Security stepped up at Towcester Racecourse as once-kidnapped €1million greyhound prepares for lucrative race

From left to right: Nick Livesey, greyhound operations director; Graham Holland, Clares Rocket trainer; Martin Chapman, Star Sports
From left to right: Nick Livesey, greyhound operations director; Graham Holland, Clares Rocket trainer; Martin Chapman, Star Sports

A €1million greyhound subjected to a high-profile ‘dog-napping’ could land the biggest prize in racing when it lines up in the English Greyhound Derby at Towcester.

The likely presence of superstar Clares Rocket in the field for the £350,000 Star Sports Greyhound Derby on Saturday, July 1 has triggered a review of the track’s security operation, with extra staff drafted in to guarantee the dog’s safety.

Clares Rocket was snatched from his yard in Limerick, Ireland in December last year, prompting an investigation which saw police dramatically stop a car during an attempted handover of the dog, with the kidnappers demanding a ‘ransom’ for the canine speedster.

Four men with links to dissident republicans, including one who survived a 2015 assassination attempt, were later arrested.

Security has now been stepped up ahead of the sport’s biggest race – which is being held for the first time at Towcester next month.

Kevin Ackerman, chief executive of Towcester Racecourse, said: “These greyhounds are superstars and as such are extremely valuable. Clares Rocket is arguably the most exciting of them all and, with a likely stud value of €1m, we need to ensure his safety.

“We have reviewed our security arrangements and no stone is being left unturned to make sure all the dogs involved in the Greyhound Derby are protected.

“Each dog will be escorted from the kennels to the track by its own verified security team and we have invested in an enhanced CCTV system to provide panoramic coverage of the track. There will also be a notable police presence on the night.”

The dogs will remain in their kennels until shortly before the start of the race, and CCTV at the ground will monitor the kennels and security staff will be patrolling the area as well.

Police officer numbers will be slightly higher than usual at Towcester Racecourse given the nature of the event. A Racecourse spokesman said that, should there be any animal rights protestors on the day, the police will be able to manage the situation comfortably without extra security measures.

The kidnapping of Clares Rocket has drawn parallels with the disappearance of Shergar, the prized racehorse who was stolen from Ballymany Stud in County Kildare by masked gunmen in 1983 and was never seen again.

If he makes the final, Clares Rocket will go head-to-head with five rivals to compete for the £175,000 first prize, with a sell-out 10,000 crowd set to descend on Northamptonshire for the race - the biggest ever to be staged at Towcester.

The event will feature a live DJ set from Northamptonshire-based DJ Jo Whiley while eight 80-seater coaches are being laid on to provide free transport from Milton Keynes and Northampton. These can be booked on a first come, first served basis. Free parking is also available at the Racecourse.

Mr Ackerman added: “A night at the races is always an occasion to remember but this is a chance to be part of something special – a chance to see history made – and we can’t wait to see the best greyhounds in the world at Towcester.”

Tickets, priced £20 for adults, are available to buy now at www.towcester-racecourse.co.uk while admission for under 16s is free. This is a ticket only event. Hospitality packages including a four-course meal and private bar are available by calling 01327 353414.