Kinsley boss John Curran believes that he understands some of the reasons for the increased levels of injuries in recent weeks. He has concluded that many injuries could have been avoided by previous lessons not being learned. However he also concedes that there are still gaps in knowledge that need addressing.
He said: “There is a lot of work that needs to go into track preparation but the idea that tracks aren’t putting that time in due to increased schedules is wrong in my honest opinion. I wish it was that simple because it would have been addressed by now.
“I do think some mistakes are being made though. One of the bigger problems occurs, I believe, in how some tracks are being re-laid. Make no mistake, all the evidence is that they have to be regularly dug up. That wasn’t a ‘John Haynes initiative’ as is sometimes claimed. All the experts agree on it, the original STRI study, Gordon Bissett’s work, all of them.
“If you get a build up of a hard pan beneath the surface, which is escalated by the amount of water you put on a track in the summer, you will be 100% guaranteed injuries. The sand slides as the dog’s foot makes contact and you get broken wrists and broken hocks. So you have to dig it up.
“The problems come if you don’t relay the surface correctly. If you get a variation in levels, then the water doesn’t absorb evenly across the whole track. The result of that is that some parts of the track are soft while a few feet away it is hard underneath. I think there have been examples of that recently.
“Greyhounds cannot run safely on surfaces that change so quickly and there is nothing visible to the eye. You simply cannot see it and you wouldn’t know by walking on it. I believe that lack of consistency is a major factor in greyhounds being injured.”
Sand compaction is another issue that needs constant monitoring.
“The only way that I have discovered of consistently telling whether a track is too compacted is to use a particular piece of equipment on the back of a tractor linked to a high sensitivity rev counter.
“The piece of kit was adopted by work done by John Haynes and the STRI many years ago. It is an adaptation of an agricultural rotavator with tines on the back.
“When our groundsman is turning over the sand with this piece of equipment, the rev counter will normally register 570 revs. When he goes over certain compacted areas of the track, that can fall to around 430 revs.
“It is a big 90hp tractor but you can even hear the sound of the engine change. The worst areas are behind the traps and at the pick up where people have been walking.”
Curran is frustrated that the industry seems to have gone backwards in its understanding and management of track safety. There was a great deal of work done by the BGRB in the mid 2000s. For example, here is a report from the 2006 Associated Parliamentary Group on Animal Welfare
Improving the safety of tracks and running surfaces at all NGRC licensed racecourses is central to the work of the BGRB Welfare Committee. Through investment in research and consequential changes introduced track safety has been improved, injury rates have fallen and the number of greyhounds forced to retire has been reduced.
Track Safety Sub-Committee
A dedicated Track Safety sub-committee of the BGRB Welfare Committee has been in existence since 2004 and its work has already helped to dramatically reduce the number of greyhounds whose careers are curtailed through injury. The sub-committee currently comprises:
* John Haynes – Chairman of the BGRB Welfare Committee, BGRB Welfare Consultant, Chairman of the Greyhound Trainer’s Association and Professional Trainer with more than 40 years experience.
* Bob Rowe – Chief Racing Manager, Greyhound Racing Association Ltd (operators of 6 greyhound racecourses)
* Bill Glass – Operations Director, Gaming International Ltd (operators of 3 greyhound racecourses)
Members of the sub-committee visit all NGRC tracks on a regular basis and make recommendations to improve safety where necessary.
In 2005 a major research project was carried out at Poole Stadium, funded by a budget of £60,000. The works that were carried out resulted in dramatic reductions in injury rates of as much as 50%. On the back of this success the Track Safety sub-committee has produced best practice guidelines to maintain and improve the safety of racing surfaces. It is committed to sharing any findings with all greyhound tracks (both NGRC-licensed and independents) through the publication of easy-to-use manuals.
The first edition of such a manual was published and distributed in spring 2005.
Training of Track Preparation Staff
A series of one-day track safety seminars were held at different locations across Britain in March and April 2006. These were attended by over 80 delegates from racecourses across the country and provided a valuable opportunity for track staff to exchange ideas and share experiences.
The events featured descriptions of best practice in track design and common equipment in use. Further seminars are planned for November 2006 and spring 2007.
In 2005 the BGRB commissioned the first stage of a major study into the safety and performance of a variety of track surface materials in conjunction with the Sports Turf Research Institute based in Bingley, West Yorkshire. This research is detailed and ongoing and a decision as to whether sand will be replaced by a better standard track surface is likely in 2009.
A very important part of that research was proving one new surface to be unsuitable.
The Sports Turf Research Institute was able to compare various surfaces manufactured and show that one met the standards whereas another did not. This proved both the value and importance of research, which not only showed one trial material as suitable for extended research, but discounted another thus preventing mistakes in future track surface development.
The BGRB is funding a research team at Liverpool University to carry out biomechanical analysis of racing greyhounds to identify the causes of injury.
This information will provide the BGRB with valuable data on which to advise future track design and maintenance (as well as racing and training practice and helping inform veterinary treatment and convalescence guidelines).
Richard Payne, the assistant track vet at Coventry racecourse, has recently been awarded funding by the BGRB to pursue specialist research into how the traction and grip available to greyhounds varies depending on the physical properties of sand and the water content.
This research will be used to develop a device that can be used to assess track maintenance and should ultimately help improve the standard of track preparation nation-wide.
As part of a broader review of the BGRB-funded research programme, Liverpool University are also currently preparing a more comprehensive proposal that will identify topics and areas worthy of future research and results from which would be likely to benefit welfare across the industry.
Grants for Improvement
Grants totalling £118,000 have been awarded in 2006 to-date towards track improvements at 11 NGRC racecourses across Britain. Examples include the replacement of the running rail and modifications to the bends at Kinsley racecourse in Yorkshire and the purchase of new track preparation equipment at Sunderland racecourse.
The BGRB has made available £80,000 to fund the construction of bore holes at NGRC racecourses to ensure that tracks can be watered (and thus properly prepared) even during periods of water use restriction.
Significant improvements have been made in recent years towards the safety of tracks and their racing surfaces. The BGRB is committed to funding further work to ensure the programme of improvements is continued.
Curran said: “An enormous amount of knowledge and expertise was lost when John Haynes was not replaced as the track safety consultant. He would have retired last year anyway having spent a year training up his replacement.
“Why did Kelly and Faulkner get rid of him? Because he wasn’t a ‘yes man’ in board meetings. He could see incompetence and told them so. They didn’t like it. I also think there was a campaign by a small group of journalists to persuade Kelly that the Board could never operate with him in there. I know what went on.
“John hasn’t been well but I spoke to him this week and know several very high profile trainers have spoken to him recently with concerns for their dogs.
“But this really isn’t about the individual, it is the role that has been lost. John would regularly visit track staff with advice and to point out issues even before they arose. We are now paying the price of not having anyone in that role.”
Curran welcomes the return of the STRI but is keen to know their terms of reference.
He said: “Mark Wallis nailed it last week when he said, ‘we know there are injuries in the summer, but we don’t know why’.
“There is still a gap in our understanding that can’t be explained because the tracks haven’t been running faster than earlier in the year.
“Maybe the STRI can explain what is going on. I suspect that there may be an issue with how extra moisture is taken into the air in warm weather, but I am only guessing.
“In the longer term though, we also have to face the possibility that the dogs are simply getting too fast for our tracks.
“Take the Gymcrack as an example. Look at the times the dogs are doing now to when it first came to Kinsley. But the track hasn’t changed, nor has the way we prepare it.
“Greyhounds are being bred for speed, not soundness and they are definitely getting faster. Are we pushing the boundaries?”