Miracle Man: Racing for a cause

Miracle Man: Racing for a cause
By Stan Pawloski

Giving back.

Each time Miracle Man goes to the starting box at Wheeling, he’s racing for a cause.

Through a generous gesture by Linda Russi – Miracle Man’s owner – part of the sprinter’s earnings go to the Greyhound Pets of America-New Mexico Greyhound Connection.

“I am very proud of Miracle Man (aka Sam) and am very happy to be helping adoption through the Race For Adoption program. Sam is the first greyhound that I have personally owned who has raced for adoption,” Russi, a Texas resident, said. “I was a sponsor for the very first Race For Adoption greyhound, Whistler’s Stud. I like the concept – current racers helping out those who raced before them.”
GPA-NMGC spokeswoman Candy Beck is thrilled by Russi’s actions. “Linda’s (Russi) generosity and Sam’s winnings have certainly been a help to our group. Our deepest thanks go to Linda for donating this wonderful pup,” Beck said. “Sam even has his own page on our website (www.gpa-nm.org).” Miracle Man, a March 2009 greyhound out of USS Raceway-HKF Lacey, races out of the Douglas Kennel at Wheeling and is trained by James Roche. He has climbed the ladder to Grade AA.

“I think it’s a great program and wish more people would participate,” Roche noted. “It gets the adoption groups more involved in live racing as they watch and root for their Race For Adoption greyhounds. It’s a win-win situation.”
Roche also saluted Russi. “A lot of money goes into breeding, raising and purchasing greyhounds,” Roche added. “For an owner to donate part of the earnings to an adoption agency is very commendable.” Russi has been involved with greyhounds for 10 years. “I found myself with an empty nest in 2001 and decided to fill it with a retired racer, DDM’s Oreo. The adoption group I got Oreo from sponsored a trip to the Corpus Christi racetrack to see what racing was all about,” Russi recalled. “We got a tour of the kennel area and then went up to see the races. I was hooked. A few months later, I bought my first racing puppy, and then another and another.” Russi also has become very involved in adoption, fostering more than 40 dogs in two years. Unfortunately, Russi recently lost Oreo to osteo cancer. “She was awesome,” Russi said.

Race For Adoption is the brainchild of former greyhound trainer Dennis McKeon.
“The great thing about Race For Adoption is that the money goes directly from the track or the owner to the group it is earmarked for. There’s no middle man, and every penny goes to the adoption groups,” McKeon noted. “I thought for certain that the concept would absolutely catch fire, and while it did seem to make a few decent ripples, there was no long term wave effect. Certainly, I’d love to see greyhound owners enthusiastically and universally embrace the Race For Adoption concept. It’s simple and practicable, and it builds strong bridges.”
McKeon noted an ownership issue early on may have hampered the program.
“I think one of the reasons Race For Adoption did not take off like we had hoped was that people erroneously inferred that they had to turn their dogs over to either us or the adoption group,” McKeon said. “Not the case at all. We were simply acting as facilitators.”

McKeon said the program also could pose a stumbling block for the anti-racing Grey2K group. “Can you imagine the negative press Grey2K might encounter when they try shutting down a track that had 20-25 actively racing dogs whose careers were financing adoptions?” McKeon said. McKeon got the Race For Adoption idea from reading about an Irish greyhound, Late Late Show, whose career earnings were given to adoption. “Late Late Show won the prestigious Easter Cup and was owned by a celebrity,” McKeon said. “Early in 2008, I mentioned the idea to Larry Birnbaum (kennel operator and greyhound owner) and he loved it. He not only donated a dog that we could sell sponsorships in, but he agreed to match them dollar for dollar.” The membership of the Greytalk board was especially receptive and generous to the idea, McKeon said. A total of $20,000 was raised before any greyhound had actually raced for adoption.

However, the original plan to form a syndicate, sell sponsorship shares, buy a dog and then race him under the Race For Adoption name was impractical because of bureaucratic and regulatory excess, McKeon said. “So we just sold sponsorship shares that Larry (Birnbaum) matched,” McKeon said. “It proved better yet to let the owner race the dog under his/her own name and simply donate the money to whomever they chose.”

Two of the first three greyhounds Birnbaum donated were Whistler’s Betty and Whistler’s Miss. Both were successful greyhounds. “Larry Birnbaum was fantastic and the lynchpin of the whole thing. I can’t say enough good things about his generosity and enthusiasm,” McKeon said. “Angela Wilson-Taylor, Bob Fine and Martin Roper did most of the grunt work, record keeping and organizing. They, along with the membership of Greytalk, should get the full share of the credit. I only had an idea, they made it happen.”
McKeon also was friends with the late adoption pioneer Joan Dillon, a racing dog owner who was instrumental in the formation of the New England Retired Greyhounds as Pets adoption program in the early 1980s. “It is a little known fact among anti-racing activists that the formal adoption process was begun by racing professionals, not by people who want to destroy racing and the breed,” McKeon said.
Race For Adoption participant Miracle Man, or Sam, broke in at Wheeling in late November 2010 and gradually climbed the ladder to Grade AA. “The perfect learning curve. He’s gotten stronger and smarter with each start,” Roche said. “You could tell he had something going for him when he started.” After three weeks off in February-March, Miracle Man came back to register 2 wins, 4 seconds and 2 thirds in his next 15 races against Grade AA and A competition. “He had lost some confidence so we took him off for a bit. When he came back the light came on,” Roche said. “The layoff did him more good than anything.”

The Miracle Man is still learning the game, Roche related. “He’s on the right track. He’s a good, solid dog,” Roche said. “He won’t beat the best at the track, but I feel he can run Grade AA.” Off the track, Miracle Man is a joy. “He’s a happy dog, and happy to be here,” Roche said. “He’s as well-adjusted as any dog I’ve ever had.” McKeon had one closing message for the racing industry.
“I still see Racing For Adoption as a viable concept,” McKeon said. “Unfortunately, leadership in the sport seems only to be terminally self-interested.”

The sprinter is held by Matt Caballes. (Photo by Stan Pawloski, Times Leader Wire Editor)