Greyhound welfare needs better definition

APPARENTLY, there are still some disbelievers amongst us. Answering our point that 7-day backups for stayers are a no-no, one reader claimed that knowledgeable trainers would be able to “rehydrate” the dog and have it
tip top order for the following week. Observations suggest some trainers must agree with him.

While my husbandry ability is admittedly next to zero I do try to read up on stuff before I write about it. Just as important is that I can easily pull out all the figures and make performance comparisons for any dog or group of dogs.

In the former case, I am impressed with the general advice about dogs from lots of qualified people – one of which might be summarised this way:

“Three systems provide energy during physical activity: Immediate sources (ATP and Creative Phosphate), Glycotic Metabolism (Anaerobic Breakdown of Glucose), and Oxidative Metabolism (Aerobic Breakdown of Carbohydrates, Fat and Protein).” Jeris/Eve Pugh, The Martial ARFS, New York.

I suspect a drink of water (with or without additives) does not really cover all that stuff.

The other issue to monitor is the way the race was run. Here, to quote the phrase used by Dr John Kohnke, there is a world of difference between a “gut buster”, where the dog leads all the way, and the race where the dog is tucked away in the field (eg a Sweet It Is type) and comes home hard only at the end of the race. Obviously the former racer conforms to the normal greyhound practice of going out as hard as it can, thereby taxing all or most of its reserves by the time it reaches the post.

To put it all in perspective, consider the career of Xylia Allen, one of the finest all-distance performers seen in recent times. My own view is that it was optimised over the middle distances of 600m or so, although it did not race very often over those trips and they are prone to interference anyway. Nevertheless, despite being a risky beginner, it broke track records from 515m to 720m.

There were five occasions when Xylia Allen raced in consecutive distance races during its two year career. I will leave out one of those (at Sandown) as it was the victim of a roughhouse start in April 2014. Here is what happened from one race to the next in the other four cases.

23/2/13 to 2/3/13 Meadows 725m – slowed by 5 lengths
12/4/14 to 19/4/14 Wentworth Park 720m – slowed by 5 lengths
5/6/14 to 12/6/14 to 19/6/13 Albion Park 710m – slowed by 1.5 lengths, then a further 5 lengths
19/7/14 to 26/7/14 Meadows 725m – slowed by 6 lengths.

There is nothing unusual in those declines. They are matched by performances from nearly all other stayers in recent years, dozens of which have been documented on these pages.

After all, we already know that a greyhound’s top speed, on average, is reached in trips around the 440m mark, after which they start slowing down (regardless of how it looks as they are all striving to reach the finishing post).

As the distance increases, so the proportion of the dog population that can handle the trip falls away, particularly so for those attempting 700m-plus. This is one reason the relatively recent habit of providing bonus money for distance racing is a poor bet, policy-wise. The dogs do not have bank accounts, rather they have to rely on breeding and it just is not there.

In other words, there is categorical proof that from both physiological and practical viewpoints the vast majority of greyhounds cannot perform consistently when racing twice in 7 days over long trips. They have run out of puff and have not had time to replace the necessary juices. In that context, the skill of the trainer becomes almost irrelevant.

Moreover, the practice is risky. Who can forget the sad case of Boomeroo in the National Distance Championship final at Albion Park, probably the easiest distance race around? After the win, it ended up near death and on a drip for some days, having exhausted all its reserves and then some. Yet the dog was experienced, well-conditioned, in-form and certainly not over-raced. Boomeroo never regained its previous standard and was soon retired. It had tried too hard.

Or consider the perspective of runners in marathon events (800m-plus). Thankfully, these are no longer on the program but when they were I went to some trouble to follow-up on the careers involved. Only in an odd freak case did the dog continue in good form (Dancers Reward was one such). The vast majority never regained their previous performance levels and basically dropped out of racing. Their bodies were shot.

A profile of the greyhound will show that as the race distance increases from 300m to 1,000m the ability of the population to compete adequately decreases from 100% to zero. Those able to perform reasonably over 700m-plus would be less than 1% of the total. Those able to do it twice in 7 days would be a tiny fraction of that 1%.

Veterinarians must be well aware of these issues yet we hear only a deafening silence from that sector of the industry. Why so?

In a climate where we are being belted around the ears about the importance of welfare we are watching state authorities, clubs and trainers making a mockery of the subject. Almost as bad, we are kidding to the public which puts its trust in those in charge and invests its hard cash on dubious outcomes.

Educated comment on this subject would be welcome.

Action time for GRV on Sandown Park

It’s hard to believe but it keeps happening. The talented Rivergum Drive rounded the first turn at Sandown last Thursday but as soon as it put the pressure on to accelerate down the back straight it broke its hock. This is the umpteenth time such an injury has occurred at the identical spot in the identical way.

In a “Study of Injuries in Victorian Racing Greyhounds 2006-2011”, GRV’s Dr Linda Beer found that serious tarsal injury (which includes broken hocks) could be put down to (a) “increasing age and bodyweight and … cumulative damage or fatigue failure model of bone structure” on the one hand and (b) that “further work will need to be done to determine exactly which elements of the track’s design or track surface are responsible” on the other hand.

A study by NZ vet Nick Cave – in a paper delivered to the 2012 AVA Conference – made similar comments with the addition of a warning that over concentration on circuit education of youngsters could contribute to an imbalance in the development of left and right leg bones. (Note that the WDA report to GRNSW also commented on other aspects of early education which warranted more attention).

Surely, it must be plain as a pikestaff that something in the geometry of the Sandown turn is posing a problem. At no other track has the frequency of such injuries been noted. Therefore it must be a matter of urgency that someone measure up the track’s fundamentals and locate the likely cause of the injuries. Could it be as simple as the banking on the turn?

Since the turn has other problems (albeit less evident when the FOL is in use) it is clear that the time is overdue for GRV and the club to spring into action.

Incidentally, neither of the above technical reports addressed the point that – like humans – some 15% of greyhounds are left-handed. Presumably, these are the wide runners?

Past Discussion

  1. If you’re impressed by the advice of these “qualified people” then you’re easily impressed by people that clearly don’t know what they are talking about.

    Firstly, that should be “creatine phosphate” and “glycolitic metabolism”.  You’re correct, a drink of water won’t replenish ATP, but a drink of water with additives would.  The synthesis of ATP for use by cells is derived from the breakdown of food, if you want to replenish your energy reserves and thus ensure a steady supply of ATP you eat food.
    But you’re completely barking up the wrong tree if you think that ATP supply is what’s going to limit the performance of an animal to sprint again within a 7 day period.  Depleted ATP reserves within muscles will be replenished within hours.  Depleted glycogen in muscles will be replenished within a day or so depending on dietary intake and the macronutrient composition of that intake (more carbohydrate = faster glycogen replenishment).  The failure to achieve equal performance within a week would almost certainly be due to tissue damage that occurs during a hard sprint.  When we perform at maximum athletic performance there is tissue damage that occurs,  anyone who’s ever gone to the gym and then been sore the next morning should know this.  If a dog can’t equal it’s performance within 7 days it indicates that it’s still recovering from tissue damage which could be in muscles, connective tissue, cartilage, or many other places.

    The fact that dogs need recovery time seems indisputable (as you’ve pointed out numerous times), anyone denying that is letting their greed and desperation cloud their judgement.  But that’s the nature of animal racing, welfare is so far down the list of priorities for trainers and owners that it’s barely a concern.

  2. If you’re impressed by the advice of these “qualified people” then you’re easily impressed by people that clearly don’t know what they are talking about.

    Firstly, that should be “creatine phosphate” and “glycolitic metabolism”.  You’re correct, a drink of water won’t replenish ATP, but a drink of water with additives would.  The synthesis of ATP for use by cells is derived from the breakdown of food, if you want to replenish your energy reserves and thus ensure a steady supply of ATP you eat food.

    But you’re completely barking up the wrong tree if you think that ATP supply is what’s going to limit the performance of an animal to sprint again within a 7 day period.  Depleted ATP reserves within muscles will be replenished within hours.  Depleted glycogen in muscles will be replenished within a day or so depending on dietary intake and the macronutrient composition of that intake (more carbohydrate = faster glycogen replenishment).  The failure to achieve equal performance within a week would almost certainly be due to tissue damage that occurs during a hard sprint.  When we perform at maximum athletic performance there is tissue damage that occurs,  anyone who’s ever gone to the gym and then been sore the next morning should know this.  If a dog can’t equal it’s performance within 7 days it indicates that it’s still recovering from tissue damage which could be in muscles, connective tissue, cartilage, or many other places.

    The fact that dogs need recovery time seems indisputable (as you’ve pointed out numerous times), anyone denying that is letting their greed and desperation cloud their judgement.  But that’s the nature of animal racing, welfare is so far down the list of priorities for trainers and owners that it’s barely a concern.

  3. Crichton Bale races weekly and backs it’s brilliant all the way victory running gut busting sections from 7 days earlier , with another 700 m brilliant Sandown win tonight. Zipping Geoff improves to win the staying feature in Adelaide backing up off a hard heat run. In the meantime , fsvourite Harlon fails to back up a brilliant performance the week before over 500 m Sandown in a 500’m race . Perhaps stayers should be allowed to back up and sprinters should have 14 day breaks …

  4. Crichton Bale races weekly and backs it’s brilliant all the way victory running gut busting sections from 7 days earlier , with another 700 m brilliant Sandown win tonight. Zipping Geoff improves to win the staying feature in Adelaide backing up off a hard heat run. In the meantime , fsvourite Harlon fails to back up a brilliant performance the week before over 500 m in a 500’m race at Sandown .