Jonathan Hobbs is back with his latest column

Jonathan Hobbs on greyhound racing situation plus news from Towcester

Victor Kiam was the man who bought the company, but he was also the man who said: “Even if you fall on your face, you’re still moving forward.” He had a point.

In these Covid times, nothing is straightforward for any industry. You can either stick or twist - and thankfully greyhound racing has opted to do the latter. It continues to look forward and is absolutely making the best of a rotten deal for so many people and a desperately sad time for others.

For instance, the Greyhound Derby could easily have been shelved and tucked away in the drawer as so many major sporting events were in 2020. But Nottingham brilliantly stepped in and, given the GBGB had already acted swiftly in implementing strict biosecurity guidelines at its tracks to allow racing to continue, we had a great classic.

So to the GBGB Awards. Again, an easy decision would have been to sidestep the issue - to release a cursory list of names and be done with it. In light of world events, could anyone have blamed the Board? Like any business or ruling body, they have had to deal with their own staff being struck down, thankfully only temporarily, by Covid-19.

But efforts have been made to look forward, to plan for a virtual awards ceremony on February 14 and this week the nominations for the various categories were announced and a countdown begun. Check out the names of the stars of the tracks in 2020 to have made the shortlist here.

As chairman of the Greyhound Writers’ Association, I hope I speak on behalf of members in saying it was an honour to be involved in the GBGB Awards voting process once again - and we have a fantastic list of canine talent up for the major titles, many of whom with serious claims to be Greyhound of the Year. It’s a tough call this year!

Before then, Towcester breaks new ground on Saturday in a move Victor Kiam would have been proud of, as Towcester TV is relaunched for the Blue Riband heats.

The track’s in-house service will be the only way to watch this latest GBGB Category One event unfold, with a pay-per-view streaming service launched at a cost of £5 for the top-class 10-race card. For details click here to visit and enjoy what should be a brilliant night for greyhounds fans, particularly of the open-race variety.

That’s because on Saturday, Crayford also stages a brilliant all-open programme on RPGTV, which includes the first trial stakes for the Ladbrokes Golden Jacket. This begins the countdown to one of the staples of greyhound racing’s big-race season - the original betting shop showpiece, which starts on February 6.

A few days earlier RPGTV’s new seven-day-a-week schedule is launched - from February 1. It has already been announced, but expect a few more changes between now and then.

Its recent five-year deal with SIS is also massively helping the sport look forward and the management there - led by executive producer Clive Lawrence - no doubt have more surprises up their sleeve!

Of course, time will tell whether competitions like the All England Cup at Newcastle and Yarmouth Derby will feature on RPGTV later this year. Neither track is on the new service but RPGTV has made no secret of its intention and desire to stage the very best racing it can which, in turn, sustains the betting shop turnover vital to the sport itself. The channel wants to offer the perfect mix of open and graded racing, supporting both codes of the sport.

As yet, there is no word from Sky Sports Racing on whether the trial of broadcasting live Thursday night cards from Swindon will be revived in 2021, but any move towards that will raise the prospect of another greyhound-only channel being launched given the Swindon experiment saw races shoehorned between US horse racing action.

It was still good, but not ideal, and talk within Arc Towers is how best to offer the whole package - while also supporting the tracks on its roster. Those tracks will still stage meetings for the TRP service - online rather than retail just now in lockdown - but that might not necessarily mean regular opens and competitions.

And that would be a real concern.

Yes, Nottingham, Perry Barr, Swindon and Newcastle are running open races in the early part of this year - and some major competitions have already been confirmed for 2021, which is great. However, all this came before RPGTV’s February 1 announcement which has certainly changed the landscape - because the tracks themselves have changed.

Owners and trainers - not least potential sponsors of major events - will keenly await further announcements from Arc. Let’s hope they are positive - and a game-changer. Another one.

Sponsorship secret soon to be revealed

Still on the subject of looking forward, confirmation of a huge sponsorship deal is in the pipeline.

Details of the track (or tracks) involved remain a guarded secret but the groundwork has been done and timing is now of the essence. A lot of the detail is wrapped up in the easing of lockdown restrictions - and that is also very much an unknown.

But what it shows, again, is the strides being made.

The Price is right

A huge stride for the sport was the announcement that world darts champion Gerwyn Price has become a GBGB Ambassador.

This was a fantastic approach made by the sport for a keen dog man - Gerwyn often emails into RPGTV - who has quickly risen to the top of his sport having made the switch from rugby.

Catch all the details here.

Friday night focus

Racing-wise, Romford is a must-watch on Friday given the final of the Coral Essex Vase - and what a final it is!

It features a host of Category One champions, including 2019 Essex Vase champion Droopys Aoife, and track-record holder Sparta Master. Crowd favourite Desperado Dan, himself a Coronation Cup, Champion Stakes and Gold Collar winner, is also in there, as is last year’s Coronation Cup hero Antigua Rum.

And in a snapshot of last year’s Trainer of the Year battle, champion Patrick Janssens has two runners (Desperado Dan and Seaglass Tiger) as does Mark Wallis (Antigua Rum and Antigua Romeo). They do battle with Ernie Gaskin (Droopys Aoife) and Sharon Thompson (Sparta Master) in a tremendous encounter.

It kick-starts the Category One season - and fittingly sees a top-class field line-up chasing the £10,000 first prize.

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