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A new era for greyhound racing as the £3m Drumbo Park opens

Lesley-Anne Henry went along for a flutter

Costing over £3m to build and with the capacity to cater for over 300 diners, Drumbo Park is a sure bet for a great night out.

Northern Ireland’s new greyhound racing track opened its brand new doors for the first time last night and immediately proved an odds-on winner with the hundreds of punters.

Situated a mile beyond Malone Golf Club, Drumbo Park replaces the Ballyskeagh dog track at the home of Lisburn Distillery Football Club.

Last night almost 300 invited guests mingled with the traditional pipe smoking, flat cap wearing racing fans for the opening night.

The plush new complex boasts three bars, a three tier restaurant, a fast food outlet, and a coffee bar; definitely a far cry from the old days of hotdogs and polystyrene cups of Bovril. It’s restaurant facilities and bistro provide a panoramic views of the track but for those who forget to bring their glasses there are 100 plasma television screens showing the night’s racing as well as a live link from Shelbourne Park in Dublin. There is also table tote service so guests don’t even have need to leave the comfort of their seats all night.

Chief Executive John McCollum said no expense had been spared in bringing Northern Ireland greyhound racing into the 21st century.

“I am thrilled Drumbo Park is now open for business, especially as this project has taken some years to come to fruition. The re-positioning of greyhound racing as a more sociable occasion has seen its popularity soar in the south of Ireland and Drumbo Park can now compete with the very best stadiums in Ireland. I am confident Drumbo Park is poised to play a very significant role as a sporting and social venue for Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights in Northern Ireland.

“Drumbo has excellent facilities and will appeal to those who perhaps haven’t enjoyed the fun and excitement of greyhound racing before, for instance the likes of corporate entertainment, social gatherings and parties, or sporting club outings.

“Traditional fans of greyhound racing will view some exciting races while enjoying a flutter or two with the bookmakers and we will also be showing live racing coverage from two of Ireland’s leading tracks, Shelbourne Park and Harold’s Cross,” he said.

In recent years, greyhound racing in Northern Ireland has been in decline with the closures of Dunmore Park, Dungannon and Ballyskeagh. Indeed for the past three years, Derry’s Brandywell stadium was the only track.

However racing manager John Connor described Drumbo as the ‘premier league’ stadium that will help put Northern Ireland back on the greyhound racing map.

He said: “We were supposed to have a soft opening night but it hasn’t turned out that way. We should see some very high class racing.

“It’s vastly improved and puts Northern Ireland in the premier league of greyhound racing.

“We are now on par with the likes of Shelbourne and Dundalk.”

Among the first punters through the doors were Hilden brothers Billy and David Hunter who were suitably impressed with the re-vamp.

“We only live up the road and we were the first two in through the door. It’s amazing what has been done here. We used to come down to the old track and we can’t believe the difference. It looks totally brilliant,” Billy said.

“We’ve managed to save a bit of money since it’s been closed so we’ll be putting on a few bets.”

Also among the guests making the most of the hospitality lounge were Amanda Coyles and Vicki Moody. The girls, from Down Royal Race Course, were suitably impressed with the new facilities.

“The hospitality suite is of a very high standard. It should be a great night,” said Amanda.

East Belfast dog owner Alison Ayre was attending the opening with her dog trainer John Campbell. She said: “It’s terrific. We race greyhounds and we hope to have one in on Saturday’s races. This will save us a lot of money in petrol because we’ve been having to drive to the likes of Lifford and Dundalk to race our dogs.”

Meanwhile the more hardy race-goers were braving the weather out on the terraces. Dermott Norton from Downpatrick was hoping for a win with his dog ‘Utah Player’ who was taking part in the first race.

He said: “There are a lot of good runners out there but I’m hoping my dog will do well. I think this venue will do well. I can’t believe the size of it. When we used to come here it was just a wee pokey place. We are very much impressed by it all. We’ll definitely be placing a few bets.”

And there was a warm “welcome back” for veteran race-goer Hugh McAllister from Ballygalley.

He said: “It looks lovely, there’s a really big change. There was nothing wrong with the old track but this is just great. It’s very impressive indeed.”

Belfast Telegraph

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