Racing - An Overview

By the time a dog has begun racing for real he is pretty well accustomed to the kennel where he lives, his trainers, the track and the routine. The schedule will be the same as it is for the 'veterans' in his kennel. He will normally race twice a week and if not, will be exercised on a "sprint pad" (500 ft or so) which is also used to get a dog back into racing condition if he's been off the active list for a while. This helps to keep the dogs limber and in top form. (A pup that does poorly in his first few races will be removed from the active list and sent back to 'school' for a refresher course; they don't want him to get used to running in the back of the pack.) The other five days of the week the racer will lounge in his kennel, go out for turnouts several times a day and eat.

A common myth about racing greyhounds is that they are underfed or not fed a nutritious diet. Quite the contrary. A typical diet consists of meat, pasta, rice and vegetables with vitamins and electrolyte supplements. Each dog has a set amount of food given every day, generally three pounds for a male and two and a quarter pounds for a female, depending on the dog's size and ability to maintain a set weight. This last factor can be tricky: a dog's set weight is established in his or her schooling races and can never vary more than a couple of pounds on his race days. For this reason the dogs are weighed in the morning before they are scheduled to race later that day or evening and fed only a small meal with supplements that morning. Then after they've raced they're given a full meal.

BEFORE THE RACE

A typical routine for a dog (and his trainers) on his scheduled race day will start with the first turnout, after which he's weighed and thoroughly checked over: nails, ears, checked for sore muscles, etc. Some trainers like to rub the dog down at this point with a liniment like Trainer's Choice, similar to Flexall that human athletes use. Then comes the morning meal, more lounging and turnouts.

About an hour and a half before the first post time they are taken to the paddock and given a tag, showing the race and their number, before weighing in. The weigh-in is overseen by a veterinarian (state or track employed), a judge and other officials. If the dog is not within the correct range of his set weight he will be scratched for the day. The vet will also be observing as the dogs are taken from the holding crates for a race and if any dog appears injured or sick he is scratched. They also are watching for fleas and ticks and if they find them all the kennels will be notified so they can be on the lookout for those problems.

The veterinarian assigned to the track is kept quite busy on race days. Along with supervising the weigh-in, he or she walks the track prior to the races to make sure the surface is safe, observes each dog leaving the track after a race and will look at any dog the trainers want checked. A kennel can't afford to have sick or injured dogs. The greyhounds is taken by the leadout from the trainer (or helper).

THE RACE

Following the weigh-in, the leadout (an employee of the track that is responsible for handling the greyhound before and after it races) will place the greyhound in the ginny pit, an area designated for greyhounds that are ready to race.  Usually, this is an area of kennels that are isolated from the public. 

The greyhounds will be collected by the leadouts to line up at the paddock and have their tattoos checked by an official and have their racing blankets fitted. This is the area that the public can view the runners for the next race.  The leadouts will put the blankets on the dogs as well as the racing muzzles.
Then the greyhounds are lead out onto the track to the starting boxes. One by one, the greyhounds are placed into the boxes until it is post time.  When the boxes open, the hounds bolt from the start and bound around the track to try and win their race.  The white plastic on the racing muzzles aide in the photo finishes as they are easier to view and have a definite 'point'.

AFTER THE RACE

Following a race the dogs are picked up at the lure by the leadouts and handed off to the trainers at the escape turn. The dogs are then cleaned by the trainers in a cool down area equipped with showers. Attention is given to the feet, eyes (the sand really flies with these sprinters burning up the track at over 40 mph), etc. They're inspected by the trainer's staff for any injuries and may be given a rubdown to prevent stiff muscles. Then, after a cooling down rest in the kennel they're fed and turned out.

During a greyhound's racing career he or she may stay at one track or be moved from track to track a few times to find a competitive niche. There are several grades of tracks around the country (a little like professional baseball has major and minor leagues) and each track has numerous kennels. The details of the routine from one kennel to another may vary slightly but for the most part will be about the same as the example given above--not enough difference to be that noticeable by the dogs. Again, an unhappy or unsettled dog will not win many races.