Greyhound track horror: a steward’s eye view
A new survey - the largest of its kind undertaken - offers a disturbing insight into the world of greyhound racing and the set task demanded of these athletes: the racing at speed on tight anti-clockwise tracks.
The facts and figures
In Britain up to 6 greyhounds are pitted against each other on a track that essentially comprises two straights leading into tight bends. The forces generated through the limbs on negotiating the turns, the potential to lose footing and inevitable interaction between dogs on such tracks, are key factors in the catastrophic number of injuries suffered by the dogs every year.
It is impossible to give a detailed breakdown of injuries or a figure for greyhound’s euthanased as a result of injury. Such information is being collated by the industry but is not being made public (against a key recommendation within a Parliamentary Group report published May 2007).
What we do have, however, are the stewards racing comments covering the ‘performance’ of each dog in each race. How the dogs perform is of course a measure of safety and the comments make for sobering reading.
In 2010 the number of runners not finishing (DNF) or finishing at distance (DIS) was 4,513. The tally of runners recorded broke-down or lame was 1,812. Above figures are taken from a survey by Greyhound Watch covering the races held on tracks governed by UKAS accredited Greyhound Board of Great Britain.
The highest figures recorded in the survey for individual tracks are as follows: 68 DNF (Monmore); 290 DIS (Crayford); 296 broke-down/lame (Sittingbourne).
Whilst a greyhound recorded DNF or DIS is not always an indication of injury, it is of course the more severe injuries prevalent in greyhound racing that either impair greatly a dogs time or terminate his/her race. Hock fractures are sadly all too common on oval tracks and invariably result in the animal being destroyed.
As a percentage of races contended, Sittingbourne had by far the highest figure for runners listed in the survey. On 15 January alone stewards at the Kent track recorded one greyhound broke-down and 11 greyhounds lame. A further 2 finished at distance after falling. For 7 of the greyhounds it was to be their last race.
The most serious injuries suffered by the dogs - to include longbone fractures - are commonly the result of a fall, and the number of runners brought down on oval tracks is horrifying. From the data compiled above that covers 5,565 runners, 2,315 are recorded falling. The breakdown is as follows: turn one, 1,309; turn two, 283; turn three, 272; turn four, 81; other, 370.
Figures clearly indentify the first corner as the most dangerous point on the track and the incidents that occur as the dogs enter turn one account for many of the greyhounds lost through injury.
1,938 runners listed in the survey did not contend another race. On greyhound-data.com there are 68 British based rescues alone listing retired racers as either available for adoption or adopted. A further section covers dogs independently homed/kept by their trainer/owner but only 188 of the runners can be accounted for in this way.
Many people might find the results of the survey disturbing but it does nothing more than provide a flavour of what is a happening on British greyhound tracks. The survey does not cover the 11 independent tracks where it is thought safety is no better, nor does it cover the tens of thousands of trials held.
Furthermore there is stark variation on what stewards include in race comments that at best highlight only a fraction of the injuries racing dogs incur.
John Haynes - the gentleman who took on the unenviable task of trying to improve safety on tracks now governed by the GBGB - referenced a time not very long back when the majority of dogs retired through injury and claims to have reduced the injury rate by more than 20 percent.
Reports, however, from grass roots members of the racing fraternity indicate that in 2010 the scale and nature of injuries was about as bad as it gets. I think even Haynes would concede, oval tracks can be made safer but not safe.
GBGB ‘retirement’ forms include a section for dogs put down due to injury (treatable or otherwise) and a request was made (twice) for the figure covering 2010. The governing body have yet to respond.
Information correct at the time compiled (July/August 2011).