Are efforts to increase track safety having a reverse effect?

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.

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lone widow
lone widow
3 years ago

Katherine, my total concern when i nominate my dogs is “safe track”.  My favorite track is a regional track i do not consider how much prize money is on offer ( only half the city money) this particular track has a bend radius over 70 mtrs, which i consider the key to track safety. One dog i could name but won’t is 3 years old races exclusively on this track and has raced week to week for over 90 starts essentially injury free and still racing.  I know this is a one off instance but messing around with the surface… Read more »

jeff holland
jeff holland
3 years ago

Katherine, go and watch the replays from gosford last thursday, and note where the majority of the injuries occurred. The track appeared to be 99% safe, 1% deadly. Articles such as this are pointless if the journalist has made no attempt to establish and report the basic facts pertaining to the injuires. One would hope that before tonights meeting stewards pay close attention to the section of the track just past the changeover, that they monitor this section throughout the night, and if dogs are again getting injured or start easing due to what is likely a shifting surface, as… Read more »

Bluestone
Bluestone
3 years ago

The INDUSTRY needs to grow a set of balls and stand up for yourselves. What are you scared of? A fine?

Stick together, stand as one. What will they do? Call off the whole meeting? They can’t fine and suspend you all. These idiots in charge don’t know a dogs head from its tail. The BS with the water buckets prove that.

BobWhitelaw
BobWhitelaw
3 years ago

A  5 ton water truck watering the track won’t  help either  and since when  are stewards track surface specialist  and I’am LOL watching replays to see if the track appears 99% safe,  is in fact is a  pointless  argument or is it the noise the lure makes when passing over the changeover ,which can cause a greyhound  to shift ground or ease  on the track in that particular area .Kathrine its pleasing  that a Racing Greyhound Journalist has taken a positive approach to look at our present day problems with our tracks. Take a look at Race 4 Gosford last… Read more »

John Tracey
John Tracey
3 years ago

jeff holland Your on the money according to Gillette. Gillette’s website ids http://www.sportsVet.com. He has constantly updated the science and states that the racetrack reported matters are only one feature of the science. The below cut and paste is from his 12 page document in 2002, MY guess to the spate of injuries generally is that greyhounds are required to race more often under pressure than they were in earlier days and the grading policy favours fairness for the owner and trainer in regards to being drawn (ballot) but does not take into account the welfare of the greyhound. Gillettes… Read more »

John Tracey
John Tracey
3 years ago

jeff holland Your on the money according to Gillette. Gillette’s website ids http://www.sportsVet.com. He has constantly updated the science and states that the racetrack reported matters are only one feature of the science. The below cut and paste is from his 12 page document in 2002, MY guess to the spate of injuries generally is that greyhounds are required to race more often under pressure than they were in earlier days and the grading policy favours fairness for the owner and trainer in regards to being drawn (ballot) but does not take into account the welfare of the greyhound. Gillettes… Read more »

lone widow
lone widow
3 years ago

Bluestone 

Good idea Bluestone, you can be the union organizer.  Better get them all enrolled first. Whats the next step?

BobWhitelaw
BobWhitelaw
3 years ago

John Tracey jeff holland I’am glad someone  kept records of injuries as GRNSW  records where all over the shop. I remember at the inquiry when the CEO was ask about dogs that were lost due to injury in races or in their life time since whelping , he took a guess on the numbers, as he did not know ?

BobWhitelaw
BobWhitelaw
3 years ago

lone widow We should all take on board what Bluestone is trying to say ,but it will never happen i’am sad to say many have tried and only to be ridiculed for their effort  and to be flogged off as riffraff by authorities.With whats gone down here it NSW i think the Participants finely have a chance to state their case in all area’s of the Greyhound Industry .I’ve taken time to look why we are at where  today ,since the live baiting issue brought us  tumbling to our knees. We had a board removed, and a CEO sacked !… Read more »

lone widow
lone widow
3 years ago

BobWhitelaw lone widow 

Bob, it was not my intention to be flippant about Bluestones comments. My point was that we have very little to bargain with.

I agree with your comments on scratching without penalty, which is what Bluestone was suggesting but first we need the ‘no penalty’ to be negotiated.

BobWhitelaw
BobWhitelaw
3 years ago

lone widow BobWhitelaw You are probably right  in some  sense but what he saying has always made sense but the Participants  WONT band  together and i believe they never will, it would  be good if they would  ?

lone widow
lone widow
3 years ago

BobWhitelaw lone widow 

I have never known the participants to band together on any issue other than the greyhound ban.

Why don’t we have a boycott on bend starts for example? I have even seen a leading trainer with starters at Ipswich 431….i just cannot work them out.

Maybe we do need the ACTU to organize this lot.

Bluestone
Bluestone
3 years ago

@BobWhitelaw @lone widow lone widow I would like nothing more than see a Union of some kind be established (existing or new) that MUST by statute be consulted by the governing body before any rule amendments etc can be introduced. Right now it is open slather and all one sided with GRNSW adopting a dictatorship mentality. YOU WILL COMPLY with us, hidden under a thinly veiled premise of Animal Welfare is their mantra. Well guess what? There are hundreds of people that have been in this Industry for a long time and I’d rather those long serving men and women… Read more »

BobWhitelaw
BobWhitelaw
3 years ago

Bluestone I’am hearing you, but most of what you are saying has been tried before with little or no success.Back in 2012  i spoke to a leading Union official about forming a greyhound branch of the United Services Union here in NSW the first question he ask what award does the Greyhound industry come under ,i advised  him none ,his reply was because of that ,there is not much we can do for you.However he did suggest of becoming Politically active and suggested to seek a party that suits your agenda and is willing to take up your cause or form… Read more »

lone widow
lone widow
3 years ago

BobWhitelaw Bluestone 

It surely comes under the “Entertainment Industries Award” Bob.  It doesn’t hurt to ask.

Bluestone
Bluestone
3 years ago

Thanks for the info Bob. I am aware of the involvement of the SF&F and their support for the industry. Unfortunately, they can have no influence over the discrimating and victimising policy being currently rolled out by GRNSW. I know no other animal based activity with the amount of unessacary, ill informed regulation than the current greyhound industry, but alas it is merely a dream that the INDUSTRY may finally stand up for their civil rights and fight back against Big Brother. The participants have proven time and time again they have got no STONES.

spyman
spyman
3 years ago

http://www.skynews.com.au/news/top-stories/2017/01/19/mike-baird-to-retire-from-politics.html?ref=BP_HERO_SKY_mike-baird-announces-retirement-_180117

DING DONG,THE WARLOCK IS GONE……

interesting times ahead.took a long time for his own CREW to get the message across that he had stuffed up the party.

had his xmas break to gather himself,and confide in his CANADIAN religious guru,who obviously had no answer other than MIKE, RUN FOR IT….NOW.

good riddance to a bad premier,second only to Victorias own champion of never being around when trouble arises…..DANIEL ;DANNY-BOY ANDREWS.

spyman
spyman
3 years ago

lone widow Bluestone  if my gremlins are true to there word,your dream of straight tracks,beginning with one,will come to fruition.

and not the obvious one either.

Bluestone
Bluestone
3 years ago

spyman lone widow spyman, that would be a dream come true. I remember fondly many great afternoons racing at Wyong up the straight. Even if it’s only D class prizemoney, a straight track option in NSW would be most welcome.

lone widow
lone widow
3 years ago

spyman lone widow Bluestone 

The obvious one Gale would be a combined TAB venue at Richmond.

However a straight anywhere would save a lot of dogs some serious pain. Bring it on.

BobWhitelaw
BobWhitelaw
3 years ago

Bluestone spyman lone widow After talking to  Morris Iemma straight racing is on his agenda  if not why did he ask us for our thoughts  on it!

lone widow
lone widow
3 years ago

BobWhitelaw Bluestone spyman lone widow 

Straight track racing is the safest form of greyhound racing, the powers that be cannot dismiss the straight track option.

Track injuries are the biggest welfare issue we have and with only Healsville and Capalabah out there it’s a disgrace.

Every state should have at least two straight track venues with a TAB licence.