Off to the Races

The Start of their Professional Careers

By 15-18 months of age, most of the pups are ready to move to the track and begin their professional racing careers. The training they have received on the farm, called finishing, is meant to prepare them for life at the track. They’ll understand the basics of kennel life with turnouts, feeding schedules, training, and grooming. Most importantly, they’ll have the basics of racing: chasing a lure, navigating the turns, and racing with other dogs.

“Benching” is very important in the care of a racer. It is more than just a brief “once over”. The trainer is looking for everything from muscle soreness, swelling, small cuts, sore cuticles and shucked nails, to fleas and ticks. Normally, it is done the day after a race in order to catch anything that might be bothering the dog and treat it appropriately. If something more serious is suspected, such as a bone injury, the dog is taken to the vet for an x-ray.

At all stages of their lives, the dogs receive a great deal of attention, handling, and care from the people around them. They also have a lot of opportunity for play. The reasons for this are obvious: an unhappy dog doesn’t learn quickly, nor will it run well. A dog that isn’t used to being handled can be difficult to deal with, and no one wants a kennel full of unhappy, hard to handle dogs.

Littermates often run at different tracks and become kennelmates with dogs from other farms. Once they’ve settled in and gotten acquainted with their new kennelmates and trainers, Unofficial Schooling begins.


Schooling

Unofficial Schooling takes place in the morning on the track before the day’s races. Initially, the pups are hand-slipped so the trainers can see how they are running, and if they are following the lure. If that goes well, they run out of the starting box, first in pairs, working up to running in groups of four or five. This continues until the trainer feels the pup is ready for Official Schooling.

Official Schooling races are held before the main races. Most dogs run in 2-3 schooling races. These races help the trainer evaluate the dogs. Is the pup ready to move to their Maiden race and begin his career? Should the pup be moved to another track? Each track has different levels of competition and track conditions. Is more schooling necessary?


Racing

  • Schedule

Most dogs race twice a week. On non-race days, they exercise with kennelmates in the sprint path. Believe it or not, some dogs swim at the beach and others enjoy time in a whirlpool!

Although it varies, most kennels turn the dogs out 4-6 times per day. Each turnout can be anywhere from 30 – 90 minutes.

  • Feeding

Racing greyhounds are professional athletes and their diet reflects that. If they are not fed high quality food that meets their needs, they won’t be able to perform to the best of their ability.

The meals consist of raw meat, kibble, a carbohydrate (rice or pasta) and/or fruits and vegetables. Each trainer has their own formula regarding vitamins, minerals, electrolytes and other supplements.

  • Race Days

On a race day, the dogs have their usual turnouts. After being turned out, they are carefully checked and weighed. This weight is recorded in the kennel log. They have a morning snack and then rest. About an hour and a half before post time of the first race, a kennel employee takes the racers to the track. Here a track employee brings them to the ginny pit where they wait until it’s race time. They are weighed, (which is overseen by the track vet, a judge and other officials) given a tag which indicates which race number they are in, and the blanket they will wear. The racers must be within +/- 1.5 pounds of their set weight or they are scratched (unable to race).

Shortly before their race, the leadouts walk the dogs and a urine sample is collected and labeled. In the paddock area, they dress the dogs (put on the racing blankets and muzzles). The dogs are walked onto the track for the post parade and then led back to the starting boxes where they are put in one by one. The announcer introduces the lure, the doors open and the race is on!

After the race, the lure is stopped at the escape turn where the leadouts leash the dogs and hand them back to their trainers. The dogs are given water, cooled down with hoses, kiddie pools or dip tanks, and the sand is cleaned off, making sure to pay special attention to the eyes and the feet. When they return to the kennels, they are turned out, fed, and put to bed. Win or lose, they get extra treats!


Racing Career

Once the dogs have won a Maiden Race they move to the graded races starting at Grade D. Depending on their success, they move up or down a grade. Grade A is the highest grade at most tracks although some have AA. Greyhounds may also move from track to track during their career depending on the level of competition, how well suited the track is to their running style or if it’s a seasonal track.

For a great write-up about Race Day from the dog’s point of view see Catherine D’Arcy’s blog post. Check out the blog articles in the Track Life category for more information.


They’re Spoiled Rotten, of Course

By Brian Witt ©2014

When people learn that I raise greyhounds the first question I am generally asked is what happens when they don’t run fast or can no longer race.

This is what happens! Meet Otto, formerly known as Slappin’ which was short for his registered name of Slappin’ Da Bass (from the movie I Love You, Man!). Otto was born in my home in Texas. Yes that’s right, in my home. Quite honestly, I’ve since learned that raising a young litter in the house really isn’t an ideal way to go about it – but I enjoyed it.

At about 4 months old Otto was a pup bursting with energy, far different from the relaxed retired racer you may know, and it was apparent he wanted more room to run than I could provide on my property. I’d take them to run in the park but their poor feet would become covered in sticker burrs.

He and his litter mates went to stay at my friend Steven Powell’s farm out near San Antonio Texas where they could run their little hearts out in sandy, freshly tilled dog runs that were several hundred feet long without a sticker burr in sight! It was an ideal place for a greyhound to grow up. Steve’s farm helpers were his children, which was one of the reasons I chose him to take care of my pups. They certainly never lacked attention.

Otto went on to train at Buddy Scitern’s C&C Greyhound Farm at twelve months of age. Those that are familiar with Buddy and Carrie know a greyhound never lacks attention at their farm either.

By about 18 months Otto was off to Southland Park Gaming and Racing with his sister Remy, while their siblings went to Bluffs Run, in Iowa, and Historic Derby Lane in St Petersburg Florida.

Although Otto’s race career looked promising in schooling, his career at Southland was never developed as expected. It was decided that some R&R down in Florida and some more puppy friendly competition was in order. While he had some nice runs in Florida we soon learned that a sore hip was bothering him and that it was time for early retirement.

So what happens when my pups are slow or can no longer run? That’s right, they are spoiled rotten of course by the wonderful folks that adopt them.

Slappin’, renamed Otto in his new home, had quite a journey, traveling all the way from Florida to the Vancouver Canada area where he was adopted by Anne and Cody.

Anne said that Otto is her first dog and she couldn’t imagine a better buddy. These are some photos they sent me from a couple years back. They had taken Otto to their engagement photo session and Anne says he stole the show!

Thank you to all the people involved in helping find just the right home for our greyhounds, and to those that spoil them rotten!

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What Is In That Meat?

There’s so much misinformation about the meat greyhounds are fed. The awesome folks at Blu Too Kennel have posted this short video which shows exactly what the majority of greyhounds in the US are fed every day. This is 300 pounds of healthy meat, to which another 60 pounds of other ingredients will be added (most likely kibble and other nutritional, yummy goodies). Blu Too indicated this is enough for ONE feeding for their dogs!

Click here to view what the majority of racing greyhounds are fed across the United States


What Does It Take to Win a Race?

You’ve Got to Have More Than Speed

A racing greyhound is an amazing athlete. I like to think of them as a combination of a thoroughbred racehorse and a race car driver. In horse racing, it is the animal that is running the race, but the jockey that is making the decisions. In car racing, the driver makes the decisions, but it is a machine that is powering him. In greyhound racing, the greyhound is both the “engine” and the decision maker.

Drive, Determination and Smarts

A successful racing greyhound will also have drive and determination. But, he will also have the ability to make split second adjustments. A race doesn’t last very long and they are covering a lot of ground in a short period of time. Decisions and adjustments must be made quickly and to win the race, they must be the right one(s).

This video is a perfect example of the importance of drive, determination and smarts! Watch the greyhound coming out of the 3rd box (white racing blanket). She recovers from the trouble in the first turn. Then late on the backstretch she’s blocked, “stops”, recovers and drives home for the win.

Great race….she would not be denied!


Answering the “How did they do that?” Award Process

By Vera Rasnake ©2015

Each year the National Greyhound Association (NGA) and the American Greyhound Track Operators Association (AGTOA) release their award winning greyhounds. They make an official presentation at the Greyhound Hall of Fame during each Spring National. The AGTOA names the All America Team. The NGA awards the Rural Rube and Flashy Sir awards.

Every greyhound racetrack has a top athlete, some have more than one and like cheerleaders for their favorite teams, each greyhound racetrack submits their top greyhounds for the annual All America Team. The team consists of what is perceived by the racetracks as the top eight greyhounds in North America. Each year a captain is named reflecting the top greyhound based on accomplishments such as stakes race wins, track records, money finishes and other exceptional stats.

Each greyhound racetrack submits their list of entries electronically immediately in the New Year, after the December 31 stats have posted on each greyhound. A greyhound’s merit is not based totally on how much money they run out, as the money is skewed by casino vs. non-casino tracks and breeder awards and non-breeder awards that can substantially increase what a greyhound earns in purses. There are also tracks that do not offer a stakes racing program so a greyhound’s race stats are important to be included.

Flashy SirOnce each of the tracks has submitted their entries the list is combined with all the track submissions and redistributed to each racetrack as an official ballot. The list consists of the greyhounds’ home track; accomplishments for the year that makes the greyhound stand out from the rest at his/her home track. All racetracks are allowed one vote which consists of them voting on ten greyhounds and placing them in the order they feel their accomplishments put them. The electronic voting only allows a one-time submission to avoid multiple voting. Although an error can be fixed, it is important to submit correctly the first time.

The votes are also done electronically and tallied to produce the All America Team. As always, feelings are hurt and sometimes there are heated debates regarding the selected team, but no matter which greyhounds make the team, congratulations are always in order. A second team was created to recognize the runner-ups that consist from the votes sent in. Again this award comes from the racetrack operators.

The NGA awards are different. They present the Rural Rube, which is named after the legendary sprinter Rural Rube that raced in 1938 thru 1940. Rural Rube won 41 of 83 races, set the World’s 5/16th record at 31.00. He was a star performer and multiple stakes race winner at the prestigious Wonderland Greyhound Track. There are those that swear the greyhound was almost human. He posed to newsreels and cameras and at a dinner in his honor, Rural Rube sat at the head of the table, a napkin tied around his neck. He even bowed to the delight of those present. –Source Greyhound Hall of Fame.

The Flashy Sir award, named after the legendary distance athlete Flashy Sir, is given to the top distance Greyhound. Sir had 80 starts winning 60 races at 13 different racetracks. He also won 18 in a row and won the 5-series match race against another Greyhound legend Lucky Pilot. Sportswriters called Flashy Sir the “Seabiscuit” of Greyhound Racing. Flashy Sir will always be remembered at Taunton, Raynham, Biscayne, Revere and Derby Lane, which is the only operating greyhound track from the above list. –Source Greyhound Hall of Fame

Rural RubeTo be nominated for either award, a Greyhound must have accomplished one or more of the following:
· Finished third or better in a major stake.
· Won a lesser stake that staged elimination races, or ran third or better in two or more such stakes.
· Finished third or better in national or regional invitational that involved dogs from other tracks.
· Captured a track win title, with the majority of wins at a distance commensurate with the award for which the nominee is considered.
· Finished in the top three in the national win championship, with the majority of wins at a distance commensurate with the award for which the nominee is being considered.
· Set or tied a track record for a distance commensurate with the award for which the nominee is being considered.

The NGA members vote on the list compiled in the National Greyhound Review Magazine going out only to members. It is usually in the January/February issue. The ballot inside of the magazine is mailed back to KS before the deadline. Ballots are counted and Gary Guccione, Executive Editor of the magazine makes the announcement from the member votes.


Keen-ness

by Dennis McKeon ©2013

We often read, on social media, messages from people who are having some difficulty either understanding or coping with certain retired greyhound behaviors. Usually, advice from a remarkable array of adoption professionals, experienced adopters, even veterinarians and racing professionals is immediately forthcoming. One thing they are seldom told, but something they need to know, is that racing greyhounds are not bred to be pets.

That particular aspect of selectivity never enters into the decision of whether or not the individual is a greyhound worthy of carrying on with the breed. Contemporary Racing Greyhounds are performance dogs, and superior performance in head to head competition is what usually determines who does and who doesn’t get to input the genepool.

“Petability” is not one of the criteria used in this selection process involving the breeding of modern racing greyhounds. Many greyhounds, while they are superb track athletes and quite prolific as breeders, can have personality traits or exhibit certain behaviors that are not necessarily desirable in a pet, or conducive toward making an easy adjustment to life as a companion dog or family pet.

However, one attribute that is quite desirable in a racing dog, and in one who might be used for breeding, is what we term “keen-ness”. This involves a heightened ability to perceive one’s surroundings, and a heightened ability to react quickly and decisively to them. “Keen-ness”, in a track racer, is expressed as an irrepressible willingness to partake in racing competition, or to simply chase with abandon. Keen-ness, in a sire or dam, is something we want them to pass onto their offspring.

Lee Lee pictured with permission from Gillian Lee.

Lee LeeEspecially keen dogs are very focused, often to the point where they can be oblivious to the humans around them. When something gets their blood up, the result can be less than ideal in a non-sporting, uncontrolled venue.

These unusual powers of perception can also predispose them to skittishness and nervousness, as they inevitably perceive and react to the known as well as the unknown, quite often to a degree not always in common with other breeds. Remember this–your retired greyhound, at any given moment, in any situation, is, in his own mind, both predator and prey.

This primal aspect is held very close beneath their thin skin, as a result of centuries of highly selective breeding to a specific function. It is the essence of who they are.

Now, seldom are these unique qualities deal breakers to potential adopters–but it is important to understand that greyhounds are primal, reactive, competitive dogs by nature, and when they are bred for “racing temperament”, it isn’t for the same sort of temperamental qualities that we might wish to see in a Pug or a Maltese.

The fact that so many retiring racing greyhounds are still able to make a seamless adjustment in the face of a quantum leap of change in their lives, from racing athlete to family pet, is a tribute to their own innate intelligence and already learned faith in their humans.

Their coursing and racing heritage, and the mystical, ethereal aspects of their nature that it preserves, once taken into account and embraced, is just a bonus.


Day In the Life of a Racing Greyhound

by Catherine D’Arcy ©2013

I had been asked to write a “Day in the Life of a Racing Greyhound” and here is an excerpt, written from the perspective of the dog.

6:30am: Rise and shine! I get to wake up to all of my caretakers letting us out. I go outside in a group of 15 boys and we hang out outside for about 30 minutes. We sniff, smell, and take care of nature’s call. We have 3 different pens that we get to go into … and more sniffing and smelling take place. At 7:00am I come back inside.

7:00am – 8:00am: My caretakers are cooking rice and pasta in the kitchen. This will go in our dinner once its cooled. My caretakers start cleaning all of our kennels. Some dogs get to leave the kennel and go exercising.

8:45am: I get weighed and my weight is recorded in a kennel log. My caretakers groom me, check my feet, check my nails and my ears, and then brush me with a grooming glove. I go back into my kennel and nap till dinner time.

9:00am – 10:00am: Dinner time! I get a 1/2lb meat ball with some vitamins and vanilla Ensure on top. Yum! Because I got a 1/2 “snack” that means I am racing today!!!

10:00am: I go back outside with my group of 15 buddies and we take care of nature’s call, do a little sniffing, watch some of the other’s kennel staff, and just lounge around for 30 minutes, getting to go into each of the 3 pens attached to our kennel.

10:30am: I go back inside to the kennel. When we come back inside, my caretakers sweep, mop, and clean the kennel so its all clean and comfortable.

11:00am – 11:30am: I hear leads clinking!!!!!! Woohoo! I am going racing!!!! My caretakers put a lead on me and I go walking with 2 of my buddies. We walk from the kennel to the racetrack … we pass the grassy area with trees, and we sniff and take care of nature’s call … and if we are really lucky, we will see a squirrel!! We love watching the squirrel run up the trees! We walk to the Paddock area of the track and get weighed. I have to be within 1.5lbs of my set-weight or I won’t be allowed to race. I am 84.5lbs, the clerk of the scale records my weight and my caretaker brings me to the racing kennels. A track employee takes me and puts me into a kennel where I will stay until its time to race.

Major pictured with permission from D’Arcy Kennel.

Major (Dusty Road)1:30pm: Track leadouts come and get me! They put my leash on and we go walk outside in the warm up area. A lady in a lab coat follows me as I take care of nature’s call and my sample goes into a plastic container and a label gets put on it. The track vet is there watching us walk and making sure that we are all okay. Then we get to go to the Paddock area, where the Paddock Supervisor will check my weight and then put on my racing blanket. The Paddock Judge comes and checks my ear tattoos (to make sure I am the correct dog), and then he checks that my racing blanket fits correctly.

2:00pm: I walk onto the racetrack wearing the green blanket of post #4. I am pulling at the leash and the leadout walks me onto the track for the post parade. We walk in front of the spectators and I catch a glimpse of the toteboard … I am 5/1 to win my race. The leadouts walk us to the starting boxes and we wait for about 5 minutes. I get loaded into the starting box and I can hear the lure coming towards the start …. the boxes open and I am in 3rd place. I close ground on the greyhounds racing in front of me and when I turn into the homestretch, I accelerate and leave the field behind me! I won! I won! I am so excited! The lure stops at the pick-up and we all stand there wagging our tails, so excited! The leadout puts my leash back on and I walk off the track to my caretaker.

2:15pm: My caretaker brings me to the cool down area and I get my feet cleaned and cooled off and then I get to walk through the cool-down tank … it’s a cool water tank that we can walk through to cool down on a hot day. I walk back to the kennel with my caretaker and when we get there they clean my face, feet, and wash my eyes. I go back into my kennel and drink some water. I nap for an hour or two. When I am all cooled down, I get my dinner!!! Meat, kibble, rice, pasta, and some vitamin supplements. Yum! Then at about 4:00pm, I go back outside for a few minutes to take care of nature’s call. I come back inside and get a couple of Milk Bone cookies!!! Yeah!

5:30pm: My caretakers come and let me out with my 15 buddies. We spend about 30 minutes outside.

7:30pm: The night races start and my caretakers are in the kennel taking care of other racers.

8:30pm – 10:00pm: My caretakers come and let me outside with my 15 buddies. We are outside for about 30-45 minutes. We get to go through the 3 different pens and sniff, smell, lounge, and hang-out.

11:00pm: My caretakers wash dishes, sweep, mop, and tidy up the kennel. They leave about 11:30pm and the radio is left on for us with some easy-listening music. We sleep and dream. I have water if I am thirsty, and a nice bed of shredded paper. I dream of winning races!

6:30am: Rise and shine!

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