PATRICK JANSSENS is the GBGB Trainer of the Year for 2020.

Ending the long reign of multiple winner Mark Wallis, his former boss, Belgium-born Janssens finished the year on 872 points, 193 points clear of Wallis (679) and ahead of Liz McNair (594), Kevin Hutton (394), David Mullins (347) and Ernie Gaskin (315). The top six qualify for the Trainers’ Championship Meeting.

Janssens said he was very proud to have lifted the coveted trophy and paid tribute to the team behind him at his Thetford kennels – wife Cheryl, daughter Ria and partner Luke Staunton, and Ron Mills – whose collective hard work saw the team win a magnificent seven GBGB Category One titles in 2020.

Having finished fourth in 2018 and then second in 2019, Janssens’ rise to the top was completed in 2020 as, from the moment Skilful Sandie (Ladbrokes Golden Jacket) and Goldies Symnsy (Peter Bussey Memorial) landed him a memorable matinee big-race double at Crayford in February, he never looked back.

“That was almost the perfect day,” he said. “Winning both competitions in front of a really good crowd with a great atmosphere – and brilliant performances from both Sandie and Symnsy was great. Sandie always had a touch of class and was a top-class bitch, now retired and set for breeding, but Symnsy was a plan which came off!”

Those Category One and Category Two successes set the ball rolling for Janssens, but it was a call taken from legendary former trainer Harry Crapper – and then another ex-handler Craig Hopkins – which proved pivotal in the handler’s year.

“Harry called me and asked if I could take in Kilara Lion, which he part-owned, because Craig’s daughter Alex was taking a break from training to have a baby. I was pretty full at that stage, but then Craig came on as well, told me the situation, and I took him in,” Janssens explained.

“It wasn’t straightforward in those early days, though, he really didn’t settle but we persevered and the girls got round him! He’s been a pleasure to train ever since and is one of the most consistent dogs we have – him, Goldies Hoddle and Desperado Dan just kept their form throughout the year.”

Wins in the RPGTV Yarmouth Derby and Ladbrokes Kent Derby at home track Central Park secured Kilara Lion two Category Ones in 2020, matched by Desperado Dan’s wins in Romford’s Coral Champion Stakes and Ladbrokes Gold Collar – the Crayford success proving a real romp for the evergreen stayer.

“Dan’s just a star here – and is probably one of the most popular dogs in training. At Crayford he was probably the best he’s ever been – but in general he’s the sort of greyhound who turns up, runs his race and will do the same the next week and the next week. He’ll always been one of our favourites,” said the trainer.

Injury denied the kennel’s Sussex Cup champion Bockos Doomie the chance of a notable big-race double in 2020 in the Coral Olympic having kept his incredible unbeaten record at the south coast track intact with victory in both heat and semi-final of the 515m feature in December – he is now unbeaten in 14 races at Hove.

“Doomie is just one of the classiest dogs I’ve ever put a lead on – I just wish the Derby was staged at Hove! He just didn’t run Nottingham again this year, but we know how much he loves Hove, Monmore and Henlow – but especially Hove. It was a shame to pull him out of the Olympic final. He’ll be aimed at the Blue Riband at Towcester in a few weeks.”

Lenson Whelan’s performances during 2020 also deserve great credit, feels Janssens. “He’s been a massive team player and is one of the most underrated runners in our kennel. He picked up great points for us in the Trainers’ Championship, finishing second in the [RPGTV] Steel City Cup and Kent Derby and third in the Olympic.

“He probably lacks a yard compared to the top class, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one of my dogs run the second bend at Yarmouth like he did during the East Anglian Derby. He helped us to a one-two in the Kent Derby, too.”

Goldies Hoddle also earns special mention from Janssens having won the Coral Golden Sprint which was one of the last events before the March lockdown – and was another to keep his form throughout 2020 with his Romford performances regularly cheering his loyal band of supporters.

“He’s another really consistent dog. He won 14 open races during the year which was the joint-best and they love him at Romford. He’s a great trapper and his pace from the boxes at Romford wins his races. He has a slight flat spot into the bend, but if he gets round that’s usually it and he deserved the Golden Sprint win.”

Janssens will be looking to continue his fine run of form in early-season events such as the Essex Vase at Romford, Blue Riband at Towcester and another tilt at landing the Golden Jacket at Crayford – plus has assembled a nice team of youngsters, a few of whom were seen in the recent Puppy Derby at Towcester.

The likes of Bockos Jon Jo, Bockos Belly, Puff The Tiger and the stayer Goldies Greaves will join forces with the more established runners at the kennel with the intention of keeping the momentum going – although Janssens stops short of declaring himself favourite to be champion trainer again in 2021.

“I certainly favour quality over quantity and it would be asking a lot to repeat what we did in 2020,” he said. “However we’ll be aiming for the major competitions again and I’m delighted to see the Blue Riband return to the GBGB Calendar at Towcester – it’s important we maintain the tradition of these big races.

“Hopefully tracks will continue to run one-off opens. I read what Ernie Gaskin said a few weeks back that maiden opens and winners-of-one opens are important in a dog’s education and hopefully these will continue in 2021. It’s important for trainers and owners – and breeders. It’s champions they’re trying to breed, of course.”

Janssens also plans to play his part in encouraging more hurdles racing. “We have two hurdlers at the kennel now and will be looking at the Springbok at Central Park for them. We’re based there and want to support all their major events – they have some good plans in place for 2021 and we plan to be part of that.”

As well as thanking his staff, Janssens paid particular tribute to his owners. “I have a group of fantastic owners – they know who they are – and without their support and them buying these greyhounds we wouldn’t be where we are. It’s a great honour to be Trainer of the Year, we’re immensely proud – and will try to do it again in 2021!”