16 October 2021
It was two years ago when the Norman family caught the greyhound bug on a night out at The Valley. Within weeks, they took on an overweight and under-performing bitch they renamed Alfie’s Gem and promptly turned her into the top greyhound at the track on a regimen of shopping trips to Tesco and a night trick-or-treating around Pontypridd. John and Rachel have gone on to become two of the most familiar figures at the track who, between them, seem to have helped out with every job going – from grading the track to serving the beers to standing in as bookie’s clerk.
On the track, their latest acquisition looked on the way to emulating Alfie’s Gem when Kung Fu Panda showed great early pace to win the supporting heat in mid-July and then dipped under 29.20 seconds a couple of weeks later. But she then starting becoming something of a trouble magnet, seemingly the victim of every bump and baulk going and, last Saturday, finished nearly sixteen lengths off the lead in a sprint. In poor form and only a few weeks out of season, Kung Fu Panda was understandably made the outsider in this week’s top heat. She didn’t come out spectacularly quickly but she immediately hit her straps and was a good two lengths clear at the turn and kept daylight between herself and her pursuers all the way to the line, breaking 29.00 seconds for the first time.
The supporting heat went to another greyhound with a bit of a backstory. Newhouse King arrived at the track as a very raw pup. He won a couple of lowly sprints but the first Covid lockdown did him no favours. He twice finished tailed-off last over four bends when racing restarted and, during the long lockdown earlier this year, was given away to Caroline Pitt – a move widely understood to be one step from retirement. But, renamed Sapphire King, he has been transformed – winning four out of six sprints in one spell and throwing in some eye-catching times to boot. He had another go at a rounder this evening and galloped miles clear, knocking ninety spots off anything he had managed before.
The resurrected tri-distance track championship began with a very competitive 100-yard dash and a surprise winner. Sweden (who normally races under the name Persuaded) squeezed ahead of kennelmate Norway (Persuasion) and Gloucestershire raider Storm Alert and, given that the dash is probably his weakest suit, he has put himself into a strong position going into the sprint and four-bend races between the same six greyhounds over the next two weeks. Sweden’s time was announced as 5.38 seconds, which would have been faster than Paw Patrol’s remarkable sectional in the 2019 Glamorgan Cup Final. Sweden is an accomplished sprinter with a D1 win on his card but a time like that would have set his paws on fire. A review of a video of the race reveals that his performance was actually twenty spots slower than the official hand timing.
As if to underline her position as the true monarch of momentum, Paw Patrol won a great early pace battle with Bob to take the evening’s top sprint.
The Valley set to become GBGB-licensed track
Dave Barclay, the owner and promoter of Harlow Greyhound Stadium in Essex, has publicly announced that he is set to buy The Valley with the intention of running Greyhound Board of Great Britain (GBGB) licensed racing at the track.
The Valley is currently an independent ‘flapping’ track licensed by the local authority where amateur trainers run their own greyhounds. GBGB licensed racing sees professional trainers running dogs for appearance and prize money that is ultimately funded by high street bookmakers and media rights companies.
“I fell in love with it the minute I drove in,” Dave Barclay told the Racing Post. “I told Malcolm Tams [The Valley’s owner] that I’d definitely buy it.
“We shook hands on a deal pretty quickly and we are quite a long way along the line with solicitors doing due diligence ready to exchange contracts.”
Two years ago, bookmakers Star Sports went public over their intention to buy The Valley. That deal ultimately foundered because Star Sports could not strike a deal with either of the main media rights companies, ARC or SIS, who pay greyhound tracks for the right to broadcast their races live, not only into high street betting shops, but online around the world.
Since then, four of the biggest greyhound stadiums that were affiliated to SIS have announced that they will transfer to ARC by 2024 and a fifth SIS-affiliated track, Central Park, will switch to ARC as early as 2023. This means that SIS, which has deals to provide live coverage of UK greyhound racing to many overseas markets, is facing a shortage of races that they will be able to broadcast. Dave Barclay believes that The Valley will be well-placed to plug the gap.
“This is a medium-term project and I’m probably looking at eighteen months before we are ready to race under rules. Eventually, I’d like to think we could race up to four times a week and I’d be looking to get those meetings on SIS.”
The project would require significant development of The Valley. “We need to build on-site kennels as there are none at the moment, the racing office will be repositioned and then there is the hare to think about. It’s an inside hare at the moment with traps in chutes and you have to wonder if people would stand for that.”
If The Valley switched to an outside hare, the whole track would need to be moved nearer to the River Rhymney in order to accommodate the hare rail and mechanism. It is likely that the track would also be extended northwards to give room for more rounded bends than The Valley’s current sharp corners.
It is believed that Dave Barclay has already been in discussions with Malcolm Tams about how any current amateur trainers at The Valley who would like to race at the track under GBGB rules in the future could be supported to do so.
Dave Barclay has developed a reputation as one of the most progressive and successful promoters in the sport.
A successful building contractor in partnership with his brother, Dean, Dave became a keen punter and greyhound owner at Harlow after the track opened in 1995. In 2005, he bought the track from the original owners, Leaside Leisure, and continued to invest in the site, which now includes a restaurant, function rooms and a social club famous for popular poker and darts tournaments.
Harlow took off as a greyhound venue when Walthamstow closed in 2008. A raft of leading trainers moved to the Roydon Road stadium, including Mark Wallis who won the 2009 Greyhound Derby with Kinda Ready while attached to Harlow.
Crowds grew and, within a few years, Harlow was hosting live televised meetings on Sky Sports. A deal with broadcaster SIS to beam pictures live to betting shops has enabled the expansion of racing to five times a week with the track featuring live on RPGTV twice weekly.
9 October 2021
With a number of the big guns taking a week off after the thrills of last Saturday, an already somewhat lightweight card looked a bit threadbare after some non-arrivals and a late withdrawal. But, small fields – where runners have plenty of room to manoeuvre – can often give greyhounds a chance to show their true ability. And it turned out to be a night for the fairer sex – especially the more mature ladies – with bitches winning five of the evening’s seven races.
The most mature of them all is Paw Patrol. Now the wrong side of five, she performed admirably in the semi-finals of the Derby, which – I had assumed – would be her swansong. But she reappeared in a sprint and sped clear in, unbelievably, her fastest 310-yard time time for more than two-and-a-half years.
At the age of four years and two months, Glyncoch Cloud Nine seems a mere stripling by comparison. She certainly looked as youthful as ever as she predictably picked up Sandstorm and galloped clear in the top heat.
But it was a younger girl who recorded the fastest four-bend time of the night. Kelly’s Eye is now well out of season and is beginning to reveal her true colours. A half-decent sprint performance last week was followed by her fastest ever sectional and far-and-away the best run of her Valley career so far in the supporting heat.
A couple of boys also had their day. Bob showed great early pace to sew up the top sprint at the first bend and Night Warrior took the prize in the open 100-yard dash – a race that had to be delayed for five minutes because of the long queue of punters still waiting to put their money on. (You can watch recordings of the evening’s top races by visiting the Videos section of this website).
2 October 2021 – Welsh Greyhound Derby Final 2021
What a race! Instead of a raucous cheer as they crossed the finishing line, there was a collective gasp as even spectators standing right on the line couldn’t pick which of four – yes, four – competitors had claimed Welsh greyhound racing’s greatest prize.
Some things seemed pretty clear as soon as the draw for the final of the 2021 Welsh Greyhound Derby was made. For a start, Persuaded’s chance had surely gone as soon as he drew the orange jacket, having never won out of Trap 5 in his 61-race career and, similarly, the reigning champion, Glyncoch Cloud Nine, was unlikely to be a factor as she had never won from Trap 4.
Sonny Liston had a great draw in the blue jacket but, with pace either side of him, he could easily end up being squeezed at the bend. It looked like it was set up for the sole wide runner – and evens favourite – Reach For The Moon (who usually runs under the name Road Warrior) as long as he started okay.
As the lids went up, it was Persuasion who was first to show, dragging Sonny Liston with him with Persuaded – having started as well as he ever has done at The Valley despite his unfavourable draw – on their heels. But what of the favourite? He had just produced his worst ever sectional at The Valley and had turned fifth.
Persuasion tried to cut across at the bend but Sonny Liston held firm and Persuasion bounced off him to the outside of the track forcing the unlucky Rose Brown to check. Their race was over and Reach For The Moon had been gifted third position on the track as they turned up the back. As for the slow-starting Glyncoch Cloud Nine, she had already been detached before the first bend and was now a seemingly insurmountable nine lengths off the lead.
Reach For The Moon was galloping on and passed Persuaded at the third but he swung so wide as they entered the home straight that he was almost taking the paint off the wall. Sonny Liston was still hanging on and, hugging the rail, Persuaded was back in the mix. Meanwhile, behind them, the incredible Glyncoch Cloud Nine was flying in from a different postcode. Suddenly, we were down to the last twenty yards with four greyhounds spread across the track in a line.
It took a video replay to separate them with Reach For The Moon taking the prize on a well-timed bob of the head with less than half-a- length covering the first four home.
It was breathless stuff. (You can watch a recording of the final by visiting the Videos section of this website).
The supporting rounder was almost as exciting as Dark Direction came within a short head of picking up Smoky Brown while Six Hundred (who usually runs under the name Highfield Tiger) underlined his credentials as the best new kid on the block as he came through Night Warrior to take the open sprint.
The fastest sprint time of the evening, however, went to Road Trip in the last. Unable to get anywhere near 18.00 seconds when racing returned after lockdown, he has been steadily improving and an absolutely rocket-powered start saw him bolt round in his fastest time for more than a year.