A professional greyhound trainer of over 50 years is within touching distance of qualifying for one of Sunderland’s most prestigious races worth £12,500 to the winner this month.
Yvonne Bell first worked with greyhounds as a teenager when late father Robert inspired her to follow in his training footsteps.
Now aged 70, Yvonne oversees a kennel of more than 100 greyhounds and employs 10 staff who are responsible for feeding, walking, care and racing duties.
Much of her support comes from within the family, with daughter Carolyn acting as assistant trainer, grandson Lewis as head kennelhand and husband John as the site’s maintenance lead.
Teenage granddaughter Abby is the latest recruit to the family business and even paraded her first winner We Never Stop on Friday evening – her first night of official trackside duties as a registered kennelhand.
The above achievement would be eclipsed on Friday, though, should kennel star Bluejig Hank qualify for the final of the 2023 Arena Racing Company Classic by placing in the first two of Semi Final Three at 8.36pm.
Ahead of the race, Yvonne explained greyhounds have been all she has ever known – and she couldn’t imagine life without them.
“I could’ve retired four years ago,” explained Yvonne. “But I genuinely don’t know what I would do, I couldn’t imagine a life without greyhounds.
“Every morning, we wake up first thing and there’ll be jobs to do all day. We’re very lucky to own our training facility, and even luckier to have an incredible team of hard-working staff in place who make doing what we do possible.
“In my experience, there are three tricks to giving greyhounds the best care possible - good food, providing a happy lifestyle and routine.
“These dogs are very intelligent, and they know exactly when it’s feed time, when it’s time for walks, for racing, treats – you name it. Greyhound racing is all I’ve ever known, and to have the support of three generations from my own family is wonderful.”
Lining up with Bluejig Hank on Friday is fastest Round One qualifier Swift Iconic, locally trained Kitty The Step, second fastest qualifier Jonny Whiskers plus Newcastle pair Magical Rubble and Riverside Lisa.
Owned by Alan Hunter, Bluejig Hank is one greyhound of three from his litter to live with Yvonne – the other two being Bluejig Rocky and Bluejig Ophelia.
“He’s one of the biggest dogs we’ve ever trained,” said Yvonne. “His ideal trip is 450m, and everyone at the kennel is desperate to see him make the final as it would mean so much to Alan.
“The draw hasn’t been kind to us, but he has a chance and we’re keeping our fingers crossed for a big run as the team all deserve a reward for their hard work throughout the year.”
The Semi Finals of the Arena Racing Company Classic at Sunderland Greyhound Stadium take place on Friday, November 10, with doors opening at 5.45pm. Race one is due off at 6.26pm with the first of three semi finals off at 8.06pm.
Tickets are available to purchase from £7 via www.sunderland-greyhounds.co.uk.
Semi Final One: Pape Di Oro, Whisky Champ, March On Frankie, Keefill George, Witton Venus, Trouble Shooter.
Semi Final Two: Droopys Soldier, Links Dasher, Paisley Pearl, Stormy News, March on Larry, Watchhall Sid.
Semi Final Three: Swift Iconic, Kitty The Step, Jonny Whiskers, Bluejig Hank, Magical Rubble, Riverside Lisa.