Festive season set to be a record breaker
The Christmas market is the most crucial period of the year for greyhound racing, particularly at large developed stadia like Shelbourne Park, Harold's Cross, Curraheen Park, Limerick, Galway, etc.
Take Shelbourne, where we had 9,000 booked in for our Christmas Specials last year – that one month would be worth three or four other months put together to us.
It is a hectic period, with four nights' racing per week, but it is getting a great start this year, with the Night of Stars meeting giving our Christmas period a really high profile start; that is followed by the Comerford Cakes National Puppy Stake and the Gain Shelbourne Oaks.
Despite the general feeling that people don't have money for these things, we are finding ourselves on course for a record Christmas. Our bookings are well on par with last year and, by the time it is finished, I reckon we'll be well ahead.
What I am finding is that there is no major problem attracting the occasional visitors, but the difficulty is with the normal greyhound folk on the ground floor. Take last Thursday, when we had seven suites booked and the restaurant was busy. but downstairs was quiet.
It proves that we have an excellent product, but the problem is with the owners and breeders and the number of dogs. Somehow we have to get the greyhound people back into the game.
The main problem is the number of greyhounds being bred. It is sad to think of all the people who have left the game or cut back drastically on their breeding figures. We have found in the past five or six weeks that entries for races have bounced back nicely, but there must be a knock-on effect from next year due to the reduction in figures.
With my father's involvement, I was going racing at Dunmore and Celtic Park for years. I worked initially with Customs & Excise before I was approached to join Ballyskeagh Track, and I spent three and a half years there.
I joined Mullingar in 2000 when Bord na gCon took over a controlling share in the track and was eight years there. That was very enjoyable – we had a great team and we punched well above our weight.
I then moved to Harold's Cross when Pat O'Donovan retired and spent two years there before moving to Shelbourne when Paddy Ryan stepped down. Shelbourne is the busiest track in the country and I'm happy enough with the way things are in the current climate.
We have a very vibrant product and, while the real priority must be to encourage more breeding, it would be nice to see the two-or-three-times-a-year racegoers become five-or-six-times-a-year visitors, and for the old greyhound folk to come back into the game.
What was really pleasing was to see two 25-year-old trainers getting dogs through to the ETS Irish Derby final this year – Robert Gleeson trained the winner. It's more young people we want to see coming in, whether as trainers, owners or racegoers.
* Patrick Flynn is the sales & operations manager at Ireland's leading Greyhound Stadium, Shelbourne Park.