Greyhounds action. (Pic: Ciarán Culligan)
The greyhounds went to traps at Kilkenny track around quarter past nine on Wednesday morning last, getting what some of the dailies there to record the event said was Ireland’s first-ever morning meeting underway. Not so.
While it didn’t start as early, a meeting at the old Dundalk track back in 1994 was staged on a Saturday morning and featured the final of what was at the time the venue’s top sprint competition.
I’m not sure if it carried the Ballygall title, but the 320 competition, which annually attracted a full 72 entry, was second in importance only to the Irish National Sprint, the Classic which was run for years at Belfast’s now-closed Dunmore Park.
The reason for the early start was to avoid a clash with Irish Derby final going ahead that night at Shelbourne Park. Slippy Mint, a leading fancy, won The Ramparts final for Gilford owner/trainer, Frances Smyth. And, just for the record, Joyful Tidings won at headquarters.
The first of many ‘firsts’ for Dundalk Stadium? Maybe, and maybe not. I’m almost certain morning meetings were held at some of the country’s tracks during the big nationwide electricity strike, back in the 1970s. The amount of power available to them would just about have allowed for the traps to open and the ‘hare’ sent on its course.
The for-sure ‘firsts’ already in the Dowdallshill locker are well known. Nowhere else in this country is there a dual-purpose venue, one catering for greyhound as well as horse racing; and racing on an all-weather surface was unknown this side of the Irish Sea until Sunday, August 26, eleven years ago. When the new indoor betting hall is opened shortly at the track, bookmakers, as well as punters, will be experiencing something entirely new.
Reports say that the Kilkenny meeting went off with five bookmakers in attendance. All of them were seen in a newspaper photo standing in an orderly line with no-one around them, in some cases, not even a clerk.
The layers’ ledgers were hardly filled to capacity - just 10 bets are said to have been struck in the entire meeting. From that you can take it this new venture – designed to satisfy the appetites of punting-mad Asians, Aussies and Brits who can’t get a second sleep - almost certainly involved the men on the soapboxes being paid appearance money. Better that than being asked for an even ‘monkey’, I suppose.
Kilkenny runners are due out again tomorrow morning, this time an hour earlier. Then in the new year, Waterford will also open its gates as the sun creeps over the Booley Hills.
It’s not the greyhound game that we once knew. But it’s not the only difference from the sport’s halcyon days. Dunmore, Celtic Park, Clones, Harold’s Cross, Dungannon and Tralee tracks have closed down, the four dog is wearing a black rather than a striped jacket, and U18s, who can be married, play senior football, have a National Insurance number, drive a moped and have a beer with a meal if accompanied by an over-18, are not allowed to place a bet on the Tote.