Sunday, July 29, 2007

Going to the Dogs...

We went to see the Greyhound racing last night. It was held at Kinsley Stadium, Kinsley being a small village between Wakefield and Doncaster, classed as being near Pontefract. It is a fairly small stadium, without Stands as such but holding 3000 spectators. There are two large buildings housing a Restaurant, Cafe, Bars and Tote windows. A large shed-like structure encloses the Bookies area and the outdoor tote office. There appears to be a lot of construction work in progress although it is too early to be able to work out what is coming.

The last time I went to the Dogs was in Slough back in the late 80's. It was actually Saturday 21st March 1987, as it was their closing night. I enjoyed the evening with good company, although the races seemed to be rather short! Karen used to go to Belle-Vue Dogs as a St. Johns Ambulance First Aider and she much preferred the Dogs to stock cars or speedway.

The event is promoted as a great day for a family outing, although as it revolves around eating, drinking, smoking and betting, this is slightly questionable- they don't even appear to have a Children's menu. Despite this, however, David had a great time, particularly as he befriended a number of Grannies, offering them Chips and being offered prawns in return.

Betting is the raison d'etre for most visitors. There are two approaches to this- Tote or Bookmakers. The Tote works on the basis of a lottery- all the money goes into a pot (after a cream-off, of course!) and is redistributed to the winners in proportion to the stakes and combinations. On this basis, the punter has no idea how much he will win until it is declared. This is known as Totaliser, or Parimutuel Gambling.

The Bookmaker, however, gives fixed odds at the time of the bet so the punter knows how much they might win if their dog comes in. It is fascinating to watch the bookies in action and how much they collaborate. The systems may be manual or high-tech but it is simple enough- you pay them, call your dog and get a ticket, with the odds being transcribed into the book.

Odds never got above 3:1 last night for the first six races and went down to 5:3, the other common variants being 2:1 and 5:2. The bookies didn't put up the odds until a few minutes before the race so a small crowd of expectant punters (including me) hung around to find the best odds. Three of the Bookies had a minimum bet of £5 so I stuck to the Tote when I couldn't read the form too well.

Each race follows a time honoured ritual. The six dogs are brought out acros the oval sand filled track with individual handlers and are paraded whilst announced. The starting numbers are pre-ordained and the colours worn to reflect which trap they will go in. The dogs are then led down the course to the starting traps, mostly muzzled (and some stopping on the way for a call of nature). The course has two sets of starting traps, a regular (465m) race being a straight and a lap. The main trap box is to the left of the stand, the finishing line to the right. (For the longer 655m races, the second set of traps are used on the rar right of the oval). The dogs are loaded into the traps, the course official checks them then raises a signal paddle at which point a claxon sounds to acknowledge it and the dogs are under starters orders.

The electic hare starts up from the mid point of the left hand bend and scoots past the traps as the doors fly open and the dogs give chase.

The dogs whizz past in a blur and again down the home straight. Less than thirty seconds after the off, the winner crosses the line and it is all over. The dogs peter out on the opposite side of the course, the electric hare is covered (an Outside Swaffham McGee, apparently) and the lucky punters go to collect their winnings whilst the losers tear up their slips. Then it all repeats again fifteen minutes later for another twelve or so races, three times a week.

Greyhound Racing
has a devoted following and it is much cheaper to own a Greyhound than a Racehorse. However, the prizes for the owners are sub- £100 here so it is perhaps the Sport of Plumbers rather than the Sport of Kings. As animals are involved, there is inevitable contoversy about the well-being of the animals, although Kinsley stresses that it complies with all NGRC requirements and actively supports adoption of retired dogs.

Here is a race in full. It doesn't take long! How did I do? Won two, lost four, made slightly more than the admission price but not enough to pay for David's Sausage Roll & Chips.

The Dogs is unostentatiously working class, as is bingo. Some people get dressed up for a night out but many don't and nobody cares. The place has the feel of a working mens club and is a bit shabby but I prefer the honest feel of the place to the fake chic of a Casino. I enjoy the odd flutter and don't have any hangups about gambling- it is a mugs game, although some people seem to do better than others (& I'm not one of them, other than winning minor prizes in raffles). (Previous racing post here, (including a rude word!) and a bingo post here.) What generally puts me off is boredom- betting and playing bingo gets a bit tedious after a while.

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