What is Flapping?

Greyhound Racing FlappingThe flapping of which we speak here is not what a bird does with its wings, nor is it what your partner does when they can’t find their keys. It is not related to flipping, nor to flopping.

It is, instead, the word used to describe greyhound racing in the UK that is unlicensed. That is not to say it is illegal or illicit but simply that it is not licensed or regulated by the official governing body of UK dog racing, the Greyhound Board of Great Britain (GBGB).

Here we will explain a little more about flapping, including where you might watch it, how to bet on it, the major differences between flapping and regulated racing, and what issues and controversies the sport has faced.

Differences Between Flapping And Licensed Greyhound Racing

On the face of it there are no real differences between flapping and “proper” greyhound racing. To the untrained eye they would probably seem identical, with skinny dogs running round a dirt oval chasing a mechanised hare whilst people drink beer, eat chips and gamble on which dog is the fastest. Just a normal Wednesday night in Doncaster.

Races take place in broadly the same fashion over the same distances, with paying spectators watching and betting just as they would at a licensed track. The licensing is the key point of difference though and because these are unlicensed and unregulated venues, there are far fewer rules and regulations about what takes place away from the track.

Greyhound board of Great britain

Among the many roles carried out by the GBGB is to look after the welfare of the dogs. There are minimum standards of care required both during and after a dog’s career and this is not the case with flapping. In addition, perhaps the biggest function carried out by the GBGB is to try to ensure the integrity of the sport. They try to make sure it, and in particular gambling on it, are fair and proper.

This means checks on betting irregularities, measures to prevent doping and that steps are taken to ensure that the right dogs are running as listed. None of this takes place in the world of flapping and so anyone wanting to bet on such races should proceed with caution and be aware that there is a chance the punting playing field is not exactly level.

UK Flapping Tracks

Valley Greyhound Stadium
Diapers1927, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

As with “normal” greyhound racing, there has been a decline in the number of flapping tracks in recent decades.

Independent racing used to be quite widespread in the glory days of the sport in the mid-20th century but now you are extremely limited in your opportunities to watch it.

Due to the lack of licensing and regulation this is quite a fluid scene, so tracks tend to come and go even more frequently than they do with mainstream tracks.

However, at the time of writing there are just three tracks in the UK where one can watch flapping:

  • Askern Stadium in Doncaster
  • Thornton Stadium in Thornton (near Fife)
  • Valley Stadium in Ystrad Mynach (in South Wales)

Until recently there were five tracks but Highgate Stadium outside Barnsley suspended operations indefinitely in March 2019 and seems unlikely to reopen. In addition, a fire (said to be suspicious) caused the closure of Wheatley Hill Greyhound Track in County Durham in November of the same year. It was deemed “unlikely to re-open” which would leave “the North East without an independent track for the first time in more than 70 years… 25 years ago, there were seven independent tracks within 25 miles of each other.”

Betting On Flapping

Race FixingAs it is an unregulated sport you will not find flapping meetings listed at any online bookies. The only legal betting on such races takes place at the track and is accompanied by not so legal betting too. As said, if you intend to bet on such a race, proceed with caution.

There is a superb documentary about flapping where the former proprietor of Highgate, ‘Tricky’ Russ explains “a third of the people run straight, a third run crooked, the other third run crooked but pretend to run straight”.

With virtually no rules and no regulation, flapping is very open to corruption, cheating and fixing. There is almost nothing to stop owners doping their own dogs or even other dogs. It is relatively easy to improve a dog’s performance and certainly very easy to hinder it, for example by overfeeding. There are countless tales of all sorts of fixing, doping and cheating taking place in mainstream greyhound racing and you can multiply that when it comes to this unlicensed version of the sport.

Why Does Flapping Exist?

Greyhound and handlerHistorically flapping was a great and cheap way for people to get involved with the sport and enjoy the thrill of racing. That applied just as much to owners and trainers as it did to fans and there were once tens of independent tracks all over the UK. The barriers to entry are minimal, whether you want to give a dog its first experience of racing, try your hand at preparing a dog, make or take some bets or just have a cheap night of fun.

Flapping was the perfect way for an owner to see if their dog had what it takes without having to spend too much money. Particularly in the early days, it was largely legitimate and was loved by many fans who enjoyed its raw and “real” nature in the same way that many football fans prefer the authenticity of lower league action over the Premier League.

Whether flapping will survive much longer is doubtful though, as growing concerns about animal welfare and the general malaise of the sport of dog racing take their toll. Whilst there is no direct regulation of flapping from within the sport, local councils are technically responsible for ensuring some minimum standards of care are met and these are being enforced more stringently. There may always be a market for the sort of low-key, unregulated racing flapping provides but how much longer we will see it legally taking place remains to be seen.