A Greyhound's Career
Preparation for a greyhound’s racing career begins long before a greyhound leaves for the track. Greyhounds are given every opportunity to succeed in their racing career, starting even before birth with the condition of the dam.
After whelping the primary goal is to keep the pups healthy and well fed.
As the pups get older proper exercise and socialization are crucial to giving greyhounds the best chance for success. Running and chasing come naturally to greyhounds so some would say that training is more about ensuring that the greyhound gets used to the day to day life of a track by recreating this on the training farm. Soon it is time for their racing career to begin.
When the pups are ready to head to the track chosen for them, generally at about 15 to 18 months of age, they are already used to many of the day to day activities of track life. After arrival they will be given time to become accustomed to their new surroundings and will soon begin unofficial schooling, often referred to as “morning schooling”. This begins with hand-slipping at shorter distances and eventually becomes full distance runs out of the starting box.
Morning schooling can last from a few weeks to several months in some cases. They get as much work in morning schooling as the trainer feels is needed to prepare them for entry into official schooling.
Official schooling is often limited to the minimum two or three required runs, but can be lengthened if the trainer feels the dog needs more work, or could benefit from it. Based on ability, some dogs need to be sent to a less competitive track to compete. If not, after official schooling their racing career begins.
Pups will begin their career in Maiden races and with each win they will advance to a more competitive racing grade. The grading system helps ensure the dogs are racing against dogs of similar ability. It varies from track to track but in many cases starts with Maiden races and progresses to grade D, grade C, grade B and eventually grade A. Some tracks have an additional grade of AA after grade A. Also, a few tracks have a grade J that is between Maiden races and grade D, and was created for young dogs only, to give them additional practice before advancing to more competitive grades. Just as they climb up the grade ladder with a win, they can move down a grade after going 3 races without a top four finish.
A greyhound will race between once and twice a week. Depending on the length of time between starts a trainer may choose to “sprint” the dogs between those races. This is often done in a sandy “sprint pad” where the dogs run freely in an enclosed area about 500 feet long. Some trainers prefer to sprint the dogs once around the track, rather than in the sprint pad. This sprinting is done without a lure. With or without a lure to chase, greyhounds love to run. Some dogs will sneak in an extra lap if the trainer or assistant is unable to stop them from doing so. Sprinting can also be used to work dogs back into top form after time off.
A racer’s day is fairly standard, though there are small variations from kennel to kennel, depending on the style and approach of individual trainers. Each race day begins with the first turn out, early in the morning. Racers are then thoroughly checked over by the trainer to ensure proper health and condition. This is followed by the morning meal. While others receive their regular meal, dogs racing that day will receive a light snack. An example would be a chicken and noodle stew containing fruits, vegetables or other ingredients the trainer chooses. This morning meal is followed by relaxation and additional turnouts. Typically a greyhound will begin each turnout by “going to the restroom” and getting a drink of water. Kennel staff is there to quickly remove stool from the turnout pen. During turnout some greyhounds spend time interacting with each other while others use it as just another excuse to lay down and relax. Greyhounds love their rest.
Soon it is time to get ready for the day’s race. The greyhounds racing that day are taken to the paddock where they get a tag with their race number and starting box number on it. They are then ready for the pre-race examination by the track veterinarian, track judge and other officials. Urine samples are collected for drug testing, dogs are weighed to ensure they are in their target weight range, and they are checked for proper condition. If they appear injured or sick, or aren’t within their target weight range, they are scratched from the day’s race.
After the race lead outs return each dog to their trainer or kennel assistant. They are then taken to a cool down area where they can be hosed down to cool off and remove sand from their bodies. When the temperature is warmer this can also include a dip in a small pool. In colder weather a dog may be cleaned with a towel rather than being hosed off. Next they return to the kennel where the trainer inspects them for injuries; some will give the dog a rub down at this point. After dogs are given more time to cool down, often in a turnout pen, they return to their crates and are given the full meal that the other dogs got earlier in the day when they got a light snack. This is followed by another turnout.
The next day they will be placed on a bench to be inspected for soreness and proper health, a nail trim if needed and to rub them down with Trainer’s Choice or another linament. Then the process starts all over again as they await their next race.
Some dogs will run their entire career at one track and others will move to other tracks that better suit their ability at the time or their particular running style or track surface preference. Especially talented dogs may also move from track to track for stakes racing events.
After their racing career is over they may return to the farm for breeding or to be kept as a pet or they may be adopted into a new home. There they will begin a second career as a couch potato, or in some cases will begin a second career in club sports, like coursing or amateur racing.