AS a greyhound owner I know there is no greater joy than my dogs. Waking at the crack of dawn, exercising dogs, cleaning kennels, grooming and feeding until sundown and beyond is a way of life for thousands of trainers, owners and kennel staff right around the country.
These trainers are held accountable for every single movement concerning their dogs. Every gram of food is weighed, every vitamin and injection is tracked and the highest level of care is employed to make sure these gentle creatures are all at their peak, both inside and out on race day.
With all the blood, sweat and tears that go into looking after greyhounds, you can understand the anguish trainers feel when they believe that authority bodies are not doing their job.
Recently, since the live-baiting scandal, the sport has been under the microscope nationwide, with every state implementing reforms which have been established to maximise the welfare outcomes for all greyhounds.
One of the major focuses has been on improving track standards to reduce injury rates — but recent events have led this writer to ponder whether this is actually happening?
Every trainer dreads bringing home an injured dog, it is a heartache which comes second only to not bringing home a dog at all.
There would not be a trainer registered within the sport who isn’t in support of safer racing, but the authority bodies, even though the intentions are right, seem to be missing the mark entirely.
It is no secret that tracks in NSW have come under fire in recent weeks.
Times at Wentworth Park have been regularly around the 31 second mark, Maitland is currently closed due to track maintenance issues and Gosford lost a meeting due to surface problems just two days after its Cup heats program.
Greyhound Racing NSW (GRNSW) stewards made the decision to abandon the meeting at Gosford, just over an hour prior to the first race, citing the track was too hard which could jeopardise the welfare of greyhounds.
Alarmingly, in the two meetings which have since been held at the Central Coast circuit, 12 greyhounds have been injured and issued incapacitation certificates.
Two of those injuries were fractured offside hocks – career ending injuries – and another greyhound is unlikely to race again after a nasty back muscle injury requiring a 56-day incapacitation certificate.
Additionally, four dogs sustained lacerations, one injured elbow ligaments, two suffered Achilles injuries – with one of those also hurting its stopper.
There were more, but you get the point.
The majority of those injuries were sustained last Thursday (January 5) – with stewards deciding just over half way through the meeting that the track was once again too hard.
All races were pushed back two races whilst the surface was watered, not that it really mattered for five dogs which were all injured in the latter half of the program.
It left people wondering why it took six races to figure out the track was unsuitable – when it was clear to everyone at the track after the first two races that the track was fast and hard.
Now let’s look at other venues around the state. In total, between December 31 and January 7 (inclusive) 18 TAB meetings were held across NSW. All up, 43 greyhounds were injured including six hock related issues, at least two of which required euthanasia soon after the race.
Also worth noting is that 12 of the aforementioned injuries required incapacitation certificates of 21 days or more – so in laymen’s terms they were substantial.
Obviously, in some of these cases interference and bad luck must be taken into consideration, but by anyone’s standards, these injury rates are far too high.
Last year, GRNSW commissioned a research project into greyhound race track safety. The project is being carried out by the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), with GRNSW and Greyhound Racing SA (GRSA) supporting it with $325,000 funding.
The project is expected to be completed some time around May – but that’s still five months away meaning there’s more than 3,500 TAB races between now and then in NSW alone.
So what is the plan for now? If this research is going to pave the way for safer racing, then why are GRNSW taking it upon themselves to be fiddling around with the tracks before there are definitive answers on how to make them safer?
With such an intense spotlight on the sport is now really the time to be trialling new methods of preparing tracks, just months out from a probable restructure of how tracks are surfaced, particularly when these new methods seem to be causing nothing but injuries, heartache and concern for many participants?
In September 2014 GRNSW also employed a Track Maintenance Manager to oversee the preparation of all the tracks within the state – meaning they are giving directions to race clubs on how tracks must be maintained. Tracks are now being prepared less firm, but many trainers are now claiming the surfaces being used are not holding water and are too shifty underfoot.
Almost a year later, in August 2016, GRNSW announced the injury incidence rate had fallen to 24.2 per 1000 starters during the April 1 – June 30 quarter in comparison to 27.1 per 1000 starters for the previous quarter.
While any reduction is positive, this was hardly earth shattering and, without sounding brash, surely we should have seen more significant improvements between then and now.
The point of this article is not to point fingers at the curators – but we do need to start asking serious questions about what we can do to protect our dogs – whether it’s reverting back to the former surfaces which were used or providing more training for staff in regards to how to prepare the new surfaces.
If we aren’t asking questions the blame simply gets passed around. If clubs aren’t fulfilling their duties of preparing safe tracks, it is the responsibility of GRNSW to come down on these venues to ensure the appropriate standards are being met.
It is becoming abundantly clear that the trial-by-error approach seemingly being employed by GRNSW at the current time is not working. Trainers are held accountable for every single aspect of their dog’s lives – it’s about time the authority body and race clubs stepped up and took responsibility for what is happening to dogs racing on their tracks.
It is important to note there is not currently any information for the latest quarter in regards to injury rates, however when trainers start to express increased concerns about putting their dogs around for safety reasons, alarm bells start ringing.
Most trainers don’t have engineering or landscaping expertise, but surely we should be taking their opinions and feedback on board, after all they are the ones who are putting their dogs on the line and trusting that tracks are up to standard.
We can’t wait any longer, the sport needs action now because every greyhound lost or injured on our tracks is one too many.