To Everything, Turn, Turn, Turn

by Betty Zubritsky

I always hold my breath in the turn.

I can know all day long how much effort has been spent on the safety of it. The bank, the distance from the box, the composition of the track surface. I can know it and understand it and appreciate it all. But I hold my breath in the turn. That’s my dog out there.

It’s why I can’t watch my races on the monitor. I stand at the fence, on tippy-toe because it’s damn near taller than me, so I can see the turn. I can’t see the break very well from there. That isn’t nearly as important to me… as The Turn.

It could be said, and it has been, that straight racing would be far more humane than the oval tracks we use. I understand the logic on this. Yes, without a turn, there is far less likelihood of a fall in the turn. Der, because there isn’t one. And if I were a weepy, slobbery, oh those poor dogs sort of person, I’d probably leap on the wagon with the rest of them and demand that races be run on the straight.

I’m not, and I don’t do the leap.

Just 2 days ago, from my vantage point at the fence, I watched my Galahad do a mighty fine flip in the turn. He hit the wall full force with his face. As you might expect, my heart stopped. His didn’t. He rolled out of the tumble, shook off his broken muzzle and continued his race. Of course he ran last, and that was perfectly ok with me. I watched him all the way around, and he ran sound. I did a quick exam when he came off, and the only thing I could find was a little break of the skin on his front shoulder. Contact with the wall. My leadout was careful to undress him without irritating the small wound, and we visited the track vet. 3 shiny staples to put the skin back where it belongs.

Now…. the anti racing contingent will scream about this injury. OMG!!! The evils of racing!!! A dog disfigured and in horrible pain!!!

Oh bosh and bother. A dog in horrible pain doesn’t shake it off like a bug and continue his race. Galahad didn’t know he had a booboo. His strides were perfect all the way around. He giggled up at me when I greeted him after his race, and there is nothing disfiguring about a wee little bit of stitchery. It protects the underlying flesh from infection. It is performed in a sanitary atmosphere. It is not “keeping them racing at the expense of their health”. Indeed, I took him off the active list so he could recover properly from his little scrape.

The turn scares us because it really IS where the trouble is likely to happen. But we need the turn. There is no reason to celebrate a dog that can only run in a straight line. The history and the future of this breed relies entirely on his agility. His smarts. His ability to think literally on his feet and avoid the (very rare) collision. In less than the blink of an eye, he can see and interpret the dynamics of the hunt, and adjust his forward motion to accomodate it. THAT is a hunter. That is a sighthound. And that is this dog.

He is incredible. The power in him is very nearly electric. I have held him to the lure in the mornings, and it is all my strength that keeps him in my hands. I have laid my face on his shoulder while the lure runs. I can feel him. Oh save me, I can feel him. There is nothing in this world or the next that compares, and there are no words to describe it. I’m an old woman, and I have known a lot of things. This….. this is everything.

The whole truth about the turn is that there are far fewer incidents of collision than you might expect. We hold our collective breath. You bet we do. It’s a curse, a superstition perhaps. Because really, the turn is as safe as it is possible to make it. Probably, statistically safer than the average back yard. How many of your pets have been hurt in the yard?

On the day my Galahad hit the wall, 15 races were run. His was the only incident. On that day, 119 other dogs did not get hurt. Galahads injury was minor. In the grand scheme, this is pretty damned acceptable. My dogs are athletes.

Go figure the injury percentage in ANY human sport. And don’t trouble me with the payscale. Get real and serious and ignore the high dollar oh-gads-I-have-a-hangnail prissy pro football players. Study the numbers in high school soccer. College lacrosse. Sports you never knew existed. Do some research.

We have documented and verifiable facts that describe our injury rate at less than .03 percent. Match that anywhere.

I literally dare you.

I watch my races from the fence at the turn. It’s important to me. I’m just that little bit OCD.