With David Smith throwing the greyhound industry under the spotlight, attention has now turned to smaller, independent tracks with the sport's own regulatory body admitting it has no control over them. Stuart Arnold reports.

AWAY from the world of "big time" greyhound racing, lies the real heart of the sport.

Up and down the country, often tucked away, are smaller greyhound stadiums or tracks, such as those at Easington and Wheatley Hill, County Durham, and Cambois, in Blyth, near Newcastle, which are not regulated by the main governing body, the National Greyhound Racing Club (NGRC).

Here, many dogs that wouldn't make the grade at NGRC tracks are raced at meetings which prove equally popular with many punters, but where the monetary stakes on offer are less.

But because of the lack of regulation, or a single governing body, concern from animal welfare groups not only centres on the well-being of the dogs, but their "traceability".

Critics say greyhounds can effectively disappear off the radar since they are not under the banner of the NGRC.

Traditionally, greyhounds are registered with a "stud book" which identifies the animal, and includes details such as its markings and other characteristics, and also carry other papers from their birth.

But none of these identifiers are checked at non-NGRC tracks, which have been traditionally known in the business as "flapping" tracks.

Janice Lakey, a North-East spokeswoman for the Greyhound Action Trust, said: "The same safety net for dogs at NGRC tracks doesn't apply to flapping tracks. They are totally unregulated.

"From here, many dogs - once they are raced a few times - simply end up in dog pounds and many people involved in rescue know only too well the numbers in such pounds."

When the Smith allegations came to light, the NGRC began examining the records of a number of trainers, asking them to account for any retired greyhounds and to ensure all relevant paperwork was up to date.

However, no such trawl took place in the independent greyhound arena.

Noel Thompson, the NGRC's security co-ordinator, said: "They the independent tracks are not policed by the NGRC and there is no regulation.

"Some people just don't want the red tape that involves.

"We do our best when it comes to monitoring, but we cannot stop any person from selling a greyhound to another pet owner and, if they decide to run that greyhound at independent race tracks, there is nothing we can do about it.

"Very often, the dogs don't have kennels, they don't necessarily have vets in attendance and the greyhounds are not raced under the same conditions that they race with the NGRC.

"There is also no recognised form for that greyhound to be put into the record books.

"We know of the difficulties in this area and they are being actively discussed at a national level and in Parliament."

An independent greyhound racing promoter, who spoke to The Northern Echo on condition that he was not named, said they would not wish to join the NGRC and defended the independent tracks and their lack of regulation.

He said: "The whole idea of independent greyhound racing is that the man in the street can own and race a greyhound rather than going to professional trainers.

"You still have the papers for your dog, but, yes, records are not meticulously kept to NGRC standards. We don't inspect and update the log books. That is the nature of the sport here. It is your dog and you can run it where you want when you want.

"All you have to do is produce the dog one evening and run within the rules of a particular stadium."

The promoter said he believed the lack of an onsite vet at such tracks was the only "down side".

He said: "That is the main issue. A vet onsite would be the perfect scenario if a dog hurts itself, but it is not viable for us.

"The vets have to be recommended by Defra (Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) which can cost £70 an hour, and then you are looking at £700 to 800 a week, which is impossible."

He described people racing dogs at the tracks as "enthusiastic people" who had their best interests at heart.

He said: "The NGRC have the professional standards, we are the amateurs or the Sunday morning league teams if you like.

"Yes, facilities are not the same here, but that is because we do not get the injection of cash that the bigger tracks get from elsewhere.

"But it is in our interests to make sure that we ensure the safety of the dogs and that things like the surfaces they run on are acceptable."