Monday 24 June 2019

Breakfast rolls aplenty but punters in short supply at early-morning dog racing

On track: Bookies at St James’s Park. Photo: Pat Moore
On track: Bookies at St James’s Park. Photo: Pat Moore
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

Chilling early-morning fog curls low on the ground and an appetising aroma of rashers and sausages hangs even more heavily in the air.

The handful of people in attendance slouch easily together, chatting in low, peaceful mumbles.

Then there's the scrabble of frantic little paws on sand and a shout breaks the spell.

"Go on number four, ya little hoor, ya."

It's not even 9.30am and we've all gone to the dogs - bad puns regardless.

In a radical departure for the sport, the first early-morning race meeting is underway at St James's Park in Kilkenny, continuing every Wednesday for the foreseeable future, with a similar early-morning event in Waterford.

Racing at Kilkenny Racetrack. Photo: Pat Moore
Racing at Kilkenny Racetrack. Photo: Pat Moore

Entry is free, programmes are free, there are even free breakfast rolls and teas and coffees laid on. But there is something missing.

Flesh-and-blood punters. Hardly anyone strolls in at this hour of the day.

But while on the surface it may appear like a flop, it is no such thing. This is a slick and thoroughly 21st-century operation - a physical manifestation designed purely for invisible eyes, watching events play out on streaming services across the globe, with people watching in China, Sri Lanka, Australia and beyond.

"There are already 9,600 betting shops open in the UK right now even at his time of the day," says Gordon Bassett, greyhound operations manager with Sports Information Services (SIS), which delivers live racing to outlets in the UK, Ireland and across the world.

Nicola Anderson with trainer Gerry Dunne. Photo: Pat Moore
Nicola Anderson with trainer Gerry Dunne. Photo: Pat Moore

Ger Dollard, CEO of the Irish Greyhound Board, thinks they should break even by the first six months of the early-morning operations. "One of the advantages for owners is that every dog gets something for taking part," he explains.

The first winner of the day is Pops Miracle, bright-eyed and panting after her sprint.

Owner Gerry Dunne, from Three Castles in Co Kilkenny, is delighted. The early-morning starts suit him "down to the ground", he says.

"And even if you come last it's the price of a bag of nuts at the end of the day," he says.

Happy to see this standard of racing come to this course is well-known greyhound trainer Paul Hennessy from Gowran, Co Kilkenny.

"I've raced all over the world but this is where it all started. I've been coming here as soon as I could walk," he says.

Anne Gilfoyle and Eileen Kelly from Bagenalstown have come to see the races for themselves. "We lost on the last two races," admits Eileen.

Bookie Michael Fitzgibbon says: "It's a sad story behind it, really. On-course betting is in decline. Everyone is on their phones these days. It's a sad addiction. It's changing times in Ireland."

Irish Independent

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