Clive has fun at...the greyhounds
PUBLISHED: 10:09 21 March 2012 | UPDATED: 18:15 20 February 2013
Clive Agran pushes his wallet to the limit in search of journalistic truth as he goes, literally, to the dogs for a fun night out at the greyhounds in Hove
The first ever greyhound race took place at Belle Vue stadium in Manchester on July 24, 1926. Curiously, seven greyhounds participated and, without any form to go on, the 1,700 punters who went along must have struggled to figure out which one would win. Originally developed as an alternative to chasing live hares, nowadays greyhound racing is regarded as an alternative to watching mindless reality shows on television.
The sport flourished right up until the swinging sixties when it understandably failed to compete with sex and drugs thereby allowing ruthless property speculators to convert once famous stadiums into dreary shopping centres. Mercifully, Hove survived and is now one of only a couple of dozen licensed tracks in the UK.
The Use It or Lose It slogan would seem to apply here and so with a cloth cap on my head and bundles of dosh in my pocket I enter the Coral Brighton & Hove Greyhound Stadium looking to have fun and win a fortune.
What strikes me straightaway is how pleasant, friendly and jolly everyone is. Instead of an assortment of spivs, hoodlums, drug dealers, benefit cheats, gangsters and discredited bankers that I was expecting to find, the people here look perfectly decent, thoroughly law-abiding and exceedingly cheerful. Like me, they are evidently here to enjoy themselves.
Upstairs theres a bustling restaurant that stretches pretty well the whole length of the finishing straight. The tables are tiered and on five levels so that everyone can see through the giant windows and keep an eye on their investments as they circle beneath. With the starting traps to the left and the finishing line more or less in the middle, diners are treated to an excellent view of the crucial parts of the race the start and finish. Pretty well every table is taken and quite a few have bunches of balloons attached suggesting this is a popular place to celebrate a birthday. Theres a lot more laughter and a great deal less earnest study than I had anticipated.
The first race was at 7.30, which Ive missed. But theres no need to panic because there are still 11 golden, money-making opportunities to come. Although doubtless stuffed with vital information, the programme is pretty impenetrable with rows of mystifying numbers and incomprehensible abbreviations. Inside the front cover is an explanation as to How to Read the Formlines but it doesnt make a huge amount of sense to me and I could really do with a How to Read the Explanation.
In so far as it goes, the glossary of abbreviations is moderately useful but even knowing FlsHt stands for false heat doesnt necessarily help much. Determined, however, to bring the full weight of my intellect to bear in cracking the code, I persevere until, still only halfway along the second line of the first dog, the public address warns that there are only five minutes to the off. So even though its rather unscientific and lacks intellectual rigour, I lump a fiver on Race of Spades in trap one simply because the name suggests a modicum of whit.
My heart thumps, the electric hare whizzes, the traps open, the dogs race and trap five wins. Lots of people cheer but I dont as Race of Spades is comfortably last. His performance could best be summed up like this: DzO, MsdBk, RVSlwy, AlwLst, which means dozed off, missed break, ran very slowly and was always last.
Unlike the programme, the menu is perfectly intelligible and I decisively go for the culinary equivalent of a straight forecast; stuffed mushrooms followed by beef bourguignon. Again feeling the pressure of an imminent deadline, I rush into backing trap two, which is YtAherDster (yet another disaster).
The arrival of the stuffed mushrooms cheers me up before the disappointing performance of Sunshine Phoebe in the fourth knocks me back again. Three races gone, 15 down. At this disappointing rate, Im on course to have frittered away 55 by the end of the night.
There are other more sophisticated bets that potentially offer greater financial rewards than a simple win. The trio, for example, seemingly pays the sort of dividend that would comfortably cover the cost of dinner for two and a taxi home. The catch is that it requires you to select the first three in the correct order. Since none of the three dogs I have so far chosen has managed to finish better than fourth, I decide to concentrate on simply finding a winner without worrying about second and third.
The fifth race is interesting in that, unlike the previous races which were over 515 metres, its a sprint of only 285 metres. Perhaps no-one told Droopys Snowman who ambles out of the traps in no particular hurry and comfortably maintains my unenviable record of not ever having a dog finish in the first three. What are the odds against doing that in four consecutive races? Perhaps they should introduce a new bet called an Agran that rewards failure and challenges punters to pick a succession of dogs that dont finish in the first three.
Having abandoned any attempt at finding winners by analysis and the ruthless application of logic, I resort to simply selecting the dog with the most appealing name. So, since I used to keep bees, I stick a fiver on Black Honey in the sixth. Very nearly overturning my plate of beef bourguignon, I leap to my feet as Black Honey, bless his or her little paws, flies out of trap 5 and grabs the lead going into the first bend. "Come on, five! Come on, five!" I scream unselfconsciously in a cathartic release of over an hours pent-up frustration and disappointment.
In yelling at the dog, Im guilty of making all sorts of assumptions. Can the dog hear me through the glass and at such a distance? Does it know which trap it was in and consequently what number its carrying? Does it even understand what come on means? Whether my entreaties make any difference is doubtful but the dog hangs on and I at last break my doggy duck.
Two more winners (Guinness Black and Tip Top Audrey) , a couple of near misses and one generous portion of profiteroles over the course of the next five races and Ive clawed my way back to financial parity by the time the dogs are loaded into the traps for the last time. Blakes Lady in trap six is burdened with my hopes and dreams. A win would earn me sufficient overall profit to buy another cloth cap whereas a loss would plunge me back into the red. Its a thrilling race but the opposition show no respect for the fact that shes a lady, bump into her on the final bend and she loses out on the line by the width of the missing apostrophe.
Still, its BnExtmlyEjble evening and GrtFn. Will I come again? You bet.
Check it out
Coral Brighton & Hove
General Enquiries: 01273 204601
Restaurant Reservations: 08457 023952
Open all year round (excluding Christmas Day and bank holidays)
Evening racing every Thursday and Saturday, doors open 6.30pm, first race 7.30pm.
Afternoon racing every Wednesday, doors open 1pm, first race 2.08pm.
Lunchtime racing every Friday and Sunday, doors open 10.30am Friday and 11am Sunday, first race 11.11am Friday and 11.28am Sunday.
FREE admission Wednesday, Friday and Sunday
Thursday evening 5, Saturday 6
Under 16s FREE