Future of Dapto Dogs in limbo despite sudden announcement

In limbo: Dapto trainers. Picture: Adam McLean.
In limbo: Dapto trainers. Picture: Adam McLean.

It was the day in which the fate of greyhound racing in Dapto was sealed. And then as day turned to night, it was suddenly back up in the air.

In farcical scenes at Dapto Showground, Dapto Agricultural and Horticultural Society Chairman Noel Leslie announced racing at the track would come to an immediate end.

A decision made at a meeting on Tuesday night without consultation with the region's trainers and the sport's governing body, Greyhound Racing NSW.

""We are enormously respectful of the place the Dapto Dogs holds in the history of our great town," Leslie said.

"But the community has entrusted us with doing the right thing with their land and their assets ... and sustaining an activity at the expense of developing new community infrastructure is a decision that can't be justified.

"Locking us into a non-negotiable three-year term forced us into an unwinnable and financially damaging situation without the certainty of our regular Thursday night timeslot and we have no alternative but to cease greyhound racing."

The announcement came as trainers were locked out of the press conference, at which no questions were answered, with a meeting with the trainers held immediately after.

Speaking afterwards, a disappointed Kevin Keys said it was tough news to receive.

"I grew up on Dapto Showground from the age of three," the trainer said. "I'm 71 years now, I've been training greyhounds for 51 years. To see this come to this stage is pretty gut wrenching.

"Who knows, hopefully there's negotiations to follow and we'll see where we finish up. But at this stage to see Dapto Greyhound Racing Club say there's no longer any racing at Dapto showground is gut wrenching."

While Dapto AHS was adamant there will be no more racing at the venue, the track's future took a sudden turn on Wednesday night, with GRNSW CEO Tony Mestrov vowing to ensure racing continues for years to come.

An annoyed Mestrov arrived in Dapto on Wednesday night to hold crisis talks, having been blindsided by the sudden announcement.

His first order of business is ensuring Thursday night's race meeting will go ahead.

"This is a debacle," Mestrov said. "It is unlawful. GRNSW supports racing at Dapto. I have called local trainers and owners and asked of their assistance in getting a meeting on Thursday.

"There was a meeting on Tuesday night that we were not aware of, nor were local trainers and most importantly members were not consulted about this decision.

 Dapto Dogs in action. Picture: Andy Zakeli

Dapto Dogs in action. Picture: Andy Zakeli

"We negotiated with 14 other clubs and they all signed the same funding agreement after a process of consultation that started in July. Each club is placed in a financially sound position with cash flow and a secure three-year future.

"GRNSW sought clarification on Dapto's club accounts, in particular figures listed separately for the Agricultural Society and Dapto Racing Club. We requested clarity and we believe that scrutiny triggered this blindsiding of GRNSW."

In a strange twist, the meeting that Dapto AHS has vowed will not go ahead has played a key role in the dispute between the two organisations, with GRNSW floating the possibility of moving the track's iconic Thursday night meeting to a Saturday.

Dapto AHS was fiercely opposed to any move.

Mestrov acknowledged this would affect the showground's other operations, but said his body had not forced Dapto AHS to shift their Thursday meetings.

"We were concerned about nominations for Dapto on Thursday nights. We had a conversation with Dapto in relation to that and said it was in everyone's best intention to move it. We did not enforce that and said we'd have further conversations at a later date.

"It would affect the other sports and activities in the precinct, but the number one job of the Dapto Agricultural Society as written in their constitution is animal racing. They forgot that."

This story Future of Dapto Dogs in limbo despite sudden announcement first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.