Review of 2020
Where do we start on our Review of last year? January, February and some of March were mostly really good both on and off the track. We started with Antigua Rum winning a high quality Coronation Cup at Romford with a generous £5,000 added to the purse by Ladbrokes/Corals supremo Ian Smyth. We nearly won the Winter Derby and had three finalists in the Golden Jacket. I became a grandfather for the first time as my son Daniel and his partner Megan had a beautiful baby girl called Willow. Our business was looking reasonably healthy and we were looking forward to a grand reopening of Towcester under Henlow boss Kevin Boothby, a massive greyhound man through and through then suddenly the world came crashing down as the Covid 19 pandemic hit us like a tsunami. Something I never thought would happen in my lifetime happened, all sport was cancelled and the country went into lockdown as hospitals couldn’t cope with the rising cases of infections and deaths, suddenly life wasn’t the same again.
We did the best we could in the next couple of months as the government bungled its way through what we should all do and not do. We were lucky that we could still work everyday and all the dogs in the kennel were thoroughly looked after and kept happy. We refurbed the kennels in the time off and constantly used social media to keep the owners happy. Who can forget the brilliant ‘Many Faces’ video that my daughter Emily made that drew huge applause from the industry. Of course no one could imagine the stress it caused me, trying to keep a business going, keeping my family and staff safe and praying that it would all be over as soon as possible. Our owners were magnificent in their support to our kennel which made a real difference and we did get some much needed financial help both from the GBGB and promoter Kevin Boothby which was crucial.
The GBGB did a brilliant job and greyhound racing was the first sport to return in June with the graded dogs back first. This itself caused a lot of resentment from the owners with open race dogs and the promise from the Irish that their top class action would start sooner meant we saw stars like Bumblebee Bullet, Aayamza Royale and Aayamza Express left the kennel to go across the water. In truth they only had races over there a couple of weeks before our own open race action began and in that time us and the Bruiser Boys Syndicate were devastated to see Bumblebee Bullet get injured in a trial at Shelbourne and a few days later she passed away under anaesthetic at the vets.
We still had high hopes of a great second half of the year once racing returned but we were hit by a slight lack of form and worse still as injuries to stars like Antigua Romeo, Antigua Rum, Coolavanny Messi, Antigua Fire, Chubbys Turkana, Passing Stranger, Schooldays to name but a few hit us hard.
Even though the sport had to race under strict guidelines we managed to get our team out to most places and the reopening of Towcester was great news though the loss of Peterborough, Poole and Belle Vue was a bitter pill to swallow for the sport.
We had to wait until September to keep our record going of over 20 years of always winning at least one Category One title and Aayamza Royale did that in an incredible race at Romford when winning the Coral Cesarewitch over 925m in a last ditch effort to beat the unlucky Micks Little Gem.
We had way too many dogs eliminated at the semi final stages of competitions which really impacted the Trainer of the Year title and we had to admit defeat for the first time in 9 years. Patrick Janssens, my former assistant trainer and good friend, and his team had a magnificent year winning seven Category One races and fully deserves to take the trophy away from us and we congratulate him on that achievement.
We did at least finish the year in style as the most exciting marathon runner we have ever had in our kennel Aayamza Royale brilliantly landed the TV Trophy at Hove and her races against the awesome Roxholme Kristoff will be many people's races of the year. It was the second year running that we have won this trophy and both her Category One victories will live long in the memory as will Antigua Rum's stunning Coronation Cup triumph at the start of the year. In a year where we lost our trainers title we can take comfort in the fact we have a strong contender for Greyhound of the Year.
As usual that just leaves me to say a Happy and Safe New Year and thank all our owners for their support in such difficult times. A massive thank you to my family that make our kennel so special Sarah, Daniel, Emily and Linda and of course our loyal staff Sid, Kevin, Justine, Kat, Becky, Ronnie and Ron Mills for all his hard work throughout the year.
After another successful 2019 where we had a great last few months culminating in a 11th Trainer of the Year title we set on the road to try and win some more big competitions and chase a 9th successive trainers title. It wasn’t going to be easy we knew that but the year kicked off in fine style with plenty of open race winners. For the record our Markwallisgreyhounds Racing Club bitch Deans Hail Mary was our first open race winner of 2020 and Ping Be Slick our first graded winner of the year at Henlow.
As usual the Coronation Cup at Romford kicked the year into action and it looked a high class entry, maybe the best ever in terms of quality. We qualified four through to the semi finals but only the improving Antigua Rum made the final. On the road we picked winners up at Hove and Monmore with Antigua Romeo in great form clocking a flying 27.96 at Monmore.
Rarely have I seen such generosity in our sport but Ian Smyth from Ladbrokes/Corals reacted positively to the fact that the Coronation Cup final was one of the best quality 575m finals to have ever graced the track and added a fantastic £5,000 to the winner's purse meaning it was now to category one standing with £10,000 purse to the winner. The race lived up to the billing and all the runners except the slow starting Antigua Rum seemed to have a chance off the second bend but a brilliant turn of pace with an extraordinary touch of track craft from Amanda and Nic Jeal's star propelled him to the front as they rounded the last two bends and he stretched out to a memorable victory by 1 3/4 lengths in a fine 35.07.
The winners continued to flow for the rest of the month and we enjoyed an excellent night at the newly refurbished Royal Lancaster hotel in London for the GBGB annual awards. TV Trophy winner Bumblebee Bullet just missed out on the Marathon of the Year title and I’m still scratching my head on how the brilliant but recently retired Aayamza Breeze was not nominated in either the Stayers or Marathon category, still she was magnificent and helped enormously for our team to pick up the Trainer of the Year award for an incredible 11th time. Jimmy Fenwick’s Ice On Fire deservedly won the Greyhound of the Year honours.
A great night at Romford at the end of the month saw my mother in law Linda Jones enhance her legendary status as she was inducted into the Romford Hall of Fame, another fantastic idea from Ian Smyth and we capped the month of with Antigua Fire winning a hot Golden Jacket trial stakes at Crayford.
This month was all about the racing and we had little or no idea what was to follow in the world in a month's time! Antigua Romeo marched into the Category One Winter Derby Final after winning his semi final in battling style while one of the highest quality Ladbrokes Golden Jacket fields had the open race fans drooling. We had high expectations with our team with 2019 runner up and Kent St Leger winner Antigua Fire heading most ante post markets while Coronation Cup winner Antigua Rum had won well in a trial stake and gave us a strong back up team with Champion Stakes winner Aayamza Express as well as Avastorm. A treble in the heats Antigua Fire (44.95), Antigua Rum (45.26) and Avastorm (45.31) was a great start to the event and Antigua Fire strode into the final taking his semi final in 45.02. Antigua Rum was unluckily eliminated in his semi final but both Aayamza Express and Avastorm ran brilliantly to give us an incredible three runners in the £17,500 to winner final. Patrick Janssen’s highly regarded Skilful Sandie looked a major threat when winning her semi final.
A huge Saturday for the kennel approached with the Golden Jacket final at Crayford in the daytime and the Winter Derby Final at Hove in the evening as well as runners at Sheffield and Henlow. Our kennel seemed in good form with Towstar Billy unexpectedly winning the Friday Night 500m Standard at Romford the night before and a stunning debut over 6 bends from Aayamza Royale who came from last to first in a superb 34.99 gave us reason to be confident. As always in this sport you need that crucial bit of luck and in a packed Crayford where the Golden Jacket again was run on the traditional morning card our luck slightly deserted us.
Skilful Sandie produced a great break but it looked like Antigua Fire was going to turn right behind her but crucially Aayamza Express just hindered him off the second bend allowing Patrick Janssens bitch to skip clear. It was a lead she wasn’t going to relinquish and though Antigua Fire managed to grab second place off Aayamza Express he couldn’t get to Skilful Sandie who won by just under 2 lengths in a tremendous 44.87 with our other two Aayamza Express and Avastorm 3rd and 4th respectively. It was a great effort and Glassmoss Sis landed some nice touches in a supporting marathon.
The weather turned nasty and we did well to get our runners to both Hove and Sheffield in the evening and three supporting winners on the Hove card had our hopes up that we could land the high class Winter Derby Final. A flying break from Heather Dimmock’s Volcanic Reef had Antigua Romeo under pressure but a sterling effort saw him challenge at the third bend but his exertions took its toll and he couldn’t catch the leader and was just denied second place in a tight finish, a cracking effort! Our team at Sheffield was in great form and we landed four winners from six runners and no doubt tongues were wagging as again Aayamza Royale came from well off the pace to land a 660m open.
March 2020 will go down in our kennel history for mostly the wrong reasons. On the track things were going really well so let’s start with that. The Category One Coral Golden Sprint kicked off at Romford and admittedly we weren’t as strongly represented as previous years but the emerging talent of Tiffield Blueboy won his heat and a week later qualified for the final. Saffrons Xpress also qualified for the new £3,000 British Bred Maiden Puppy final when just touched off in his heat and on debut. Antigua Breeze had no answers to the Greyhound of the Year Ice On Fire when down the field in the Racing Post Juvenile at Sheffield but Antigua Romeo showed what great form he was in with a scintillating 28.64 win when warming up for the Steel City Cup.
The Coral Regency at Brighton was just on the horizon and we had a very strong team that was in fine form, Antigua Fire, Aayamza Royale and Bumblebee Bullet back from seasonal rest were in great form and we looked to have a great chance of defending our title
News about COVID 19 was worrying but no one yet had any ideas of the implications that were about to happen. The Golden Sprint Final night at Romford had an early feel to it with a less than packed crowd and Tiffield Blueboy ran an absolute stormer but for the second big competition running we had to play to second fiddle to Patrick Janssens winner Goldies Hoddle who won well in 23.86.
Antigua Romeo was again impressive winning his heat of the Steel City Cup at Sheffield and was made favourite to win the Category One event but unluckily had to be withdrawn when he picked up a toe injury at home in the paddocks.
After the weekend of the 15th it was announced that because of continued worries about the Covid 19 bug that was sweeping the world racing would continue behind closed doors but the inevitable was bound to happen. We raced at Romford on the Friday night and Yukan Bridge won the Friday Night 500 Maiden Stayers Final in 35.86 amongst a couple of other winners but it was announced by the government that night that all sports would stop as the country went into a full lockdown with the death rate from Covid cases rising dramatically. The early predictions that this would just be a short term measure were to be proved incredibly wrong and Romford turned out to be our last open race meeting for quite some time.
If you go on to the archive newsletters my blog on the 30th March sums up my feelings and thoughts to the point in no uncertain fashion.
Again my blogs during these two months on our archive pages are still very good reads. It seemed like we were off longer than it was but we returned to the track at the end of May with trials in preparation for the return of graded racing at the start of June.
It was a very different world when greyhound racing, along with most sports, restarted. Guidelines meant racing was behind closed doors, strict guidelines with face masks and social distancing in place was now the norm. The first meetings were 8 race cards with half hour gaps between races but we must applaud Mark Bird and the GBGB for their hard work meaning we were the first sport to start the action, indeed one of the first races to get underway was at Henlow and we duly won it with Bobs Duke, welcome back!
Most of our open race team had to wait a month longer to get going again as it was vital to get the graded action going first as safely as possible. This didn’t sit well with some open race owners and the promise that Ireland was going to start top class action first understandably saw many owners in the sport send their best dogs over the water. We ourselves had to see the likes of Bumblebee Bullet and Aayamza Royale leave the kennel.
Sadly the pandemic was too much for the likes of Peterborough, Poole, and not too many weeks after Belle Vue, as they closed and as yet never to be seen again. The ray of light in the industry came as Kevin Boothby continued his plans for Towcester and at the end of the month the track reopened successfully with an 8 race card. The extensive work done on reshaping the bends making the straights longer seemed to have worked really well. We now had dual attachment and provided runners at both Towcester and Henlow and Towcester also gave us the chance to give some of our open race team much needed trials.
We had our downside as well in a really hot summer which always escalated injuries and we saw the likes of Chubbys Turkana retire with a broken hock. Coronation Cup winner Antigua Rum injured a wrist and our superstar of the first three months of the year Antigua Romeo picked up another injury forcing him out for a couple of months.
The prolific Coolavanny Messi also picked up a nasty injury at the pick up when winning a top grade sprint.
The sport sadly lost one of the legendary greyhound journalists as Bob Betts passed away, I loved speaking to Bob over the years, his passion for the sport
A month where I felt we really struggled for form as open racing resumed but disappointingly was behind closed doors which really frustrated owners. Injuries dominated our kennel and we were all left deflated as our TV Trophy winner Bumblebee Bullet not only got injured in Ireland but a few days later passed away under anaesthetic at the vets, a major loss for all connections. Coronation Cup winner Antigua Rum also went on the easy list as he fractured at wrist after running well in the heats of a 575m competition at Romford.
As the month gathered pace it was good to see Antigua Fire in great form as he won both his heat and semi final of the rescheduled Regency at Hove, a competition we looked very strong in before Lockdown. An emerging talent in Schooldays narrowly missed qualifying for the final.
News that Swaffham was beginning to make a comeback under Eddie Leslie was good as it was a fantastic greyhound track in its heyday but it may be a long way off in the current climate.
Antigua Fire favourite for the Category One Coral Regency final managed to get everything wrong when only 4th and is was a poor night overall with the promising Schooldays also injured (gracilis). It looked the turning point in the Trainer of the Year standings as Patrick Janssens taking over at the top with Bockos Doomie’s victory in the Sussex Cup.
It was a red hot August with temperatures getting above 35 degrees on many occasions and plenty of meetings cancelled.
Aayamza Royale returned to the kennel and went into action straight away but was eliminated from the Summer Stayers semi finals at Monmore with the 630m trip proving too sharp.
We had quite a few new arrivals come to the kennel to boost our overall strength though many would be more for 2021.
The Covid situation was still not getting better and only limited numbers were allowed into the tracks.
At last a decent month to get excited about as Romford sparked into life with a plethora of big competitions, although our teams weren’t as strong as previous years Tiffield Maximus made the Champion Stakes final and Our Lucky Lee progressed into the Puppy Derby final.
Though both well beaten it was a good effort to make the finals and on the finals night we saw Aayamza Royale quaandify for the Cesarewitch final and Jesses Sister for the Guys & Dolls finals.
Our Derby preparations began all month with new intakes Hopes Bullet, Antigua Boy, Hopes Doggy and Sober Express all trialling well at Nottingham though again an injury to our prolific winning star Antigua Fire in a trial at Nottingham was a blow to our team, he looked likely to be out of action for two months.
The Cesarewitch final at Romford over the stamina sapping 925m was an absolute cracking final and Aayamza Royale looked like she had left way too much to do when only 5th with less than 300m to go but her overdrive kicked in and she swept past the field catching long time leader Micks Little Gem right on the line to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and land the £10,000 to the winner prize. Amazingly it was our first Category One success of a troubled year. Aayamza Royale drew many admirers with her style of running. Jesses Sister was unfortunately knocked over in the Guys and Dolls final.
Towcester’s first venture into open racing was a successful one as we had six winners on the day including Aayamza Lexie (Maiden Final) and Agincourt Xena (Standard Final).
Over at Henlow both Antigua Jet and Hardy Rebel won their heats of the Maiden Derby.
Despite the Covid Nottingham had a brilliant entry for the Greyhound Derby with a very strong Irish challenge. We had five entries but in terrible wet weather that plagued the first round only Antigua Boy and Sober Express qualified.
Over at Crayford we started well in the Gold Collar as Aayamza Lexie stepped up in trip to win her heat. Glassmoss Sis won her heat in the Kent St Leger and Avastorm ran well to qualify for the semis though the meeting was marred by the injury to Skilful Sandie while we also had another good open race dog out of action as Passing Stranger also broke his hock.
Antigua Boy ran well to make the Quarter Finals of the Derby but that’s where the dream ended and our overall form was beginning to desert us again as we had no luck in the Kent St Leger and Gold Collar semi finals with no qualifiers. Antigua Bruiser was only 3rd in the Brinkleys Poet at Stud final at Central Park.
It was a month of missed opportunities as we tried to close the gap on Patrick in the Trainer of the Year standings and on Derby final night at Nottingham Antigua Bruiser looked a sure fire winner in the RPGTV Puppy Final but had to be withdrawn with an Achilles’ tendon injury.
Aayamza Royale’s path was blocked several times as she just failed to get up in the Dorando Marathon and we had a couple of good seconds on the supporting card but thankfully we came away with a lovely winner as Agincourt Xena blasted out the traps to land the Category Two blasted out the traps to land the Category 2 Westmead Legacy in Memory of Natalie Savva British Bred Final recommended by our website at a juicy 16/1 ante post. It was a great card overall and congratulations to Pat Buckley winning the Derby Final with Deerjet Sydney.
My favourite commentator Steve Woodward the voice of Romford called his last commentary as he moved to pastures new and we wished him well.
Aayamza Royale enhanced her reputation with a brilliant win in a hot St Leger trial stake where she went off an incredible 10/1.
A busy month of racing started as the RPGTV St Leger kicked off and Aayamza Royale won her heat easily and Avastorm also qualified but Antigua Fire was just short of race fitness and eliminated.
The GBGB controversially announce that there will be considerable changes to the Trainer Licences for 2021 which will see quite a few trainers who only had one or 2 dogs at home no longer be able to train.
Sunday’s became really busy also as not only did we cover Towcester but sent teams of dogs to Central Park and Swindon as the Kent Derby & Oaks were looming, great news as well with Colin Davey stepping in to sponsor the Oaks with a huge prize pool (£20,000 to the winner).
Aayamza Royale took her St Leger semi final in great style but not such good news at Central Park as both Antigua Boy and Antigua Romeo crashed out the Kent Derby semi finals and our luck was out at Swindon with four of our seven runners all drawn together in the last heat. The first round had to be cancelled due to thick fog which again prompted for me to shout from the top of the roof tops that the bitches classic should not be run in November/December, it deserves better.
Our last chance to try and rescue the Trainer of the Year title all but evaporated in a weekend when Patrick Janssens had a brilliant 1-2 in the Kent Derby final and though she ran magnificently and was desperately unlucky Aayamza Royale was only 3rd in the RPGTV St Leger final.
Sober Express at last got to grips with Romford and took the Friday Night 500 Maiden Stayers Final in good style breaking the 35.00 barrier and in the Essex Vase heats a week later won his first round heat in a flying 34.71 the fastest time of the year at Romford. Typical of our year though Sober Express and our other qualifiers all crashed out at the semi final stage.
With the Covid pandemic still rife in our country all we could do is get our heads down and try and do our best on the track. In another rollercoaster month we had a great night at Monmore and Hove with a few open race winners including an impressive performance from Drumcrow Brent in the heats of the Olympic at Hove but a couple of days later we saw all our bitches eliminated from the Oaks second round at Swindon again in poor weather conditions.
Many people wanted to see a match race between Aayamza Royale and Roxholme Kristoff and they got that in the heats of the TV Trophy as the two were drawn together and produced a stunning race with Kristoff going 10 lengths clear and Royale gradually wearing him down before pouncing off the last bend and both broke the track record (57.90), what a race! Antigua Fire was just pipped in his heat and though clearly not at his awesome best added another Category One final to his CV, unfortunately all three of our Olympic semi finalists were eliminated.
The last open race action of the year started on Friday which gave us a great night at both Romford and Towcester where we had 7 open race winners including Antigua Romeo (Friday Night 500 Stayers final) and Saffrons Xpress (Friday Night 500 Standard final).
All eyes were at Hove on Saturday night and the much talked about TV Trophy did not disappoint as again Roxholme Kristoff blasted clear and though Aayamza Royale had a bit more traffic to pass she collared the long time leader before the last two bends before she herself was challenged by Redzer Renae but much to our relief held the challenge to lift the trophy and realise the dreams of the Ayamza boys who had come so close to winning the TV Trophy in the past. It was a fantastic end to the year that gave us a real lift in such difficult times.
The highs and lows of the sport were put into perspective as we learned of the sad death of Romford trainer Yvonne Gaskin, a lovely lady who always had a kind word to say, I was also saddened to hear of the death of Chris Badger, one of the four owners of our first ever Derby winner Kinda Ready.
MAJOR COMPETITION WINS IN 2020
AAYAMZA ROYALE - Coral Cesarewitch - £10,000
AAYAMZA ROYALE - Coral TV Trophy - £10,000
ANTIGUA RUM - Coral Coronation Cup - £10,000
TOWSTAR BILLY - Friday Night 500 Standard - £500
YUKAN BRIDGE - Friday Night 500 Maiden Stayers - £500
AGINCOURT XENA - Westmead Legacy in Memory of Natalie Sava British Bred Trophy - £1500
AGINCOURT XENA - Towcester Racecourse Standard - £500
AAYAMZA LEXIE - Towcester Racecourse Maiden Standard - £500
SOBER EXPRESS - Friday Night 500 Stayers - £500
ANTIGUA ROMEO - Friday Night 500 Stayers - £500
SAFFRONS XPRESS - Friday Night 500 Standard - £500
MOST WINS IN 2020
AAYAMZA ROYALE (13)
Antigua Romeo (10)
Tiffield Blueboy (9)
Antigua Fire (9)
Agincourt Xena (8)
Deans Hail Mary (8)
WEBSITE MOST TOP PERFORMANCES
Aayamza Royale (7)
Antigua Fire (4)
Antigua Romeo (3)
Agincourt Xena (4)
Ping Be Slick (3)
Bobs Duke (3)
IMPERIAL KENNELS TOP PERFORMANCE OF 2020
(Coral Cesarewitch Final)
IMPERIAL KENNELS GREYHOUND OF THE YEAR
IMPERIAL KENNELS GRADED GREYHOUND OF THE YEAR