LAST Thursday, Trip To Cairns (5), a 26 months old bitch, got out quite nicely in a 595m race at Sandown (R2) but was then sideswiped by another dog as they straightened up. It still had enough pace to lead around to the back straight where it pulled up abruptly with a broken hock.
Last Saturday, Irelands Force (6), a 29 months old bitch, came out in the middle of the field in a 600m race at The Meadows (R9). It was knocked sideways as they turned into the home straight, and then continued on for a while until pulling up as they rounded the main turn. It had a broken hock.
In essence, these experiences were identical. The bumps were perhaps no different, or even less extreme, than those suffered by half the field in many of these bend start races. But this time they had awful consequences.
Anecdotally, a highly experienced vet has noted that many dogs are actually racing with hairline fractures evident in their legs (I do not have his permission to quote him). You might also note the rough similarity between these greyhound experiences and those of young fast bowlers – whose bodies have yet to toughen up – suffering stress fractures which put them out of action for months or years. 19-year old tennis star Nick Kyrgios has the same sort of problem with his back.
In some cases the risk is that extra stress on a dog’s leg will cause catastrophic damage. In all likelihood, that’s what happened to the above two dogs. Both were severely spreadeagled just after the start of the race, as is obvious on the race films, but subsequent pressure caused the final break.
More typically, hock injuries occur as the dog is coming out of the first turn in a 500m race, where entry speeds may be higher. Pressures on the turn light the fire and the explosion occurs as they accelerate down the back straight. It does not even need the involvement of another dog in the field. For example, Knocka Norris broke its hock at Sandown in a solo trial in exactly this way..
The underlying causes of these injuries have to be due to one or more of (a) genetics, (b) early education and racing experience, (c) track surface quality and camber, and (d) the shape of the track, particularly the turns. To be more specific requires considerable scientific investigation.
In one sense it is fortunate that some investigation is going on now, although we have no details. Initially, authorities in WA and SA combined to start assessing the number and reasons for broken hocks. That work has apparently fallen under the purview of GRV’s house vet in Melbourne, who is developing a major thesis on the subject for a higher degree. More information has yet to emerge.
Meantime, to suggest we just wait and hope is not acceptable. Apart from the individual traumas for both dogs and connections, the major effect is to lessen the quality of the greyhound product and also to attract more criticism of the industry’s attitude to welfare – a topical subject these days but one that sometimes gets lopsided treatment.
Because this problem is effectively man-made there are immediate measures which can be taken to improve outcomes.
The first is to actively engage in eliminating bend starts from all tracks. They are a menace and do no-one any good. All need to be moved or replaced by shutes. It is also the height of folly that two multi-million dollar investments are now going into new tracks in Perth and at Logan, near Brisbane, and which include bend starts for middle distance races. In both cases better options are available and, in fact, were formally discussed and rejected by WA authorities. Shame on them!
(Noting at the same time that the Queenslanders have not been able to make up their minds about how and when to start building. Work at Logan was supposed to commence in mid-2014 but the site has not seen a shovel yet. Heaven knows what the new government will do now. It holds the purse strings).
Short of those steps, it is a simple matter to ease the burden by reducing all fields for bend start races to six runners. The big issue today is that there are eight runners trying to get into space sufficient for only four. Bedlam is the only possible outcome. Six would be a good compromise. (That is also the English solution).
Of course, the bigger issue is how to build better turns in any races. Assessing the right track shapes, radii, cambers, surface quality and other matters must become the task of a small group commissioned to study the subject thoroughly and scientifically.
This is a national need which should be funded by all states. We must remove the guesswork and the “she’ll be right” content of track designs. History has served the industry badly in this area. It is time we moved into the 21st century. The dogs will thank you for it.
Incidentally, at the risk of boring readers, donkey’s years ago I was playing fullback for a rugby league team in New Guinea and roared across to cut down a flying winger near the sideline. I got him alright but connected with his hip bone rather than something higher or lower. I felt a bit numb in the arm at the time but it went away. Ten minutes later I had the ball and was cutting through the opposition when an opponent sideswiped me – not seriously but the impact broke my collar bone. Obviously it had been cracked previously. That was all my own doing but it does illustrate the possible effect of collisions. They can affect any athlete at any time.
The need for detailed study of track designs was well illustrated in the Shepparton Cup heats last night. No winners were affected directly, largely because they got out quickly and led all the way (barring El Grand Seal, which always gets run down over this distance). However, the chances of many runners to earn a place were significantly affected by sideways squeezing on the way into the first turn. In a 450m race you do not get a second chance. This is why longshots got up into the places in most races. Despite favourites doing well, four of the eight First Fours paid over $800.
It is impossible to know exactly which cause has what effect in these cases. That’s why we need a proper study.