It’s time to grasp a greyhound nettle

Sandown
PIC

I am going in here where angels fear to tread. But somebody has to do something about this. There’s no more room left under the carpet. Comments will be more than welcome.

The repeated evidence of broken hocks and the like, especially at Sandown, warrants serious attention from the authorities and the clubs involved. For all we know it may be getting some service but, if so, it is all behind the curtain and nothing is published. But if we don’t address the issue, others will.

Broken hocks occur at Sandown reasonably often as they round the first turn and set off after the bunny in the back straight. I have been writing about this for a good 15 years yet nothing ever changes and investigations – if they occur – are leading nowhere.

The hypothesis is that if such an injury is commonplace then there has to be something wrong with the track or the dogs, or both. That turn is the site of the greatest pressure that could be put on a greyhound. They are coming in at top speed and trying to negotiate a tough left turn. Legs are flailing and runners are going every which way.

What reminded me of this subject is an article written on October 9, 2021 by a popular newspaper reporter, Chip Le Grand, on the nature of deaths in the Melbourne Cup (horses, not greyhounds). He says that these days every starter “must undergo a CT scan of its legs … at the U-Vet centre in Werribee, the only place in Australia that has a standing CT machine for horses”. (It has to be a standing check as an anaesthetised horse – ie lying down – does not allow proper pictures to be taken). Professor Chris Whitton from Melbourne University is in charge.

Whitton examined 130 cases of euthanasia and found that in 60% of them there were signs of pre-existing pathology which indicated changes in a horse’s bones and therefore a greater risk of injury. The signs included “an increase in bone density, the loss of bone or tiny stress fractures known as microcracking”.

The concept is that detection of such faults would be a red flag warning against future racing. That is a job the centre is responsible for.

Back to greyhounds. In October 2020, while writing about handedness and related points, I noted a New Zealand report saying that “Separate but related NZ research has involved long term x-ray checks of greyhounds from pups to mature racers. That identified a high number of hairline bone cracks in youngsters which then posed a risk of more serious injury later in life – ie broken hocks, etc. The researcher (a scientist-cum vet) put this down to the constant pattern of training and racing in an anticlockwise direction”.

This was also consistent with a UK finding (in an item on British injuries by Andrew Knight from the University of Winchester) that “these tarsal bone fractures are thought to be fatigue fractures resulting from repetitive loading during training and racing (as) propulsive forces during cornering whilst running anticlockwise result in the right hind limb being the most affected”.

All of which takes us back to the original question. Is it the nature of the track or the way greyhounds have been reared and trained, or both, which eventually causes a busted hock? A third possibility might be a degradation in overall bone strength in the breed but that is conjecture.

Whatever, the subject is a critical one. Existing information or future investigations urgently need to delve into the detail, pass on all their to both participants and the public, and take action. It is deadly serious – literally.

Sample

  • 12 November 2021, Sandown.

    “Update 12/11/21: Trainer Jason Thompson reported Aston Fastnet had undergone a preliminary veterinary examination today and will follow recommendation to undergo a CT scan of the right hock with results to be provided to the . Update 1/12/21: Trainer Jason Thompson reported CT Scans had a revealed a fracture of the right hock and would undergo surgery”.

  • 19 November 2021, Sandown.

    “Rebellious underwent a post-race veterinary examination due to an incident in the catching pen and was found to have a right hock fracture. A 90 day stand down period was imposed”.

  • 19 November 2021, Sandown.

    “Kylie Keeping underwent a post-race veterinary examination and was found to have a left matatarsal fracture. A 60 day stand down period was imposed”.

  • 2 December 2021, Sandown.

    “Mepunga Freda underwent a post-race veterinary examination and was found to have a right hock fracture. A 90 day stand down period was imposed”.

  • 9 December 2021, Sandown.

    “Kenny The Brute underwent a post-race veterinary examination and was found to have a right hock fracture. A 60 day stand down period was imposed”.

  • 19 December 2021, Sandown.

    “Hurricane Pete underwent a post-race veterinary examination and was found to have a left hock sprain. A 7 day stand down period was imposed”.

  • 30 December 2021, Sandown.

    “Zambora Alani underwent a post-race veterinary examination and was found to have a left hock injury and right foreleg split webbing. A 10 day stand down period was imposed”.

Incidentally, any hassles with the Sandown circuit are GRV’s responsibility. But investigating trends in greyhound bone structures would theoretically fall into the national basket – ie – providing they are awake to the subject.

Six of one, Half a dozen of the other

In order to “prioritise racing safety” GRV will be running six dog maiden races as an experiment from February to April in 2022. NSW did run a few similar trials a year or so ago – inconclusively – while SA decided to move a lot of normal races to this format the year before (no reports though, except that betting income was apparently reasonable).

But does this have anything to do with safety in reality? GRV has recently claimed that overall injury levels were much improved. So what will the six dog format offer in addition?

Probably not too much, except at the jump where less crowding will be evident. The key here is that the typical race fairly quickly sorts itself out into two divisions – a quicker half and a slower half. Seldom do the two interact. If you miss the jump you are dead. On the other hand, many race falls occur when slower dogs try to move up through the field and tangle legs or run into backsides. Six dog races might lessen that impact a fraction but some dogs are always going to be clumsy.

There is a second matter. Why bother to conduct such an experiment with maidens who may not know how to race in the first place. What will they compare them with? Will it prove anything one way or another? Unlikely.

Third, if GRV has a competent programmer, he can insert a query into their voluminous database and pluck out all the races with six starters for review. That would certainly include some better class dogs. No need at all to go to the trouble of setting up some arbitrary events. (Just in the last couple of days, I located fifteen 6-dog fields but Victorian field numbers have been falling steadily for some years now).

Having done some or all of these things, how will you interpret the results and what action might you take? Very difficult to know. English fields with a maximum of six dogs are not much help as racing there involves an outside and drop-in boxes which totally change the nature of the race and the dogs’ habits.

Suspicions might be that (a) the penny has finally dropped that there are not enough dogs to staff existing races so smaller fields are a way out of that embarrassment or (b) it is another way of trying to gain more income from the same dog population with no extra effort. Strangely, all that contrasts with recent GRV moves to add Saturday morning meetings to the schedule and offer the possibility of a 13th race at some meetings.

Another area where more information is needed is the effect on betting volumes when smaller fields are present. Obviously, there will be a disincentive for some bets – eg Place and Trifecta/First Four – but the figures are unknown and also coloured by the high proportion of “mug” money coming in. Windfall dividends from Mystery bets would also be smaller. Maybe Tabcorp could advise?

My personal view is that smaller fields are bound to have a negative effect on betting in the long term and that 6-doggers will not improve safety much at all. However, there are other measures which are almost certain to lessen injuries – all related to track layouts – but which tend to be ignored. Some proof of that theory is that new tracks with higher standards ( and Grafton, for example) are much fairer to all.

Editors Note: GRV held a similar trial of six dog maiden fields in 2019.

Hidden Handicaps

That very fine racer, Koblenz, missed out in but seemed to lack oomph when unable to get to the lead in the back straight. Then, nine days later in a moderate field at (450m) he jumped in second spot but could not improve, finishing in an ordinary time for him of 25.31 at $1.20. It turns out he was carrying a couple of niggles at Shepparton but the suspicion is that was also true in the big race.

It would not surprise if former star is in the same bracket. It has failed to salute in its last 16 starts, sometimes as favourite.

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Not Sorry
Not Sorry
15 days ago

Ha GA have no idea about Greyhound Racing. They have no control over any part of Greyhound Racing. Not the tracks, not the breeding, not the racing, nothing. The only thing they do is control is the Registered Race Name of your dog. That’s it. GA are not interested in doing anything other than attend self congratulatory conferences that are not open to any participants. GA is only responsible for their selected membership which is each states control body. To expect anything else out of GA is not part of their own constitution. Otherwise they would apologise to every participant… Read more »

John Tracey
John Tracey
9 days ago

Hi Bruce,’There is a need for a National body to do bone scans on greyhounds that suffer hock injuries etc. It isa a relatively simple process and will tell us a bit more about what we should know.