Freeman Hopeful of April 22 Racing Return

IN the midst of a nation-wide month long lockdown, the NZ greyhound racing industry is remaining hopeful of a return to racing later this month.

Adam Dobbin

2 April 2020

Wednesday, April 22.

That’s the hopeful return date earmarked for New Zealand greyhounds to resume racing.

With New Zealand in the midst of its nation-wide lockdown which commenced on March 24 as a response to the coronavirus pandemic, the industry, led by Greyhound Racing NZ, is beginning to put steps in place for a much needed return to racing.

“I’ve been working closely with GRNZ racing manager Michael Dore and all things being equal we’re hopeful that a tentative return date at Hatrick on April 22 is achievable,” said Wanganui GRC operations manager Paul Freeman.

Freeman, who is also president of the Palmerston North greyhound club and partner of leading trainer Angela Turnwald, is full of praise for how the industry has banded together to handle the COVID-19 crisis.

“The support that Greyhound Racing New Zealand has provided participants during these difficult times has been outstanding,” Freeman added.

“Whether it’s been providing subsidies for essential products or advice and assistance in other areas, they’ve led the way in ensuring everyone gets through this together.

“From a race club point of view the government grants and subsidies on wages has been the savior of the clubs. But from an industry perspective there’s certainly no self pity doing the rounds, everyone is aware of the bigger challenges facing others in the community.”

In recent weeks, applications have been made with relevant government agencies for trialing to resume, those overtures rejected as the country maintains its full lockdown protocols.

“We pushed for that from an animal welfare perspective in terms of general exercise to keep the dogs ticking over for when racing does return,” Freeman explained.

“The initial advice was that the full-scale lockdown would last four weeks so we are working towards and hopeful of a resumption at the end of that.

“We have proposed a low risk return with trainers racing in their regions. And for racing to resume on April 22 it would likely be just over the 305m distance at Hatrick as greyhounds begin to regain their fitness. We need to be really responsible about this.”

The unintended consequences of the COVID-19 have been profound, with no walk of life immune from the fallout.

And as Freeman explains, greyhound racing has been no different.

“There were quite a few dogs that were meant to arrive here in NZ the past few weeks that haven’t made it over with the borders closing,” Freeman added.

“Some big money purchases as well. We’ve just been trying to manage and deal with issues and challenges as they arise and work to get through this as quickly as possible. The morale with participants has been very good.”

With wagering revenues suffering across the board, Freeman acknowledges it would be silly for the industry in NZ to assume that it won’t need to absorb some pain in the weeks and months ahead.

“50 percent of our wagering revenue comes from sports betting and that’s gone,” Freeman said.

“It’s inevitable that the downturn in betting will see us take a hit. When we move to zoned racing that will put a halt to feature races which is fair enough.

“For us over here it’s been great to still be able to switch on and watch greyhound racing in Australia … even if it does take three minutes to get them in the boxes these days!”

When greyhound racing does hopefully return in the coming weeks, Freeman says the industry is modelling towards additional meetings where possible to cater for what’s expected to be a more drawn out return for the other two racing codes.