sport news How greyhounds are getting back on track as the Towcester's Derby final looks ...

It will be Droopys Verve, flying out of his trap like a missile, to whom all eyes will turn on Saturday evening because he has the makings of quite some story.

He competes in a race which is as big as it gets in his sport — the Greyhound Derby final at Towcester, which has been contested since 1927 — and it would be a thrilling vindication of youth if he were to win it.

The Alnwick-trained dog only turned two on Friday, so has been designated a puppy while racing through five rounds to make the final.

Two greyhounds race at Towcester Racecourse, which will host the Greyhound Derby final

Two greyhounds race at Towcester Racecourse, which will host the Greyhound Derby final

The sport has been in decline since the 1960s and is a very long way from its 1930s heyday

The sport has been in decline since the 1960s and is a very long way from its 1930s heyday

He’s been lightly raced, turning out only 15 times in a brief career, winning on 11 occasions, finishing second on the other four, and there have been few less-experienced Derby winners in recent years. 

If any dog can be said to have come from nowhere, this is the one.

The build-up has been a month in duration, as the heats have unfolded at the Northamptonshire track — Droopys Verve winning four out of five — and a crowd of about 8,000 is expected on Saturday night. 

But behind the details of a final worth £175,000 and which will last some 29 seconds lies a struggle for the future of greyhound racing.

Many races take place on weekdays, with no crowds, simply to service the betting industry

Many races take place on weekdays, with no crowds, simply to service the betting industry

Crowds have fallen to an all-time low of two million a year and there's been an image problem

Crowds have fallen to an all-time low of two million a year and there's been an image problem

The sport has been in decline since the 1960s and is a very long way from its 1930s heyday, when 70,000 spectators would pack tracks such as White City in west London to drink and bet.

Back then, there were 33 greyhound stadiums in London alone. Now, there are just 22 registered tracks in the whole of Britain. 

The Derby relocated to Towcester last year after the long-term host track at Wimbledon was sold for property development. It was the last inner London course.

No sport’s decline has mirrored that of a definable working class quite like this one. A fractious relationship with the betting industry has nearly always been at the heart of the problem.

In the Fifties, the sport thrived because off-course gambling was illegal, so the only way to bet was to be there. ‘Off-course’ duly arrived, crippled the sport, yet then contributed to keeping it alive. Gamblers need something to bet on all day long, so bookmakers began paying stadium operators to hold races.

The Derby relocated to Towcester after long-term host track at Wimbledon was sold

The Derby relocated to Towcester after long-term host track at Wimbledon was sold

Towcester has made the most significant contribution ever to the re-establishment of the sport

Towcester has made the most significant contribution ever to the re-establishment of the sport

That arrangement holds. Many races these days take place on weekday mornings and afternoons, with no crowds, simply to service the betting industry.

But the margins are terribly thin. Crowds have fallen to an all-time low of two million a year and there has been an image problem, with poor welfare for dogs in some places making it a sport people want no association with.

Nearly 350 retiring greyhounds were killed last year because no suitable home could be found for them or because the cost of treating them was deemed too high, according to figures released by the Greyhound Board of Great Britain (GBGB) for the first time last month. 

It is amid this existential crisis that the Towcester course has, by every available view, made the most significant contribution ever

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