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Trainers rep Blog - Peter Harnden

Throughout my life I've always loved a challenge.  Taking on the role of trainers’ representative was always going to be just that, However, it is a challenge that I'm relishing and feel I'm growing into the role with each passing month.  Next year will be one of the most pivotal years in the history of greyhound racing.  There is no doubt at all about that.  I'm sorry for yet again going on about the media rights battle between SIS and GMG but it is a battle which is sure to have a major say in the route that our sport finds itself on.  Both groups have now released proposed fixture lists for 2018.  I say proposed because for me, it will be near on impossible to see both fixture lists staged in full, at least for any prolonged period of time.  We already see races around the UK that contain a vacant trap or even two in places.  So quite how the two proposed fixture lists are going to come anywhere near to bearing fruit is anybody's guess.  As I've said for months, there will be winners and losers in all of this.  Is this right?  Is this fair?  Maybe not, but life at times isn't fair and it's how we all deal with it which will decide upon our futures in the sport.  I've asked my fellow trainers to show a bit of patience until this battle begins to play out in the new year.  I stand by that stance and believe that in the long-term interests of us all that is the best thing to do.  Welfare concerns have been a major topic of discussion from people within the sport when looking at the new fixture lists.  A concern that greyhounds will be asked to race too much in order to cover the proposed meetings.  I have complete faith in my fellow trainers that they will not allow their greyhounds to be used any more than they feel is in the best interests of the dogs themselves.  As I have said on others matters I am always available to be approached in confidence and any trainer who feels that their track is placing undue pressure on them to over race their greyhounds should contact me immediately.  I don't envisage this as being a major problem.  Certainly, at my track Nottingham and at tracks I visit regularly, the management team have the best interests of the greyhounds very much close to their hearts.  If they have on the odd occasion put a greyhound of mine out on the card a little too quickly, a quick call and a chat has sorted this out.  I fully expect this to be the same at every track around the country.  So again, if any trainer does feel they're being put under pressure to over race a dog, speak to your track management and if you're not happy with the response speak to me.

 

I've been attending plenty of meetings over the past few months and it has been a very interesting learning curve.  I went into the role with certain ideas of how things are done.  What I purposefully set out to do though was not go into this role like a bull in a china shop wanting to destroy any chance of making progress before I had a chance of making positive changes.  As the saying goes; Rome wasn't built in a day.  We've already seen some big changes to the GBGB board this year with Tom Kelly and Barry Faulkner retiring and replaced by Robert Griffiths QC (interim Chair) and Mark Bird (Managing Director) respectively.  The esteem in which I hold Mark Bird has already been noted and I hope that people can already see that he is going to be much more pro-active and approachable than maybe some of his predecessors were.  In the defence of Barry Faulkner in that regard, I must say that from the limited time I spent with Barry he was very helpful and did his best at times to work with his hands tied behind his back.  I'm hopeful that the pairing of Mr Griffiths and Mr Bird at the head of the GBGB will prove to be a much more forward looking and thinking partnership than we've had for some time.

 

One major topic of discussion just lately has been about the tracks and their preparation.  A badly prepared and/or maintained track is always one of the big topics amongst trainers.  We all love to see our greyhounds winning, but the main thing for us all at the end of a meeting is that our greyhounds are fit, well and injury free.  Our sport as with any sport will never be completely injury free, our tracks however must be prepared to the very highest of standards in order to see that injuries are kept to the very bare minimum.  The big question at the minute is who should be responsible for inspecting the tracks around the UK?  The Race Course Promoters association (RCPA) want the inspection of tracks to be kept in house and reported directly to them.  I and the vast majority of my fellow trainers and other stakeholders in the sport want the inspections to be independent and reported to the GBGB.  This surely has to be in the best interests of all concerned.  Let me state here and now that this is no slight on the promoters but why make people think there is something to hide when there isn't?  As a sport we have a lot to be proud of.  The general public's opinion of the sport is stuck in the past.  We need to do as much as possible to show them that this is a good sport.  A sport where our greyhounds are our pride and joy.  A sport in which welfare is at the forefront of our concerns.  So, let's take another step on this road and make the inspection of our tracks independent and reported to the GBGB.  

 

I recently attended the second meeting of Paul Ephremsen's Innovation Panel.  Paul is another who the GBGB are lucky to have on board in his role as Owners Representative.  Paul is a clear thinker, a man who is willing to listen, put down a plan of action and work towards achieving his goals.  In just a few months of getting to know Paul it has become all the more obvious how he has become a success in life.  I agree with Paul on a lot of matters, Paul described us as allies during his recent RPGTV appearance and I would most certainly back that description up.  I firmly believe that working together we will have a much greater success than attempting to do our own thing all of the time.  That's not to say that we agree on everything though and one topic of debate that we don't agree upon is the redistribution of the BGRF £5 per runner.  Having spoken to Paul about this at length in person and as I'm sure many of you will already have read in his latest blog post, Paul believes that redistributing the £5 per runner will have huge benefit to the majority of owners.  Paul does note, and rightfully so, that the removal of the £5 per runner will have the greatest effect on owners such as myself who own a large number of dogs.  This is true and yes it would have a big effect on us, removing it would take much needed prize money away and yes whilst we would theoretically have a chance of bigger prizes via Paul's proposed competitions, the money from these competitions is not guaranteed and in most cases leave owners very much in the hands of the racing office.  I'm also not convinced that the removal of the £5 is a good idea for owners of say 3 greyhounds.  I had a chat with an owner last week at Nottingham.  This owner owns 3 greyhounds, not a massive number of dogs and an amount that many owners around the UK own.  His concern was that the removal of the £5 would also hit him in the pocket at a time when he can ill afford to lose anymore much needed prize money.  He's owned dogs at his track for many years but has never once won one of these Owners Bonus Series events.  His reckoning was that if his dogs raced on average 4 times per month, over the course of a year the removal of the £5 would cost him in excess of £1000.  That is an owner of just 3 dogs. Making graded racing more fun and improving the competitions and big money finals in theory is an excellent idea, but he is loath to pay another £1000 for the privilege of seeing others winning competitions that in his time in the sport he has yet to come close to winning.  There are many people in the sport who will be in a similar position, hence why on this occasion I don't agree with Paul's assessment that the removal of the £5 will affect the few but help the many.  My view is it would affect the many and help the chosen few.

 

What I do agree with Paul on though is that graded racing does need a major shake up.  At times the tracks are like ghost towns and we need to do something to make the experience of owning graders more exciting.  A reduction in the number of Owners Bonus Series events and increasing the prize money as a result is a good idea.  It will cost nothing to do and to me is a win for nothing.  Better trophies are a must.  Winning a trophy is great but how many of us put them in the cupboard and forget they're there?  The difference in cost between a trophy that you would be proud to display in your home and one which goes into the cupboard gathering dust isn't so much that we should plump for the latter in order to save a few quid.  Compere's on the big nights would also add to the occasion.  On big final nights especially, we get big crowds at our tracks.  For many however the night goes by without them knowing what has actually gone on.  Towcester for one do it right.  Get the crowd involved.  Let them know what is going on.  Let them know who the runners in the next race are.  Showcase the dogs, the dogs are the stars of this sport, let's get them known amongst the public.  We also need to get the kids involved more.  Put bouncy castles on for the kids, face painting etc.  Walthamstow in years gone by used to have a swing park between the first two bends, how many of the kids that played in there are now owning dogs?  I bet a fair few.

 

I recently took a few hours to visit the excellent Dogs Trust centre at Loughborough.  During the meetings I attended recently regarding the new BSI PAS I got talking to employees of the Dogs Trust who kindly invited me to come and have a look around their centre.  It's good to network and see how other organisations go about their work.  The centre is excellent I must say and is a credit to the Dogs Trust and their staff.  The in house veterinary care is definitely something we as a sport should be looking towards and is something which we seriously need to look towards investing money into.

 

Finally for now I'd just like to pay praise to my hardworking team of staff at my kennels.  As a team we recently set new records at Nottingham.  Winning a magnificent 42 races during the month of September (overtaking the previous record of 38) and winning 8 races at the meeting on Tuesday 3rd October.  Our dogs are currently running at the peak of their form and like I say this is testament to having one of the best teams of staff in the sport around me.  I've had many calls and texts to congratulate myself and the team on this and though it took a little while I've replied to each and every one.  If people can take the time to call or text to offer congratulations, then the very least I can do is take the time to reply.  So once again thank you all.