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Dog Racing: Owners hit by prize-money cut at Wimbledon.

Byline: By Richard Birch

WIMBLEDON has announced that owners' prize-money will be reduced by 10 per cent from Tuesday, the latest in a catalogue of cost-cutting measures this year.

Once the GRA flagship and Britain's premier track, Wimbledon, home of the Derby, is clearly struggling to keep its head above water.

These latest measures come just five days after eight staff at the south London track were made redundant - and a mere five months after a previous 10 per cent cut in prize-money in March.

Most owners will find it difficult to accept a 20 per-cent prizemoney reduction in five months, and Jim Boothby, chairman of the Wimbledon Greyhound Owners' Association, admitted: "It's a great shock for all owners after suffering a 10 per cent reduction in prize-money in March.

"It not only hits owners, but trainers, too. New owners won't be in a hurry to join an already dissatisfied and diminishing band of old owners.

"We will consider calling a meeting of all owners after our committee have held a special meeting as soon as possible. Obviously, we all want greyhound racing to continue at Wimbledon."

Mick Hardy, Wimbledon's general manager, said yesterday: "There's a cut of 10 per cent from Tuesday. We'll be sending a letter out to all owners. Prize-money is one of our biggest costs, and, in view of our bad year, we've had to address them.

"In addition, owners will have to pay for their racecard in the future.

I was the one who introduced them as complimentary, but the bottom line is that we must improve our income to enable a proper, consistent future at the Stadium.

"Believe me, there is light at the end of the tunnel. I'm making these decisions to secure a longterm future for greyhound racing at Wimbledon."

However, Stephen Rea, public relations officer for the GRA, stressed that these measures applied to Wimbledon only - not the entire GRA group.

"This is a decision affecting Wimbledon only," he said. "It's not across the GRA group. Wimbledon - and Walthamstow, I think you'll find - face different pressures being London tracks as the costs of racing are that much higher.

"When things are going well, those extra costs can be absorbed, but we are in a slump just now, and that's why tough decisions - particularly at Wimbledon - have had to be taken.

"Traditionally Wimbledon has paid most money of the GRA tracks, but current economics can't sustain those levels."

Racegoers are likely to be confronted with mammoth 14-race cards at Plough Lane shortly, where racing takes place just three times a week after the GRA surrendered Wimbledon's two BAGS meetings to Oxford and Hall Green respectively at the start of this year.

It also receives no income from Channel 854 after deciding to come off the William Hill TV service last year.

Alan Warrener, a Wimbledon regular for many years, and owner of top-class staying bitch Did She, wasn't surprised by yesterday's news.

"It was on the cards - inevitable," he claimed. "They just want to redevelop the site away from dog racing. Everyone fears it's a deliberate ploy to run the business down.

"Our biggest hope is that the site has limited residential attraction because of the electricity substation at the back. We've got to hope that a group of owners or a bookmaker will purchase it for an upmarket, one-sided greyhound stadium with other commercial ventures around it."

Wimbledon has also faced criticism from regulars for upping its tote retention to record highs, and putting a priority on encouraging 'six-packers' who prefer drinking to enjoying greyhound racing. However, the World Cup and current spell of hot weather is believed to have tipped the balance in terms of putting the track way behind budget.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Aug 3, 2006
Words:621
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