Westminster the next stop for protesters; ABB: `What's the point?'.
SOME 50 people demonstrated outside Ladbrokes-owned Monmore yesterday as part of demands for a better deal from off-course bookmakers. The protest was peaceful, and the track's BAGS meeting went ahead on schedule, running normally.
This latest development in the `New Deal' campaign was organised by Professional Trainers' Association chairman John Haynes, and saw owners, trainers and promoters - John Curran (Kinsley) and Toni Nichols (Harlow) - united in anger at what they perceive as bookmaker profiteering.
Among the first to arrive, on a freezing cold morning, were owners Jason Gamble, Richard Newell and David Miles, the latter acting as representative of the Union of Greyhound Owners [UGO]. However, they were denied entrance to the main car park in front of the stadium, the gates being chained and padlocked.
Monmore's management had given serious thought to security and by mid-morning the few protesters outside were joined by some 40 heftily-built security guards.
The number of protesters increased when coaches from Manchester and South Yorkshire arrived, carrying supporters from Belle Vue and Kinsley. A few owners and trainers, including dual Derby winning trainer Tony Meek, came from Hall Green and Perry Barr to join the ranks.
Regional TV station Central sent a camera team to interview some of the leaders, while a number of local radio stations were also in attendance.
Curran said: "I've discussed the situation with quite a few other promoters, including Chick Hicken (Stainforth), Stephen Franklin (Yarmouth) and Toni Nichols. We're all determined to get a fairer deal for greyhound racing. As well as further demonstrations at other bookmaker-owned tracks, plans are afoot for a protest outside Parliament. We also plan to hand in a petition signed by all the owners, trainers and racegoers at our tracks.
"We're also considering distributing leaflets explaining our aims, and to mount some form of protest action outside main city-centre betting shops."
Although soaked by torrential rain, the mood of the crowd was light-hearted but determined as they awaited the arrival of the Monmore trainers.
At noon the first of the 11 contracted trainers, Mick Radley, drove towards the stadium to jeers and calls of `turn back'. He drove straight past.
Radley said: "It wasn't pleasant, but we trainers at Monmore are in a no-win situation. We either cross the picket-line or break our contracts. It's taken me a long, long time to get established at a premier track like Monmore, and I don't see why I should be asked to risk my livelihood by others who have nothing to lose."
Radley was soon joined by his colleagues, who arrived in convoy style, led in by racing manager Jim Woods. Other than some further minor jeering, the party entered the stadium grounds unmolested. Although quick to disperse, the protesters gave assurances of further action at another bookmaker-owned track in the near future.
BGRB chief executive Geoffrey Thomas said last night: "The passion of people on this issue is reflected by those prepared to turn out on a freezing, horrible day. There are plans to bring the campaign into the City and Westminster. Awareness will rise far beyond those who read the pages of the Racing Post."
David Miles said: "It was pleasing to see so many turn up on such a horrible day, the numbers would have been greater but for an accident on the M6 which held up a couple of coaches. Thankfully the protest was peaceful and I was pleased no vindictiveness was shown to the Monmore trainers. Put in their position think I would have turned up for work. Speaking on behalf of UGO members we would also like to make it plain that this is as much a protest against the British Greyhound Racing Board as the bookmakers.
"We believe the bookmakers have to come up with a better offer, but also feel that more
money would be forthcoming if proper negotiations were to take place."
Protest organiser John Haynes was also satisfied by the day's events, warning bookmakers: "This is only the beginning. Protests will continue at bookmaker-owned tracks until such time as greyhound racing gets a fairer deal. They are making fortunes out of our sport and giving us back a pittance. All we're looking for is what is fair."
Ladbrokes spokesman Sean Boyce said: "One of the predicaments for us today is that while we can understand some of the grievances being discussed here, we feel the protesters are targeting the wrong track and company.
"Levels of prize-money at Monmore have trebled over the past ten years and is now double the national average.
"Ladbrokes are also the biggest single contributor of all the bookmakers to the sport of greyhound racing, nobody has put more money into the sport than Ladbrokes over the years, so we're a bit bemused as to why they [demonstrators] are here."
Tom Kelly, chief executive of the Association of British Bookmakers and BAGS, said: "Our betting shop service went ahead as normal, which we're pleased about. It's a remarkable situation, especially when you find yourself having to think about contingency plans, but we'd accepted it was to be a peaceful protest - which is of course anybody's right. One regrets it has happened at all, I can't quite see the point of it all. It certainly won't change anything."
He confirmed a meeting with the BGRB goes ahead on Thursday, March 20.
The scene outside Ladbrokes-owned Monmore Stadium yesterday afternoon as New Deal supporters demonstrated against the bookmakers