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NEWPORT GREYHOUND RACING

 

 

Newport had a greyhound track around the outskirts of the city's former football ground at Somerton Park. It opened for racing in November 1932 and lasted for 31 years.

 

When greyhound racing came to Newport's Somerton Park Stadium in the November of 1932, several thousand people waited an hour,  after  the fifth race, while  electricians tried to remedy a mechanical defect in the flood-lighting. Earlier, Alderman Fred Phillips formally opened the ' most modern Welsh track' and the South Wales Argus reporter wrote: "Whiz went  the hare, fleet-footed sped the dogs after it, their legs and  bodies  craned to see those wonderfully intelligent animals jockey for the position near the rail. There were gasps of wonder and astonishment as newcomers to the sport saw the fastest animals trained on four legs leap gracefully  over the hurdles.'' The fault, however, could not be  located and  officials had no alternative but to abandon the rest of the card!

 

It was part of a combined operation with Cardiff (initially at Sloper Road and then the Arms Park). There were four nights each week for racing at the Arms Park (Mondays & Saturdays) and Somerton Park in Newport (Tuesdays & Fridays). The intervention of the Second World War, had seen all sporting activities come to a halt at Somerton Park, but once regulations had been reviewed, Greyhound Racing was given the go ahead to continue, according to the Greyhound Times. The review had allowed meetings to take place during day light hours, which meant Greyhound Racing would now switch to Saturday afternoon meetings, meaning that the football club would have to look elsewhere to play home matches. The war years had witnessed Greyhound Racing’s busiest period, with attendances exceeding 3,000 regularly, but Somerton Park had new tenants with the Civil Defence Corps using it as their base. The end of hostilities has seen the return of the football club, moving back in as tenants to the greyhound company once more By the early 1960’s attendance figures for Greyhound Racing had slumped dramatically dropped to hundreds rather then the 3,000 after-the-war crowds who had supported  it. , and in 1963 Somerton Park was purchased by Newport Council for just £30,000.

 

A crowd of  700 gathered to witness the  death knell of the sport in Newport and it was the mechanical  hare that  had raced around the track a million times since 1932, which had the last  laugh, for as the final race was about to start, the traps opened  too soon – before the dogs with the hare chasing the dogs for a  change! Len  Davies, secretary at Somerton Park, told a local newspaper: "Some of the best dogs in  the country have raced at Somerton Park.  Perhaps the best of them all was Antartica, a white bitch which set a track  450 yards  record  in a Somerton Stakes heat in 1958.'' He also recalled that during the same year three dogs, Combined Hope, Finnerty and Maglin Breeze-ran a triple dead heat, a very  rare occurrence indeed.

 

In 1963 when Somerton Park in Newport closed, it had been trading since 1935. Promoter John Hegarty blamed Government taxes for the closure. He reports that the stadium had lost £880 in the first six months of the year, during which time it had paid over £11,450 in betting tax. Its closure lead to the opening of speedway in 1964 and the advent of Newport Wasps.