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A Day In The Life Of The Racing Greyhound
by Clifton Gray
During the summer months, the dog’s day will start at 5:00 or 5:30 AM to try and beat the heat as much as possible. In the winter we’ll start at 6:00 or 6:30. First turnout lasts about 45 minutes; while the dogs are outside, we clean the kennel, pull all the bedding and check for wet rugs, otherwise known as “couldn’t hold it”. In our main building, where we have 48 dogs, there will be 8 to 10 wet rugs each day, so the majority of them are “housebroken”, so to speak. Dirty rugs are washed in mild bleach water and hung to dry. Each dog also has their own water can, all of which are washed every 3 days on a rotating cycle.
After first turnout comes morning workouts. On Mondays and Fridays, we are at the track by 6:15AM for morning schooling. Young dogs who have yet to start racing gain experience running with 2 or 3 other dogs from a smaller starting box during this time; also, we run short, 2 to 3 dog races from the backstretch (about 290 yards) for dogs who are returning from injury or are just in need of a confidence boost. We also have access to a sprint field, which is a deep sand path about 50 yards wide and 200 yards long, where the dogs can get out for a good, strong run between official starts at the track. Since our kennel is right next to the track and it’s gigantic parking lot, we also “truck walk” on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday mornings (Park and Swap operates on Friday thru Sunday mornings as well as Wednesday night, leaving the parking lot a huge mess on Thursday morning). four people will be situated in one of our trucks – the driver, one in the passenger seat, and one in each of the two back holes of the dog box. Each person takes a group of 5 to 7 dogs on leashes, using hooks located on all 4 corners of the dog box, and takes care to keep them away from the wheels as we cruise slowly around the parking lot for a distance of .6 to .7 of a mile, never going any faster than a brisk trot. This “moving treadmill” exercise is wonderful for many common ailments, ranging from ankle or hip discomfort (the low impact repetition of movement is as good as a massage) to difficulty in urinating (found almost exclusively in males, occasionally the stress of racing leads to being “tied up”, which if left untreated can lead to kidney problems – but the slow morning exercise of truck walking combined with natural diuretics such as ground uva ursi leaves, cranberry juice, or potassium supplements eases the discomfort within a day). Typically, they love to truck-walk-Georgia Peach, who can be seen on my webpage, runs out in front of the peloton and walks to the very end of her lead all the way around the lot (which is how she earned the back half of her nickname, “The Hard-Workin’ Li’l Dog”).
Basically our workout program is as such: Each dog has an official start approximately every 5 to 6 days. While I don’t work dogs who are running tonight or the next day or who ran the previous night, I try to ensure that no active dog goes any 3-day period without some form of workout(truckwalking, sprinting, or short races at morning schooling) to help keep them in shape and to spot any minor injuries between starts that could lead to a larger malady were they allowed to run on it. (For example, a dog with a sore shoulder might develop a hitch in their stride by trying to take pressure off of the sore muscle, which would in turn cause them to strike their legs together each time they stride and causing a bone bruise on the rear leg on the opposite side of the body from the sore shoulder. Thus, instead of remedying a tender muscle, which takes usually no more than a week’s rest and a few good liniment massages, we’d be healing a bone bruise, which can take two months).
Here in the summertime, we try to be off the parking lot by 7:15AM when truck-walking, and through with sprinting before 8:00. The next hour or two is taken up by grooming time in the kennel, where we go over last night’s racers checking for injuries, and applying any liniments or poultices where necessary. With 4 benches going at once, we can check over 40 dogs in an hour, clipping nails and combing their hair.
Around 9:00AM we turn everyone out again. After half an hour outside (or less if it’s real hot already), we bring them back in and weigh tonight’s and the next night’s racers (they must be within 1 1/2 pounds of their set weight, over or under, at weigh-in time before the races in the evening, so we can adjust their feed accordingly if they’re in danger of being under/over the limit). Then we feed.
My feed tub looks something like this, for the 105 dogs in my 3 buildings: 180 pounds of raw ground beef, thawed overnight; one 50-lb. sack of Purina Hi Pro;a stock-pot’s worth of cooked rice and pasta (about 6 pounds uncooked), for complex carbs; 2lbs. of Sweetlix dried molasses, for simple sugar carbs; a gallon-size can of diced tomatoes or a few cups of vinegar, if the meat is too fatty, or boiled chicken necks, if the meat is too lean; 1 1/2 lbs. of electrolyte powder, to promote total hydration; and enough water to bring it all together, usually 4 to 5 gallons. females get about 3 pounds of feed apiece, while males get about 3 1/2 pounds worth. We also have numerous supplements at our disposal, ranging from calcium and potassium tablets to a squirtable vitamin syrup given to the next day’s racers. Dogs racing tonight have their feed placed in the fridge and are fed after they run, working on the same general principle as “don’t swim right after you eat”, we want all available blood to be carrying oxygen to the muscles, rather than working on digesting a belly-full of food.
We’re out of the kennel by 10:30, and we get back at 4:00PM. After soaking the turnout pens to battle the blazing sun, we give them a quick, 5-minute turnout. It may seem short, but they understand the urgency of it – they run out, do their business, and are all waiting by the gate to come back in within those 5 minutes. Over the next hour we go over that night’s racers on the grooming bench, making sure they’re free of any and all parasites before they head to the track. Weigh-in is either at 5:00PM,or 6:00PM, depending on if there’s qualifying races before the official races (which usually occurs on Monday and Friday unless there’s a steaks final on said Friday, in which case they hold qualifiers on Thursday or Saturday instead). All racers must be in the track’s kennel room “by one hour prior to the start of the 1st race”, to quote state law, which translates to 6:30PM. This is the last time we’re allowed to touch them until they come off the track after the race.
Each race’s 8 entrants are led out of the “ginny pit”, as the track kennel is called, by track employees approximately 25 minutes prior to the post time for their race. They are walked around a dirt area in the paddock for two purposes: to help them loosen up before their race, and also to collect urine samples. Each dog is walked around for 5 minutes or so until it “provides a sample”, which is collected by the lead-out using a high-tech device known as a cup attached to a stick. The state veterinarian stores the samples collected in his office until after the race; if the eventual winner did not “provide” before the race, the trainer is provided with a cup-on-a-stick and they are supervised by the vet as they walk the dog in the grass briefly to see if they’ll go. If not, the vet will select a random sample from those who did supply, and the trainer of the dog must sign-off on a sample, which is then sent off for drug screening. The list of banned substances would make a major-league baseball player cry – it covers everything from painkillers (running a dog while hurt could constitute an attempt to fix a race, aside from just being irresponsible to the dog’s health) to certain medications (running a dog while sick…well, see irresponsible) to any and all stimulants, including and ESPECIALLY caffeine and ephedra (closed beverage containers ONLY in my kennel, as a caffeine bad test results in a $250.00 fine, forfeiture of all money paid for the race, and a possible trainer suspension). The thing about painkillers and medications is, if the dog is so sick or hurt that it needs to be on banned substances while it runs, you probably should have scratched it in the first place. Most of the liniments we use, such as Flex-All, Absorbine, Tuttle’s, or just good old rubbing alcohol, are test-safe. Anything that will cause a bad test, such as DMSO or Bigeloil, is for use on non-active dogs only.
For non-racers, late turnout is 9:00PM, and they’re out for another good half-hour. It may not seem on the surface like they get out of their crates enough, but in reality, when they go outside, for the most part the whole lot of them are laying down in the sand within 5 minutes anyway, and when they come in, they plop back down and fall asleep right after going in their crates. New pups may take a few weeks to settle into this routine, but especially after they get onto the standard working plan, they start saving their energy for race days. One little trick we have for our racers is we take them out, two at a time, during grooming time in the morning, and give them a towel-bath with slightly soapy water then take them for a leisurely stroll around the kennel grounds(we have a circular driveway that’s about 1/5 of a mile in circumference). We’ve been doing this for years, and it seems to engender a somewhat Pavlovian response in the dogs. They seem to know that if we go for a “hand walk” in the morning, that means there’s a race later in the day, and typically they’ll lay down and not complain while everyone else around them gets to eat at the regular time.
Hopefully this has helped to give you a glimpse into the everyday routine of a racing greyhound.
Anatomy of an American Greyhound Race
While you might think it’s “just dirt”, in reality the surface of a greyhound track is a carefully calibrated blend of sand, clay, and other additives depending on the region of the country. Tracks in Florida have to be able to drain water quickly, whereas a surface in Arizona would be engineered to hold as much moisture as possible given the dry climate. In addition, tracks located in colder areas of the country have a boiler system underneath the surface to keep the track from freezing into a solid block.
Most greyhound tracks in America are exactly one-fourth of a mile, 440 yards, once around from the finish line back to the finish line. There are a handful of exceptions, such as Palm Beach (which is 8 or 9 yards shy of a full quarter-mile) and Southland, in West Memphis, Arkansas, which is a good 25 to 30 yards larger in circumference than an average track.
Your average track-and-field track is usually 400 meters in circumference, which is just a bit shorter than a greyhound track (440 yards comes out to 402-and-change meters).
The vast majority of greyhound races in America are contested over the 5/16-mile distance, which if it is exactly 5/16 of a mile comes out to 550 yards. A few tracks vary (the aforementioned Palm Beach and Southland run a 545-yard standard distance and a 583-yard standard distance, respectively, while Wheeling Island runs a 548-yard standard race).
Your standard 5/16-mile race starts at the top of the front straightaway(or “frontstretch”), with the starting box at the top of a short straight runway that empties into the main stretch. If it’s a 550-yard race, it is 110 yards from the starting box to the finish line, then another 440 yards for a full lap of the track. The race “ends” at the finish line, but this is an arbitrary point at which ‘we’ determine the winner; the dogs will continue on into the turn before the lure pops in and the dogs actually come to a stop.
Racetracks usually offer shorter or longer distance races for dogs who are not ideally suited for the standard 5/16-mile race. Some dogs use all of their stamina quickly and perform better in a 3/16-mile race, which would be precisely 330 yards. Palm Beach offers a 301-yard race, Southland offers a 334-yard distance, and Tucson runs a 316-yard race once in awhile. It’s set up much like a regular race, just that the starting box is on the opposite corner of the racetrack, and empties into the backstretch.
Most often, though, a track’s alternate distance is roughly 3/8ths of a mile. Precisely, that is 660 yards, but the “middle distance” varies from track to track depending on construction; for example, Wheeling runs a 678-yard middle distance. Southland actually offers two middle distances (660 and 703 yards). A middle-distance starting box is located along the backstretch, usually offset from the outside of the racetrack and emptying nearly directly into the beginning of the turn. (Southland’s 660-yard starting box is IN the turn, due to the longer circumference of that track; Palm Beach’s 660-yard starting box is midway down the straightaway and actually rolls into the outside wall to allow the dogs to pass by on their second lap).
The lure is essentially a giant model-train engine–if your model train could top out at 60 miles per hour. It’s a large electric motor on wheels, operating under a guardrail, with a counterbalanced arm that hangs out over the racing surface at the end of which is the familiar stuffed bunny or bone. It’s speed is controlled by an operator who is usually located at the top of the grandstand to give him a clear view of the whole racetrack.
The arm is spring-loaded and can swing in and out at a 90-degree angle. It is snapped into place by the brakeman before the race. As the end of the race approaches, the brakeman stands on a lever that has two functions:
1.) It lowers a mechanism, suspended from the top of the guardrail, that hits the release lever on the top of the lure that causes the arm to swing back behind the lure, getting it out of the way so no dogs run into it when it stops.
2.) It maneuvers the brake into place, which will catch the lure and bring it to an immediate stop rather than letting it coast to a stop.
The Starting Box:
Obviously, ensuring that all dogs in a race are given an equal opportunity to have a clean, simultaneous start to the race is imperative. Enter, the starting box.
The “lid” of the box is under a huge amount of spring-loaded tension, since it must be out of the way in the blink of an eye as a quick-starting greyhound can have the entire length of it’s body out of the box in a hundredths of a second. Clamps at the bottom of the box hold the lid securely in place; most tracks have an electronic trigger that trips when the lure passes a certain point on the track, and this trigger starts the race timer as well as electronically raises the clamps holding the lid in place, allowing it to spring out of the way. This is the “buzz” you might hear if you’re standing near a starting box at the start of a race. The box also has a handle which, when pulled, will manually lift the clamps.
After coming out of the track’s holding kennel, greyhounds are walked by track staff, partially to get them limbered up for the race, but also to try and coax the dog into providing a urine sample for drug testing. samples are sent off for independent laboratory testing from each race winner (if a sample was obtained), along with randomly-selected samples from other competitors on the card.
Each dog is fitted with a brightly-colored “blanket” affixed with the number of their randomly-assigned “post position”, the slot from which they will be starting. Some tracks still use the older-style racing silks, which drape over the dog’s back and have an adjustable strap that encircles their belly, but most tracks have switched to new “stretch vest” blankets, which are form-fitting garments made from Lycra, the same material as a bikini. Either way, each blanket is checked to ensure that it is not too loose or too tight.
Also, dog wears it’s racing muzzle, which is a plastic muzzle that does not impede their ability to breathe, but serves two purposes: the white tip at the nose of the muzzle serves as the official determination of when the dog crosses the finish line, and shows up well against the darker surface of the track on the photo-finish camera. Also, the muzzle keeps dogs from nipping each other in the post-race scrum once the lure has stopped.
And they’re off! Each greyhound has their own particular running style, some of which is inherited from their parents, and some of which is learned in training. You can see each dog’s style becoming evident within the first five or six strides of the race. Dogs with “early speed” will explode from the box and make a play for the lead right away. Dogs with “late speed” will drop behind early and prepare to make a rush later in the race. Most of them, though, fall somewhere in the middle, staying mid-pack and trying to avoid trouble.
Also, dogs will tend to have a particular area of the track on which they prefer to run. The vast majority tend to stay to the inside of the track, staying three to four feet away from the guardrail over the lure’s rails. Some dogs prefer to run tighter to the “rail”, though, while some head straight for the outside, or “wide” portion, of the track. Still other dogs will angle in toward the rail in the turns while swinging wide in the straightaways.
A high-speed camera is aimed precisely on the finish line and determines the order of finish, down to .01 of a second, judging by the tip of each dog’s racing muzzle. If they lose their muzzle during the race, the judges use the best estimation of the tip of the dog’s nose as they can make from the film.
After passing the finish line, the lure is drawn ahead to give it plenty of room for the arm to swing in, then it is brought to a stop by the brakeman. The dogs congregate around the lure, and track staff swoops in to bring the dogs off the track.
Racing Lines For “Miracle Man” (Sam) And Glossary Of Terms
(see below the chart for a glossary of terms)
|1/23/2011||A8||F||548||C||30.52||1||12||1½||1 DH||3½||30.52||8.5||Dead Heat Win||Starz Super Ace(DH)||Kiowa Jett Jade||Kiowa Cat Curt||8|
|1/17/2011||A3||F||548||C||30.72||7||8||7||6||8||31.27||3.4||Never Prominent||Oaks Gem Brandy||CTW Cosmopolitan||Nine Mile||8|
|1/10/2011||A10||F||548||C||30.35||4||3||3||3||3½||30.60||5.3||Good Effort, Midtrack||TJ’s Im A Felon||BD’s O’Malley||Miss Adios||8|
|1/3/2011||A8||F||548||C||30.82||5||4||5||8||13½||31.78||2.3||Faded, Midtrack||WTD Get Ready||Lion Hearted||Susanna Salter||8|
|12/29/2010||A13||F||548||C||30.65||6||3||2||2||4||30.94||10.2||Hard Try, Midtrack||CTW Potpourri||Starz Easy Done||Slatex Misty||8|
|12/18/2010||A12||F||548||C||30.07||1||2||3||4||7½||30.58||6.1||Early Speed, Midtrack||Super C Ace High||WW’s Happy Days||Takingitpersonal||7|
|12/11/2010||E13||F||548||C||30.04||5||2||2||4||5½||30.41||10.6||Outfinished, Midtrack||Kiowa Villanueva||Kelsos Naomi||Mega Meyers||8|
|12/4/2010||A1||F||548||M||30.39||1||1½||13||1||4||30.39||8.8||Drawing Out||Kiowa Grand Gus||Git N Raquel||Sack Full||8|
|11/29/2010||A1||F||548||M||30.70||5||6||6||6||14½||31.71||5.9||Collided 1st Turn||AMF Exgirlfriend||Mac’s Roadrunner||Windy Vestas||8|
|11/22/2010||S3||F||548||—||30.33||7||3||3||3||12||31.17||—||Benefitted 1st Turn||Riverview Deni||AMF Ex Dancer||San Tan Tomahawk||8|
|11/19/2010||S4||F||548||—||30.84||2||11||11||2||½||30.89||—||Caught Near Wire||Uhaul Woody||Hot And Sweaty||Sack Full||7|
|11/15/2010||S4||F||548||—||29.68||4||4||4||4||15½||30.76||—||Evenly||Slick Irene||AMF Quick Study||Kiowa Vargas||8|
Pf/R#: Performance and race number. A=Afternoon, E=Evening, S=Official Schooling (think of them as “qualifying races”; there is no wagering on schooling races)
Cnd: Track condition. F=Fast (normal), S=Slow (track may be deeper or wetter than usual), M=Muddy
Dist: Distance of the race, measured in yards
Gr: Grade of the race. There are no grades for official-schooling races; ‘M’ stands for Maiden, for dogs who are under 2 years old and have not won a race; the other grades are AA-A-B-C-D from highest to lowest. Dog moves up in grade by winning a race, and moves down in grade by running 4th or worse a set number of times depending on the grade.
WinTm: Racing time of the winner of this race, in seconds
PP: Sam’s starting post position in the box
Calls: Sam’s positions during the race. First number: Break– two or three strides out of the box; Second number: 1/8th call– roughly, exiting the 1st turn in a 548-yard race, or passing the finish line on the 1st lap in a 678-yard race; Third number: Far turn– at the apex of the last turn of the race. (If leading, a small number with the position indicates how many approximate lengths in front of the 2nd-place dog he is; see “Lng” below)
Fin: Finishing position; DH=”dead heat”, which is a tie for that position.
Lng: Winning lengths or beaten lengths. A “length” is .07 of a second, roughly the time it takes the full length of a dog to pass a given point at speed. “ns”=nose, .01 of a second; “hd”=head, .02 of a second; “nk”=neck, .03 of a second; “½”=half a length, anywhere from .04 to .06 of a second. For a winner, this number is the lengths in front of the 2nd-place finisher; for all other finishers, this is the number of lengths behind the winner.
RTime: Running time of Sam, in seconds
Odds: This number is the wagering odds, ___-to-1, for Sam at post time based on the number of bets received for Sam to finish 1st. A lower number means more people were wagering on him.
Comment: Chartwriter’s comment; all dogs in a race receive a comment, can be used to illustrate any trouble encountered during a race.
Also Ran: The three top finishers in the race, or, if Sam finished in the top 3, the other 3 runners in the top 4. For example, if Sam won, these names would be the 2nd-, 3rd-, and 4th-place finishers; if Sam finished 3rd, these names would be the 1st-, 2nd-, and 4th-place finishers.
#D: Number of dogs in the race.