Patrick Kelly argues that jump racing is a great shop window for the sport.

RACEGOERS savour the spectacle of greyhounds negotiating hurdles and variety has been a traditional winning recipe for stadia since the sport first opened its doors to the public in 1926.
Hurdles racing boasts a rich heritage, especially on the open-race scene with the Springbok, Champion Hurdle and Grand National taking pride of place in the Calendar, though there has been a depreciation of this sphere of the sport for well over a decade.
Painstaking care, patience and perseverance to nurture a greyhound that has a natural aptitude are the requirements for a new influx of jumpers and Grand National winners hail from all sectors of the UK.
The principal London tracks – Harringay, Wembley, West Ham, White City and Wimbledon – were once lauded nurseries for hurdling stars of the future and the capital unveiled such outstanding Grand National winners as Barrowside (1955), Sherrys Prince (1970/71/72), Weston Pete (1976), BOBCOL (1981) and El Tenor (1988).
John Coleman’s magnificent Stuart Captain, one-time track record holder for Hove’s 275m and rated one of the top sprinters in training in 1976, is unquestionably the best novice hurdler I’ve ever seen.
Springbok champion Stuart Captain, still a puppy, had broken track records at White City and Wembley in his previous two races prior to the Skol Lager Hurdles (475m) , screened live on ITV’s World Of Sport, at Harringay.
However, Stuart Captain, who reverted to the flat immediately afterwards and later plundered the Tyneside Scurry (299m) at Brough Park, jumped very early at the final flight and took a crashing fall, thus handing the prize on a plate to RIGHT SPIRIT trained by Norah McEllistrim.
Brighton & Hove graduated into a mecca for hurdling talent in the late-1970s with the late Peter Shotton instrumental in raising the profile of the jumps game there including the foresight of designing the lighter, plastic brushdown type.
During that era, around one in three greyhounds based at Albourne kennels with the five attached trainers – George Curtis, Gunner Smith, Doreen Walsh, Derek Knight and Gordon Hodson – enjoyed a spin over timber and this was predominantly the reason for a golden age of hurdling at Hove.
Such luminaries as Deneholme Valour, Bellini, Spiral Sonny, Westlands Steve, Westlands Bridge, Sir Winston, Scarcely Unknown and Kilcoe Foxy carved big reputations and were household names over hurdles.
Lord Westlands (1988/89), a decade after Deneholme Valour, is equally fondly remembered.
Many stalwarts consider three years of age to coincide with the peak of a hurdler – they have always lasted considerably longer than their counterparts on the flat – and quite often a greyhound that has lost its edge can be transformed by a spell over the jumps.
El Tenor, a dual-purpose greyhound, was the mainstay of the all-conquering Linda Mullins kennel in the second half of the 1990s and he won a staggering 102 opens from 186 races and he captured the 1996 Essex Vase, 1997 Crayford Vase, 1998 Grand National and 1998 Triumph Hurdle.
The demise of the high-profile London tracks was instrumental in the undoubted dip in overall quality and, since the closure of Wimbledon in 2017, Central Park inherited the honour of playing host to the key competitions over hurdles.
In complete contrast to an affluent sprint division, an appreciable amount of gloss has been removed from the hurdling scene and a complete overhaul is required to revive memories of the halcyon days.
I’ve long fostered the view that the only way to reinvigorate hurdling on a long-term basis is for the majority of tracks to usher in their own new crop each year with an individual local novices’ hurdles championship akin to the Springbok.
Strength-in-depth would be conducive to competitive graded hurdles racing – a pool of around 30 hurdlers would be ideal to cater for H1, H2 and H3 events – and, affirming a collective view, it’s well overdue for an injection of new life into a deteriorating division.
The way forward is to embrace hurdling with quality. It would be astute for connections of top-class flat performers on the fringe of Category One-winning standard to seek major honours away from flat racing and also school performers of A1, A2, class instead of the method of trialling moderate, ungenuine dogs.
An image of County Prince jumping a hurdle at Hove in the 1970s was an integral feature on the south coast track’s colourful racecard and an indicator to the importance of jumps racing there at that particular time.
My memo to track promoters, owners and trainers, is to rekindle the hurdling flame and resurrect its lofty position as a great shop window for the thrill of live greyhound racing.

Article by:  Patrick Kelly