Monday 5th March 2012
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Obviously there has to be only one news story that takes precedence over everything else this week and that's the decision I took along with many of my fellow professional trainers to boycott open racing from the 12th - 17th March and also most importantly the ultimate call for myself with four other trainers to boycott the prestigious Trainers Championship meeting on 21st March unless demands were met that all parties in the industry would enter dialogue with GOBATA on the current financial plight of ALL trainers and discuss the open race prize money levels and the fact that the money allocated from the fund that goes directly into prize money is solely used for graded racing while open racers receive nothing.
Thankfully the powers that be have granted GOBATA their meeting this Tuesday and now GOBATA's chairman Martin White will meet with BGRF supremo Tom Kelly and hopefully some sensible discussions can take place. This has prompted the leading trainers including myself to drop their action and we can look forward to what promises to be a sensational Betfair Trainers Championship at Perry Barr on 21st March.
Now I have to be careful what I say as I would not want to jeopardise Tuesday's important meeting but let's talk about the biggest decision I have made since I took over the licence from my mother in law Linda Jones in 2005 and the aftermath of that decision.
Firstly let's go back to the inaugural meeting when GOBATA was formed some two years ago at Nottingham. I for one with many other practitioners in the sport was disillusioned with the way our industry was being run and the fact that it was becoming impossible to make a living, something that can't be right when our industry supplies so many jobs and some £2.5 billion is wagered on greyhounds off course every year. Having joined the committee I along with GOBATA have been astonished by the total ignorance of both the GBGB Board of Directors and our supposed representatives on that board and their total lack of response to legitimate calls for improvements in all areas of our sport that affect not only the top end but right down to the grass roots. We have constantly tried to engage with the GBGB and have been snubbed. Now I can understand that it is difficult for the GBGB to accept a new organisation but GOBATA have produced and financed some tremendous initiatives over the last two years - a Grass Roots Championship, a Premier League that's seen the leading trainers and greyhounds compete in, new sponsors and after two years hard work by Martin White, Chris Page and the GOBATA committee along with Towcester Racecourse a £1.3 million project to build a state of the art greyhound track, the first new track for many years. These alone should have cemented a good relationship with the GBGB but no, unbelievably we are still ignored!
With the advent of the new RPGTV and continued demand for open racing both on TV, Sky and on Bags it was felt that the current situation that all fund money allocated to prize money goes solely into graded racing could now be adjusted to include funds for open racing. We composed a letter asking that a tiny percentage of the fund money be redistributed to open racing to finance some new ideas. This was based also on the fact that the bookmaking industry were predicting that with the added turnover from RPGTV they would be optimistic that fund money would swell in the future so the small percentage we asked for would mean graded money would not fall. We then asked Norah McEllistrim (head of the GTA) to co-sign the letter with GOBATA, something she initially agreed to do and then at the last minute decided to do a complete u-turn and not put her name to it. Now was this because there is a clear objective from the GBGB to still not recognise GOBATA? was she under instructions, I wonder! This letter was in no way going to cause anyone any problems. This was the last straw and an emergency GOBATA trainers meeting was arranged at Towcester last Wednesday.
Feelings were most definitely running high at Wednesday's meeting at Towcester at which there was a who's who of greyhound racing trainers present including four of the top six trainers as well as the likes of Barry Draper winning trainer of last Tuesday's Juvenile winner Eden Star. The financial plight of not only the trainers present but all across the country whether open race or graded was discussed and it was unanimous that we should lead from the top in securing immediate and direct action. Our views on the GBGB and our supposed representatives that we have continuously tried to engage with had to be brought to everyone's attention and our call for a boycott on the said dates was unanimous. Yes we knew that this action would not be popular with many people, especially the call to boycott the Betfair Trainers Championship unless a meeting with all sections of the industry is granted, but desperate times result in desperate measures. I have no doubt this was the correct call and I am fully behind my professional trainers. Martin White did not call for this action, it came from the trainers. Martin is happy to act and represent not just the open race trainers but all licence holders when he meets Tom Kelly who is acting on behalf of the GBGB and BGRF tomorrow. Martin will conduct himself in a proper manner and will present our case in a calm and efficient way. Personally I could not wish for a better person to represent our profession. I URGE ALL PRACTITIONERS IN OUR INDUSTRY TO PUT DIFFERENCES ASIDE AND UNITE TO SUPPORT MARTIN AND GOBATA IN THIS MEETING.
To say that the response to our action has been incredible is an understatement and over the last three days I have suffered a wave of emotions. The reaction from the press and media is understandable as everyone is disappointed that the Betfair Trainers Championship has been put at risk and our relationship with Sky will take a while to heal though again I have to say many many trainers felt this was last chance saloon. Myself and my wife Sarah cannot go on continuously losing money in our business and unless we see some financial improvements our involvement in the sport and our famous Imperial Kennels will be bankrupt in the very near future unless the prize money levels increase and not just short term. The industry has to put something in place for a rise each and every year. Unfortunately many people have the misconception that all open race trainers are rolling in it but I can assure them this is not the case. The facts are so simple for all to understand - the cost of running a kennel goes up each year but our training fees have had to remain the same for nearly 10 years because owners are not getting any more return for their money. So many trainers across the land are working harder than ever and have had to cut back on staff resulting in some cases only 2/3 people trying to look after anything from 60 to 100 greyhounds, this alone will lead to welfare issues something the GBGB, Promoters and the Bookmaking industry would not and cannot let happen.
I have been upset with a few people who have completely misunderstood the situation since the boycott was announced though we have had a wave of support from many owners and trainers. I can assure people this decision to act was not taken lightly and I am truly sorry to offend Tony Calvin of Betfair but remember if talks with Tom Kelly do lead to change in fortunes for our industry Betfair will be one of the long term beneficiaries. Kelly Findlay, one of the six trainers involved in the forthcoming Trainers Championship, has taken a stance that she would not support her fellow professionals in their action though she does fully support the call for better levels of prize money. This has been seized upon by the media in my opinion to try and divide trainers but this tactic will not work. We all respect her for her decision but hope that she can see that the only way we would ever get any kind of reaction was to target the Trainers Championship, something that has maximum impact but affects owners the least, to try and highlight the trainers' and owners' problems throughout the sport and at last for the first time our desperate call has been heard and the GBGB through the BGRF's Tom Kelly has said yes to some dialogue with GOBATA and the trainers. If this leads to some changes we have achieved what we set out to do and in the long term trainers like Kelly Findlay will benefit. We will all be looking for better representation on the board meaning many will call for John Haynes and Norah Mcellistrim to step down from their current positions which to be honest after this outcry will be a sensible one whilst GBGB's Barry Faulkner and Maurice Watkins have to communicate with their stakeholders immediately or they could well face an even bigger form of action in the future as their trainers and owners are no longer prepared to sit back and be ignored anymore.
A brief look into last week's action saw our kennel in great form again with Lil Risky making it three from three when landing the sprint in 16.11 at Wimbledon on Tuesday's prestigous Juvenile card on Sky. In the other feature event on the card the William Hill Springbok Royal Premium could only finish a disappointing 5th although not beaten far.
On Thursday in the heats of the Monmore Puppy Derby Benkaat Blue was our only qualifier when a narrow 2nd behind Alien Planet in 28.18 while on Friday the main action came at Swindon in the afternoon where Jazz Apollo was just shaded by a head in the Ladbrokes Arc semi-final by King Jaffa but is safely through to Thursday's £8,000 to the winner final.
Later in the night at Romford Ballintine Molly, not for the first time, suffered heartache when 7 lengths to the good in the heats of the Tony Williams Marathon the track staff brought the curtain out a lap too early making her and the rest of the field check badly. Although she carried on to win the race the stewards had little option but to void the race. A rerun will take place tonight but myself and connections thought that it was not fair to let Ballintine Molly race three marathons in a week and we have withdrawn her from the rerun. After afew close calls we finished the night with a double when Blonde Snapper showed his class winning a 400m Standard in 24.02 while sensation Aero Joker made it seven on the bounce with another authoritative display in a 575m Stayers beating a high class field in 35.53.
Only runners on Saturday and Droopys Hiss got the night off to a great start when coming from off the pace to land her debut win in an A1 by nearly 5 enlgths in 28.49. Youngster Swift Freeze swooped through to land an A3 in 28.74 and Swift Tigress made it a treble on the night when following up last weeks win with another victory in an A2 in 28.32.
PERFORMANCE OF THE WEEK
WHAT'S ON NEXT WEEK
A big week ahead with Thursday's Ladbrokes Arc final at Swindon where Jazz Apollo runs from a tricky trap 3 slot in the £8,000 to the winner Category 1 event.
Also on Thursday Benkaat Blue will need plenty of luck in trap 5 in the semi-final of the Monmore Puppy Derby.
Mountjoy Orion takes her chance in the Tony Williams Marathon final at Romford on Friday while other open race plans are to be pencilled in tomorrow.
WEBSITE RECOMMENDED BETS
You would have thought Royal Premium would have been a shoe in for a place in the first four in the William Hill Springbok Final but somehow finished 5th and a decent 33/1 e.w bet went down with him. Still we have Jazz Apollo running for us in the Ladbrokes Arc Final who is a best priced 5/2 shot going into Thursday's race after being recommended at 14/1. Benkaat Blue our maximum ante-post bet in the Monmore Puppy Derby qualified safely but faces a stiff task in this Thursday's semi-final. Lil Risky is back to his best and should like Swindon's huge gallop and is worth a good bet for Thursday's race after a change of heart in keeping him to sprints for a few more weeks.
LIL RISKY - 3 pts win - Swindon - Thursday
ADVISED LAST WEEK
ROYAL PREMIUM - 1 pt e.w ante-post 33/1 - William Hill Springbok - Wimbledon - lost
JAZZ APOLLO - 2 pts e.w ante-post 14/1 - Ladbrokes Arc - Swindon - final Thursday
BENKAAT BLUE - 2.5 pts e.w ante-post 8/1 - Ladbrokes Monmore Puppy Derby - continues Thursday
CASTLEBRIDE DAN - 1 pt e.w ante-post 100/1 - Ladbrokes Monmore Puppy Derby - lost