were two of my all time favourite dogs and I’m so pleased both are enjoying their retirement.
No doubting our website overall Greyhound of the Year as Bombers Bullet fully deserved this when improving out of all recognition for the Bruiser Boyz syndicate from January until he made the Derby final in July, then stepped up in trip he landed two major staying events and came very close when beaten in a photo in a 3rd. Tragedy struck when venturing across the water and I’m sure we could have had a chance of landing one or two more competitions if injury hadn’t dealt us another cruel blow and then I’m confident the GBGB Greyhound of the Year would be a three way battle instead of the current two in contention. We will be disappointed later this month if he doesn’t pick up the Stayer of the Year title to follow Rubys Rascal, Ferryforth Fran and Blonde Reagan in previous years.
Saleen Ash had a fabulous year and was our leading open race winner with 13 victories while special mention should go to Ribble Ghost for being the Graded Greyhound of the Year. Despite her limitations and once described as the slowest dog at Towcester in 2016 managed to climb to A4 grade before it closed in August and now at the veteran stage has climbed to A4 at Henlow! Mike Davis owner of Saleen Ash etc won our main '5 To Follow' competition as his Silva Hill and Saleen Story topped the points list and we had huge banter in the kennel as my daughter Emily (she's 14) won our staff 5 To Follow comp.
For the first time since we started doing our website our ‘Recommended Bets’ 2017 showed a small loss but in 2018 we bounced back and our supporters will be revelling in the glory.Overall all our selections ante post and singular showed a lovely profit of 99 points, considering our max bet is 5 points it basically means if you had just £1 per point recommended you would have won near £100 in 2018, that would be £1000 if you had gone £10 per point. Our winners were amazing including Saleen Ash 12/1 for the Peter Bussey, Parkers Dynamite 25/1 for the Grand National and Bombers Bullet 80/1 each way for the Derby and many more, the whole idea is just a bet for a bit of fun but it’s bloody nice when we can show a nice profit! all adding to our fantastic site.
2019 Well another year over and again an epic one for many different reasons. An 11th Trainer of the Year title and an 8th consecutive one certainly didn’t come easy and we were pushed all the way by Patrick Janssens who himself had a great year, indeed at one stage in late summer we were some 240 points behind my good friend and former Assistant Trainer but for a magical September and October where we not only won three Category 1 titles but we had the runners up in two of them scoring us huge points. The records show we had 221 open race winners and amassed an incredible 1120 points which included four Category 1 successes.
I’ve said in the press it was a game of two halves in 2019 and this was the case. Still dealing with the blow of losing Towcester in 2018 we had established ourselves at Henlow but the truth is that it’s hard to find owners at the well run track as Henlow is essentially racing for the bookmakers service, though promoter Kevin Boothby is as generous as he can be. Running a large graded kennel where I owned at least 33 % of the dogs is financial suicide, I’ve gradually ironed that out over the year and as we began to straighten up so our overall results have improved.
he loss of the likes of Bruisers Bullet retiring early in the year and the highly talented Baroness Bullet, due to injury, to our strength meant that we had to fight hard for everything we had and hope some new stock would be forthcoming. The winners in the first three months were hard to come by but there was a glimmer of hope as Antigua Fire (formerly Towcester Story) was a big money signing and a quality purchase for owners Amanda and Nic Jeal. We had to wait until March for our first competition winner when Chubbys Caviar took the Category 2 Bunny Bookmakers Gold Cup and we were still struggling to keep pace with our challengers as again winners were few and far between.
Step forward our legend Aayamza Breeze who ran a corker from off the pace to set up a thrilling finish in the Coral Regency final where she prevailed by the narrowest margin, I made this the Performance of 2019 just shading Bumblebee Bullet's TV Trophy win and Antigua Fire's Kent St Leger demolition.
The kennel was strengthened considerably when Nic and Amanda moved the rest of their team to us and the Bruiser Boyz shrewdly picked up a bargain in Bumblebee Bullet while we also nursed the near retired and high class Aayamza Express back to full health. The feelgood factor in the sport came back as Romford opened its new Grandstand and we quickly took advantage landing the Champion Stakes with Aayamza Express and then the following week bagged a 1-2 in the TV Trophy courtesy of Bumblebee Bullet beating Aayamza Breeze. Not that long after we poured in another kennel 1-2 when the brilliant Antigua Fire scorched around Crayford to land the Kent St Leger beating Brigadier Bullet. We pressed home our advantage and what seemed a lost cause at one stage was now almost a mere formality.
There were other rough patches in the first half of the year, we lost a nice bitch through a serious virus, a meat contamination positive was harshly dealt with in my opinion and an example was made of me yet two months later a number of trainers were exonerated for exactly the same thing which left me scratching my head in disbelief. A slight trainer to trainer feud is something I won’t go into and then there was the sad loss of two outstanding people in Pete Vernon and Dick Barfoot in 2019. Thankfully we have come through and the enjoyment of the big race wins completely outweigh the negatives I've just mentioned.
As always I can not possibly achieve all the success without a fantastic family and staff around me. My wife Sarah is a total rock and I’ve so enjoyed our children Daniel and Emily taking a more active role in the kennel than ever before, they are awesome. Linda is there for us in the background and we have had the same staff all year and hope to again in 2020. Sid, Kat, Justine, Kevin and Kiera all ensure the Greyhounds' welfare is of paramount importance and we are thankful to them. We continue to heap praise on our physio Ron Mills who is a major part of our success and our owners have been completely behind us through thick and thin all year long and I’m glad so many have enjoyed some more great success rewarding their patience.
Our website continues to get massive praise and so it should as we work hard making it as up to date as possible and our new podcast is a welcome addition to 2019. Thank you to all of them and here’s hoping you enjoy reading our full review.
2020 Where do we start on our review of last year? January, February and some of March were mostly really good both on and off the track. We started with Antigua Rum winning a high quality Coronation Cup at Romford with a generous £5,000 added to the purse by Ladbrokes/Corals supremo Ian Smyth. We nearly won the Winter Derby and had three finalists in the Golden Jacket. I became a grandfather for the first time as my son Daniel and his partner Megan had a beautiful baby girl called Willow. Our business was looking reasonably healthy and we were looking forward to a grand reopening of Towcester under Henlow boss Kevin Boothby, a massive greyhound man through and through then suddenly the world came crashing down as the Covid 19 pandemic hit us like a tsunami. Something I never thought would happen in my lifetime happened, all sport was cancelled and the country went into lockdown as hospitals couldn’t cope with the rising cases of infections and deaths, suddenly life wasn’t the same again.
We did the best we could in the next couple of months as the government bungled its way through what we should all do and not do. We were lucky that we could still work everyday and all the dogs in the kennel were thoroughly looked after and kept happy. We refurbed the kennels in the time off and constantly used social media to keep the owners happy - who can forget the brilliant ‘Many Faces’ video that my daughter Emily made that drew huge applause from the industry. Of course no one could imagine the stress it caused me, trying to keep a business going, keeping my family and staff safe and praying that it would all be over as soon as possible. Our owners were magnificent in their support to our kennel which made a real difference and we did get some much needed financial help both from the GBGB and promoter Kevin Boothby which was crucial.
The GBGB did a brilliant job and greyhound racing was the first sport to return in June with the graded dogs back first. This itself caused a lot of resentment from the owners with open race dogs and the promise from the Irish that their top class action would start sooner meant we saw stars like Bumblebee Bullet, Aayamza Royale and Aayamza Express left the kennel to go across the water. In truth they only had races over there a couple of weeks before our own open race action began and in that time us and the Bruiser Boys Syndicate were devastated to see Bumblebee Bullet get injured in a trial at Shelbourne and a few days later she passed away under anaesthetic at the vets.
We still had high hopes of a great second half of the year once racing returned but we were hit by a slight lack of form and worse still as injuries to stars like Antigua Romeo, Antigua Rum, Coolavanny Messi, Antigua Fire, Chubbys Turkana, Passing Stranger, Schooldays to name but a few hit us hard. Even though the sport had to race under strict guidelines we managed to get our team out to most places and the reopening of Towcester was great news though the loss of Peterborough, Poole and Belle Vue was a bitter pill to swallow for the sport.
We had to wait until September to keep our record going of over 20 years of always winning at least one Category One title and Aayamza Royale did that in an incredible race at Romford when winning the Coral Cesarewitch over 925m in a last ditch effort to beat the unlucky Micks Little Gem.
We had way too many dogs eliminated at the semi final stages of competitions which really impacted the Trainer of the Year title and we had to admit defeat for the first time in 9 years. Patrick Janssens, my former assistant trainer and good friend, and his team had a magnificent year winning seven Category One races and fully deserves to take the trophy away from us and we congratulate him on that achievement.
We did at least finish the year in style as the most exciting marathon runner we have ever had in our kennel Aayamza Royale brilliantly landed the TV Trophy at Hove and her races against the awesome Roxholme Kristoff will be many people's races of the year. It was the second year running that we have won this trophy and both her Category One victories will live long in the memory as will Antigua Rum's stunning Coronation Cup triumph at the start of the year. In a year where we lost our trainers title we can take comfort in the fact we have a strong contender for Greyhound of the Year.
As usual that just leaves me to say a Happy and Safe New Year and thank all our owners for their support in such difficult times. A massive thank you to my family that make our kennel so special Sarah, Daniel, Emily and Linda and of course our loyal staff Sid, Kevin, Justine, Kat, Becky, Ronnie and Ron Mills for all his hard work throughout the year.