Billy Boyle is head of the Bruiser Boyz syndicate, which currently owns twelve racing greyhounds, fifteen saplings and two brood bitches. They work with five trainers and three breeders across this total. In this blog, Billy reflects on the impact of the current pause on racing, the cheer he has found from the greyhound community and the crucial role owners play within the sport.

“Whilst the initial focus has been on trainers and kennel staff during lockdown because of the immediate needs of our greyhounds, let’s not forget about the essential role of owners within our sport. We’re welfare custodians for our greyhounds and at Bruiser Boyz we take huge responsibility for ensuring all our racing dogs, pups and brood bitches receive the highest levels of care. At the moment, this is having to be done at a distance because of the restrictions in place and, honestly, it’s a challenging and worrying time for us too.

During the lockdown we have obviously not been able to watch our dogs race or attend our regular kennel visits, so our syndicate is now reliant on technology to check that our dogs are doing well. We’re very lucky to have such amazing trainers that keep us updated daily with videos and photos of our pride and joys showing us just how well looked after and happy they are. Emily Wallis and other kennel staff at Imperial Kennels play a key role in updating owners and flooding them with photos, which also make their way onto Facebook and Twitter for all to enjoy. These really make my day and updates like these during lockdown really help keep owners engaged and involved in the daily care their dogs are receiving.

The kennels have also been posting archive videos of some of their greatest triumphs on the track – allowing us to reminisce on those great days of the past – and I have seen many other trainers doing the same. There are also great pictures of their ex-racers enjoying life with their owners self-isolating. Mark Wallis has been messaging me daily to check that me and my family are safe and all okay which is so important in these lonely and troubled times. I have also received some wonderful videos from Belinda Green of my greyhounds happy and carefree, with regular videos from Ireland of our beautiful pups, eight-month-old Laughil Blake X Droopys Achieve and our nine-week-old Dorotas Wildcat X Droopys Achieve, which never fail to make you smile and start us dreaming of that Derby all over again.

At times like these it’s so important we all keep in touch. I have regular conversations with my fellow owners and update them on the progress and wellbeing of our greyhounds. I also regularly call my trainers to ensure they are fine and coping okay and seeing if there’s anything we can help with. We really are one big family and we all have one thing in common, we love greyhounds as a breed and our sport, and we try to look out for each other. I frequently log into Twitter and Facebook and enjoy engaging with other greyhound folk, there’s always a greyhound Quiz in which a large number of owners and trainers take part. There are also several videos and features of our past greats such as Scurlogue Champ and Ballyregan Bob, dogs that helped make our sport, these are usually accompanied by some wonderful past stories or memorabilia.

I have had many owners and some breeders contact me with questions and concerns throughout this period and, as a Greyhound Ambassador, I am always happy and willing to speak to them. As things develop, more communication with owners is going to be vital because it will take the cooperation of the whole greyhound community to weather this storm. I truly believe the importance of owners is often underestimated within our industry, but they have some great views on the direction our sport should be taking. While we have the time to be reflective right now, I believe it’s pivotal that we find out what attracts owners to the sport and use this as the focus to encourage many more. Responsible ownership is the backbone of our sport and it needs to be nurtured. I was part of a positive debate on Twitter last week involving several greyhound enthusiasts and it brought home just how many great people we have within our sport that genuinely care – during times like this it just shows that we are not in this for any financial gain.

Looking ahead towards our sport’s future, another important issue which affects us all is the amount of funding coming into greyhound racing. Owners and trainers contribute significantly to our sport and, in my opinion, it seems only fair that bookmakers fairly share the responsibility for the welfare of our athletes. Whilst we have a voluntary levy which is currently 0.6% of greyhound betting turnover, with most bookmakers signed up for shop and online business with a separate agreement for exchanges, it’s clearly not enough. With shop closures and the pause on greyhound racing the BGRF will see a much-reduced fund. GBGB has been working tirelessly over the years with MPs to try to improve the situation but in the interim we really do need better contributions to uphold our high welfare standards and even to help increase prize money so that more can be invested by owners and trainers towards the care of our dogs. I trust that we have the right people negotiating on our greyhounds’ behalf.

In other news, I’m excited and encouraged to see the progress made at Towcester Racecourse. The amendments made to the track were much needed and now looks as though we really do have a super track to match our super facilities. I had my finest experience as an owner at Towcester where our Bruisers Bullet won the Derby consolation and returned the following year to make the final proper, in which he was joined by another owned by us – Bombers Bullet. What an experience and one I would love to enjoy once again. I wish Kevin Boothby and all at Towcester the best of luck.

I really can’t wait until we race again and it’s refreshing to see all the planning made for the restart, ensuring we can race safely once everything settles down. One day soon we will hopefully be celebrating new and exciting open and graded competitions, strong mechanisms for ensuring that every voice is heard and above all new sponsorship and wider promotion of our sport. That’s certainly my dream!”

Dreaming of the Derby – unraced pup Blakeys Bullet