What do racing injuries and child birth have in common? They are both emotional, painful times, the intensity of which is soon forgotten – until the next time.
I don’t know why greyhound trainers seem so shocked every summer when injury rates climb.
I spent five minutes checking through old records and found a group of greyhound who all broke hocks in ‘Julys’.
They include: Haymaker Mack, Lartigue Note, Droopys Merson, Borna Dasher, Centour Corker, Bell Legend, Westmead Diver Coolavanny Bert, Alien Planet, Aayamza Breeze and Astute Missile.
This is just a sample spread over three decades and and only concentrates on one type of injury.
Yet although trainers tend to forget the ides of July, racing offices don’t. “Our graded numbers are down as you always expect this time of year”.
Injuries are part and parcel of the sport but summer going greatly magnifies the problem.
I have been observing, listening to, questioning, and trying to understand some of the leading experts, with various skill sets relating to injuries and track surfaces, over many years. I have concluded the following:
1) Track racing surfaces are a significant factor in many injuries, though certainly not the only reason for them.
2) No area of welfare has seen more effort or investment than track surfaces in the last 20 years
3) We appear to have forgotten so much of what has been learned.
One example – it must be at least 20 years since Gordon Bissett wrote possibly the most complete guide to track preparation ever produced.
After taking over control of the Ladbrokes tracks, he set out to reduce injury rates.
Typically, he went at it like a demon, travelling the world, devouring all the available data, talking to every known expert that he could and then formulating a strategy for track preparation.
Much of today’s basic formula for track preparation was based on Gordon’s original blueprint.
That was later supplemented by the Sports Turf Research Institute (STRI). Now they tackled track preparation from a scientific perspective. First they worked out the perfect constitution of sand for greyhound tracks based on grain size.
They studied how it behaved in different weather conditions, from heat to freezing. They developed methods for testing ‘sheer’ and ‘impact’, using klegg hammers and assorted other toys.
Gordon Bissett implemented STRI best practise into his already encyclopaedic knowledge.
It was determined that a track inspector was needed and the job went to John Haynes.
“My mate” John (as he is known on the forums), a former Trainer of the Year, was a marmite character who ‘called a spade a f***ing spade’ But there are plenty of general managers who wish he was still around and I reckon there would be more sounds dogs too.
(For the record, it was the STRI – not Haynes who instigated the regime for regular harrowing of tracks. It was based on the science of sand migration to cause a hard pan, which led to insecure footing and injuries. I have NO doubt, that harrowing up tracks is vital. It’s the failure to correctly tyre pack, plate and water that causes ALL the issues)
John would have retired last year anyway, having spent a year mentoring his successor.
Unfortunately, GBGB chairman Tom Kelly and his CEO Barrie Faulkner decided not to give Haynes his final year, indeed they saw no reason to replace him either.
What an absolute effing disgrace to all those who sat on that board.
Sod greyhound welfare!
Why did they do it?
Dunno. My best guess was to stop Haynes asking awkward questions as a board director. If anyone was going to take on the Chuckle Brothers it was Haynes. They knew he would walk if they dismissed his job as irrelevant.
Moving on – when the next track inspector is appointed, it is vital that, unlike Haynes he or she has real influence.
Currently, there is no automatic mechanism in place for where it goes all Pete Tong.
It is bizarre that a track could have ten broken hocks in two races, and it would be at the discretion of the board whether to investigate.
That helps nobody – including the tracks.
I strongly suggest that the new track Inspector is automatically informed of every apparent career ending injury or fatality.
But that does not imply that the running surface is always to blame. As an industry, we have developed an unhealthy, unfair and counterproductive response to injuries.
For example, I know for a fact, that certain managements have concerns over the injury levels of specific trainers. There injury rates are considerably higher than other trainers at the same track.
Are they sending out unsound dogs? Are they feeding correctly? Do they understand bone remodelling and physio?
I am convinced that the majority of greyhound trainers wouldn’t know **** from clay, from sand, when it comes to assessing the safety of a racing surface.
Our new track inspector – who would needed to be trusted by all sides – might simply look at an injury and determine ‘bad luck’, no obvious cause’. Or he might suggest a tweak on preparation or drainage.
In addition, I am aware that the GBGB’s Duncan Gibson is constantly monitoring injury trends at all the tracks. Instead of notifying the track of a worrying trend, he could notify someone with the power to do something about it.
The track inspector would have the power to recommend that a negligent track could have its licence suspended.
How often would it happen? Never. Because I know they would respond.
In the last week I have asked Gordon Bissett to contribute a piece to the debate on this website.
He learned more than anyone else I know on the subject and he retains an interest in it. He tells me how busy he is – presumably building a death star – but I will keep nagging. Please join in if you see him.
Gordon has views which suggest it is even possible to narrow down the likely area of the track causing injuries, simply by identifying the type of injury.
For example, in the case of gracilis problems – if the surface is to blame, the issue is most likely where the dogs leave the traps or at the first bend.
I asked him for a layman’s view on what represents a good racing surface.
He replied: “If you get to the last race and you can still see clear crisp footprints, you know you have a good surface.”
Last week’s piece about the on-going Clonbrien Hero positive finding for cocaine clearly irritated a few readers, judging from the response on Twitter and Facebook.
It seems that anyone who questions drug testing inquiries is attempting to condone cheating.
‘Why is it always the same few’ I was asked.
Possibly because a guy with 700 runners per year, including many classic finalists, is more likely to have a positive that a guy who has 20 graded runners. . . .?
But swerving those who desperately, for one reason or another want to find Graham Holland guilty, with or without a hearing, let’s take him out of the equation.
I decided to re-visit another famous case involving Derby winning trainer Bruno Berwick.
Owner trainer Bruno had a positive test for Perry Barr grader Mays Goodluck back in October 2014.
For the record, the dog ran to form finishing third, beaten just under three lengths and returned at 7-2. He recorded 29.01 in the race in question having clocked 29.06, 29.10 and 28.88 in his four previous races, and 29.13, 29.04 and 29.04 again in his next three.
I realise that that isn’t the point – the dog should not have tested positive for a Class A drug, but stay with me on this.
At the GBGB enquiry, it was revealed that Goodluck’s sample had returned positive for benzoylecgognine, a metabolite of cocaine, in other words a substance the body has produced as a result of an intake of cocaine.
To directly quote from the GBGB report: “The level of benzoylecgonine, at around 6ng/ml, was similar to that seen 72-120 hours after administration of clinically significant doses of cocaine to dogs in clinical studies.”
So, let’s get the figures out of the way. That is 6 parts per billion, from 1 millilitre of urine.
I did some research and among the many websites of interest, I leaned that in humans at least, benzoylecgonine has a 12 hour ‘half life’ ie the level halves every 12 hours and is not traceable after four days.
But that still isn’t the whole story.
Every single case that I could find relating to cocaine suggests that it is effective from anything from a couple of minutes all the way up to TWO HOURS. No longer.
Now remember that quote “was similar to that seen 72-120 hours after administration”
Even, as seems proven, Mays Goodluck had been in contact with minute traces of cocaine, days earlier, he had been in racing kennels since 6pm that night and didn’t race until 9.45pm.
Ah! BUT what if someone had given him the cocaine when they were preparing him for the race – as a famous trainer supposedly did, by rubbing cocaine into the dogs gums when they were behind the traps?
But then – the cocaine would not have been in his system long enough to produce benzoylecgonine in a post race urine sample.
Could it have been a benzoylecgognine positive from a previous race? NO! He hadn’t raced for six days prior to the positive test.
Quite simply, unless you can give a dog cocaine within two hours of his race you are wasting your time.
One final point – it is not the job of the stewards to form any moral judgement as to how the drug got into the dog’s system.
Yes, there are welfare implications, but does anyone honestly believe Mays Bestluck’s welfare was deliberately compromised?
So I wonder why Bruno Berwick was given a six month suspension and fined £2,000?
Answers on a post card – or via Twitter or Facebook
I can fully understand why it is difficult to defend vet Daniel Doherty, whose conviction as part of a gang in a puppy farming scam led to an increase in his suspended sentence to three and a half years in prison.
I am certainly not deflecting from his crime, but wanted to put on record that there is so much more to the man.
First and foremost, he was a superb surgeon who performed dozens of successful operations and saved dozens of racing careers.
But more important, and certainly not obvious from the bare bones of the court case – there is nothing to suggest Doherty was a greedy or callous man.
Time after time I have heard stories of his doing work for free, including significant amounts of post operative care. All his earnings from the puppy business were declared to the tax man.
So why did he get involved in something so vile that left owners with thousands of sickly and un-inoculated pets?
According to those who seem to know him best – coercion.
Which makes you wonder – was the solicitor general who extended the sentence in possession of the same facts as the original judge who handed out the suspended sentence?
Or was the serving MP simply serving a ‘popular’ decision.
With so many news sources to digest, we can sometimes miss a real gem. I only spotted the recent RPGTV piece about the Yarmouth home finding kennel when looking for something else on Youtube.
I thought Julie Collier produced a superb mini documentary on so many levels. First, it was it a reminder of what a great job is done by Stephen Franklin and the volunteers.
Lots of re-homing centres already stage get-togethers for people who have re-homed greyhounds, but is there more scope?
Julie’s documentary highlighted people who had seen their local kennel as a chance for strangers, possibly lonely or going through a bad time, to meet others socially and enjoy some healthy exercise.
What a great introduction to the greyhound industry. In my opinion, there is so much more scope to this.
Great job Julie