Re-envisioning Greyhound Racing…part 2
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Educating and advocating for the SPORT of Greyhound Racing!
© Copyright 2019 KeepGreyhoundsRacing.org & Dennis McKeon
Certainly, one of the most effective and disingenuous talking points used by the supporters of A-13, in successfully passing the prohibition of wagering on live greyhound racing in Florida, was the following:
“A greyhound dies every 3 days on the racetracks in Florida”.
This statement elicited extensive and hysterical media coverage, by various fake news agencies, as well as rampant sensationalism, speculation and corroboration on their part --- all without a single shred of investigation or analysis, and without a single, penetrating question having been asked of those who promoted this fallacy.
In fact, greyhounds, like every other breed and mixed breed of canine, perish prematurely, for all sorts of natural reasons, quite a bit more often than from training or racing-related mishaps.
Greyhounds, for all their natural gifts of super-canine athleticism, and a predominant temperament that makes them among the most versatile and coveted of canine companions, are not immune to events of natural, premature mortality, nor are any other canine populations. The cold, hard reality is, that canines are all subject to any number of viral, and/or degenerative, terminal diseases and fatal, genetic abnormalities, some of which are not unlike those that affect human beings, even in the early stages of life, and in some cases, can defy accurate, medical diagnosis, minus an expensive autopsy.
In any event, the greyhound racing community, unless they have developed a secret, even broader-spectrum vaccine, to immunize greyhounds from accidental, incidental or environmental, premature mortality --- or from premature mortality related to racing misadventure --- should have taken a valuable lesson from what proved to be the main thrust of the campaign to end commercial, live greyhound racing in Florida, and what proved to be the crushing blow to the sport there.
The news is that greyhound racing --- management, the state, and the supply side --- have not done all that they might, to safeguard greyhounds while they are racing. There is much room for improvement in the way greyhound races are conceived, presented and conducted.
There are a number of steps that can and should be taken, to help minimize common, manageable injuries, as well as injuries that result in early retirement of racers, and much less frequently, in tragic fatalities to the greyhounds.
While management teams at some racetracks have updated their electronic lure systems, to safeguard the greyhounds (and track personnel) from any potential shock hazards those systems may present, not all have done so. Likewise, not all racetracks have installed breakaway arms to their lure carriers, to minimize concussion hazards to any greyhound who might come in contact with the lure, should there be a breakdown, or failure of the mobile apparatus. (These “options” were included as mandates in the yearly “Greyhound Safety Acts”, supported by the Florida Greyhound Association, and, inexplicably, opposed by nefarious and so-called “greyhound protection groups”).
The standard racing format itself, in the US, presents a number of opportunities to revise and refine the racing experience for the greyhounds, which would undoubtedly result in fewer injuries, fewer serious injuries, and fewer racing-related fatalities. The question is, will the racing community actually, and for once, take pro-active measures to insure its own survival?
Simply reducing the number of greyhounds per race, from 8 to 6, would eliminate 46% of potential 2-dog contact scenarios within any race --- from 28 possibilities in an 8-dog race, to 15 possibilities in a 6-dog race. Since a great many injuries are the result of greyhounds becoming unbalanced, even for a split second, due to contact or hard contact with another greyhound, at high speeds, this simple format revision would have a profound effect upon injury reduction.
When greyhounds make hard contact with one another during a race, it disturbs their locomotive equilibrium. When compensating for, or bracing against impact, loading stresses are dramatically and exponentially increased upon whatever area / limbs of the greyhound’s organism absorb the brunt of the impact. And that is how and why many injuries occur.
Taking it a step further, we continue to assign post positions at random, by the “luck of the draw”. Far too many races are marred by ugly collisions, and particularly collisions that occur when entering the first turn, in a standard, 550 yard race. These collisions sometimes result in a greyhound, or more than one greyhound, being knocked entirely off their feet, at high speeds.
This is often the result of greyhounds who are notorious “wide-runners”, having drawn an inside post position, who then abruptly move to the outer portion of the racetrack, most often as the pack enters the first turn. At that point, any greyhounds who are in the path of the wide-running dog, will likely sustain hard contact, sometimes even a full “broadside”, as the wide-running dog seeks his preferred line on the outer portion of the racetrack.
A similar dynamic can be observed, when greyhounds who are dedicated to running as close to the rail as they can position themselves, make a beeline toward it, shortly after the start of the race (commonly known as “slashers”). This usually results in pack-jamming, and sometimes even completely unbalancing and impeding the dog(s) to their inside, who have not drawn clear of them.
In cases where rail-centric greyhounds make their move to the rail as the turn presents itself, often the over-reaction of dogs to their inside, abruptly cut-off by the greyhound’s sudden dive to the inside, in order to avoid the oncoming contact, is to prop, and move to the right---which then, just as often, creates impacts with other dogs, directly to their outside or close behind them.
Needless to say, these scenarios are not good optics for the sport, and certainly not a pleasant experience for a greyhound, whether or not he/she suffers any injury as a result of these contact incidents --- incidents that might easily be prevented, in many cases. Greyhound racing is not, and should not be made into a contact sport.
The remedy for many of these unnecessary, race-marring episodes, is a matter of the resident trainer community and the track racing department, simply agreeing to co-operate with one another, in order to provide a safer, less congested, and more formful racing experience for the greyhounds.
The trainer knows precisely which “line” a greyhound prefers to take when racing. Each greyhound, indeed, has a preferred line that they traverse, when racing around the oval. These are generally invariable. Some dogs prefer to take an inside line, some prefer the mid-track, and others prefer to race on the outer portion of the track surface. And this is particularly, and sometimes painfully apparent, during the “first section” of the race. That “first section” being, from the starting box to the halfway point of the first turn, where the greyhounds try to best position themselves for making their definitive run at the lure.
So, the trainer, when he enters the greyhound for official schooling or racing, “declares” the dog --- as either “rail”, “mid” or “wide”. Then, the racing secretary or director, assigns the dog to the starting compartment --- 1,2,3,4,5 or 6 --- which places the dog in the best position to secure his “preferred line”, with as few impediments and “detours” as possible. Wide-runners are automatically assigned to the outside starting compartments, mid-trackers to the middle ones, and rail-runners, to the inner compartments.
This isn’t rocket science, and it will not prevent every, conceivable, contact scenario from occurring. But it is simple, humane, common sense. It will, if done conscientiously, eliminate many of them, and particularly, many of the more impactful, multi-dog collisions, and the falls and injuries that sometimes are the result.
When we allow a greyhound who is a known wide-runner --- a greyhound we know will fly to the outside part of the track, before or upon entering the first turn, regardless of whether the path is clear of other greyhounds --- we are deliberately setting that greyhound up to fail, or worse, and setting up any other greyhound with whom he/she may make high-speed contact, to fall, to be injured, and / or worse. It’s not an “accident”, when we know for certain that it will happen.
Adopting these changes is no longer a matter of flaunting immutable tradition. For greyhound racing, it is a matter of survival. It’s a “no-brainer”, if we are truly committed to providing our greyhounds with the safest racing experience possible, and to reducing injuries and fatalities with every tool in our shed.
In the next installment of “Re-Inventing Racing”, we will further explore pro-active procedures, precautions and revisions to racing formats, which will also reduce injuries, and provide a safer, more fulfilling racing career for greyhounds in the US.