Closure of Drumbo Park ‘spells end' for greyhound racing in Northern Ireland
The closure of Drumbo "spells the end of the dog racing experience" in Northern Ireland, the former assistant racing manager of Drumbo Park said yesterday.
Bob Fenton, who is also a dog racing correspondent for the Belfast Telegraph, said the impact of the closure will be felt on tracks all around Ireland.
Drumbo Park Greyhound Stadium was one of only two in Northern Ireland.
Speaking from Tubbercurry Coursing in Sligo, Mr Fenton said: "Even in the South the news from Drumbo has come as a shock and everyone knows the impact it will have on the industry.
"The closure of a track like Drumbo will mean that owners will stop buying greyhounds because why pay big money for a dog that you can't run?"
Mr Fenton, who has reported on dog racing since the late 1970s, said Northern Ireland was formerly the home of the finest greyhound industry in Europe, with Celtic Park in north Belfast the first venue to open in Northern Ireland in 1928 - one year after the first ever oval stadium opened this side of the Atlantic.
He said: "They opened six nights a week and even had packed trolley buses taking crowds there.
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"In those days there were limited forms of entertainment and dog racing was a huge social outlet where people met up and enjoyed the craic.
"It was hugely popular. Irish greyhound racing began in Belfast with the opening of Celtic Park on an Easter Monday when the McIlinden family opened it, but over the years a number of factors hit the sport."
Other courses like Dunmore Park in Belfast city centre also reaped the benefits of hosting what was once the second most attended sport in the UK next to soccer.
Dunmore and Celtic Park both closed in the 1990s.
The legalisation of off-course betting in the 1960s marked a change for the sport and the rise of online gambling and an increasing entertainment offering have also contributed to the decline in popularity of the sport.
However, Mr Fenton believes a lack of funding was one of the major contributors to the closure of Drumbo which survived solely on its earnings, unlike its counterparts in the Republic who receive support from a £16m pot from the semi-state Irish Greyhound Board.
A similar support system is available in Great Britain.
"It never made sense that the [Irish Greyhound] Board wouldn't take on Northern Ireland courses when it was founded in 1957 because they benefit a great deal from those racing in Northern Ireland," he said. And a dwindling interest in keeping and breeding greyhounds is also being felt on the sector, he added.
"It is becoming harder to get the younger generation involved. Even good trainers, when they are passing on, the younger generations are not taking the reins.
"They have no interest and the number of greyhound dogs available has fallen over the years.
"I can recall a time in the 1970s and '80s when virtually every street in Belfast would have at least one greyhound, such was the interest.
"Overall the greyhound industry is struggling and it's a sad and sorry day to see Drumbo close. We know the Irish Greyhound Board is reviewing its financial strategies and we know that can only mean looking at cutting back, and I see a number of tracks closing in the South as a result."