AS YOU watch the players stride on to the court in the Australian Open of tennis, you wonder how they overcome the sore and taped ankles, the aching backs, the upset stomachs, blistered fingers and strained adductor muscles. To say nothing of injuries to the mind.
For me, what it brings into focus is what our canine athletes go through in order to get to the starting boxes. Like footballers, are none of them really 100 per cent by this time in the season? Is there a team of trainers, vets and muscle men on daily sentry duty?
The dogs are keen, of course, or most of them are, and like nothing better than getting into a competition to lead the pack, regardless of the niggles. The industry should be so lucky.
Looking through some histories recently, it was noticeable most dogs lasted no more than a year on the track. One thing or another brought their careers to a halt. And that’s not counting the ones which don’t get on to the track in the first place. It’s not an easy gig, nor is it a bed of roses for the owners and trainers. Mind you, there is no shortage of work for vets and muscle men. What would we do without them?
Little wonder that many top-liners are quickly off to the breeding caper. Success there can produce even greater rewards than on the race track. Many also say that a shorter racing career helps bitches produce better litters, but who really knows?
Either way, we should pay greater attention to what happens off the track in order to appreciate the full worth of race performances. It warrants more attention by authorities to educating the public about the history, development and care of the racing greyhound. Be proactive, not reactive.
Still, there is another side of the coin. Injuries, etc, are supposed to be reported to stewards before a race, and therefore made available to the public. That’s what the racing rules say, but how often does it happen? Particularly galling is the case of the trainer who retires a dog, saying he is unable to patch it up any more. We would have liked to have heard more about that when it was racing! So, theoretically, would the stewards, but I have yet to see investigations of breaches.
Meantime, at least the public can be sure the racing greyhound gets far closer attention to its welfare than the pooch in your backyard. There are exceptions, of course, but they pale into insignificance in the light of abuses suffered by so-called household pets. RSPCA kennels are overflowing with them.
Tales from the stewards’ room
The constant stream of inaccurate reporting by stewards is starting to be a real worry. If they can’t get the simple things right, how can we rely on their judgment in more important matters? These examples are again from Victoria, mainly because they are quick and easy to access and the videos are good (much better than in NSW, for example). However, a forensic examination of all states’ reporting by stewards may well show a similar story. Certainly, those individual cases/careers which I have investigated support that view.
Anyway, here are some highlights from last week.
Race 3, Sandown, January 29
“Sutton Club (3), Gaucho (4), Winfield Sammy (5) and Zabimaru Bale (6) collided soon after the start checking Gaucho.”
This is highly misleading. Gaucho, a short favourite, never touched the five and six and barely brushed with Sutton Club. It simply jumped poorly and got into trouble on the way to and around the turn. If anything, it checked itself.
Race 6, Sandown, January 29
“Go Jetta Go, Double Rinse and Evie Jane collided on the first turn checking Evie Jane and Lites And Sirens and causing Opec Bale to race wide.”
I mention this comment because the “colliding” was there to some extent but was minor in the overall sense of things. However, it is instructive about the future of Opec Bale. This is a genuine stayer (unusual in the Wheeler camp) with plenty of ability but it will continue to be a risk in competitive races. It is a highly chancy beginner but a strong chaser, which means it looks for any available means of getting through the field. In this case it was not really “caused to race wide” but chose to do that itself. It is a railer but ran all over the place in an attempt to get to the bunny. Future formguide comments might say “needs a clear run”. Had it got that in this race it would have knocked many lengths off its 41.99 time. But taking odds-on might be a short way to the poorhouse.
Race 7, Sandown, January 29
“Dawkins Bale, Know Class and Diva’s Shadow collided soon after the start checking Know Class.”
Nonsense, Diva’s Shadow did not collide with anything. It jumped straight to the lead. Know Class was simply slow out.
Race 8, Sandown, January 29
“Buckle Up Mason (1) and Hawk Alone (2) were quick to begin.”
A peculiar comment since Lamia Bale (4) jumped clear and led all the way while Hawk Alone began moderately.
Race 9, Sandown, January 29
“Hercules Bale (7) and Blistering Bob (8) collided soon after the start.”
Never happened. Never touched.
Race 10, Geelong, January 30
“Stewards spoke to Mr. K Lloyd, the handler of Sweet Diva regarding the greyhound’s racing manners on the home turn. Mr Lloyd stated that Sweet Diva has a tendency to race wide, particularly when entering the home straight. Mr Lloyd added that the injury suffered to Sweet Diva may have also attributed to the greyhound crossing to the outside when enetering (sic) the home straight. Stewards issued a warning to Mr. Lloyd regarding the greyhound’s racing manners on the home turn.”
An interesting case. The trainer should immediately buy a lottery ticket. Sweet Diva grabbed the dog outside it and forced it off the track for a significant period. The effort appeared to be far greater than might be attributed to the injury. Since the victim has rights, too, (and its own supporters) it may have been more appropriate to give Sweet Diva a longer spell than the five days imposed this time.
Race 12, Geelong, January 30
“Stewards with held (sic) the All Clear to ascertain if any greyhound had it (sic) chances materially prejudiced after a member of the public entered the course in the home straight to take a photo in close proximity to race track. After acting on their own observations and viewing the official replay, Stewards determined that no runner was materially affected and the All Clear was given on the Judge’s numbers 3, 8, 5, 7.”
While we might thank stewards for their interest, the “member of the public” was standing outside the fence bordering the track. There was no evidence of “entering the course” as such. In fact, anyone wanting to bear down on the practice could find a few thousand similar examples at other tracks in the country where people lean over such a fence, waving and yahooing. Dapto and Nowra would be the worst examples. In those cases an early view of the eight dog is often blocked. Then the fence at Newcastle was re-aligned for just this reason. That is not to support the practice but it does suggest track designers should pay more attention to the matter. Geelong does not really have that problem.. In any event, it is common for official photographers everywhere to stand even closer to the runners than was the case at Geelong.