Grey­hound rac­ing goes to the dogs

Dop­ing and dodgy fields: the sun will set on the sport un­less its new CEO cleans it up.

Sunday Star-Times - - SPORT - Septem­ber 24, 2017

Iam sit­ting in the house of a grey­hound trainer. It is a world cov­ered in dog hair. A grey­hound stalks by, ami­ably sniffs my trousers and moves along. A race is about to be screened live on the tele­vi­sion. The trainer tells me that a lot of late money will be laid on trap two and it will get up to beat the favourite. I must be in Dog Del­phi. The or­a­cle has spo­ken and so it comes to pass.

Through the back win­dow you can see a mag­nif­i­cent rac­ing an­i­mal be­ing walked up the road. Through an­other win­dow you can see the ken­nels. They may be more hab­it­able than the house.

These peo­ple love their dogs. They live for their dogs. But they are sur­viv­ing on bones. The big train­ers say they are go­ing to run them out of town.

All over New Zealand the big cor­po­rates are ru­in­ing hard­work­ing fam­i­lies. Ev­ery day an­other lit­tle shop goes bust. Ev­ery week mom and pop grey­hounds train­ers won­der if they can go on. They can’t get their dogs in races and when they do, they al­ways seem to get a ter­ri­ble draw.

But the big boys seem un­touch­able. One trainer is cur­rently un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Rac­ing In­tegrity Unit and by the So­ci­ety for Pre­ven­tion of Cru­elty to An­i­mals. Pho­tos have been taken that al­legedly show the trainer at­tach­ing a live pos­sum to a lure. But the qual­ity of the pho­to­graphs is not good. It is a hard charge to prove.

Phil Holden, the new chief ex­ec­u­tive of Grey­hound Rac­ing New Zealand, says, ‘‘The RIU carry out ran­dom ken­nel in­spec­tions and they have never found any ev­i­dence (of live bait­ing). The cur­rent in­ves­ti­ga­tion is with the RIU and the SPCA. That’s live as well. A process needs to be fol­lowed. There is an in­ves­ti­ga­tion un­der way. We’ve handed it on. They’re deal­ing with it. They’ve got to val­i­date if any of that ma­te­rial is real.’’

Holden gives me hope. Grey­hound rac­ing has a lot of prob­lems, but Holden seems de­ter­mined to put in bet­ter sys­tems. The sport swirls with al­le­ga­tions of drug use. Two years ago David Scott abused his po­si­tion on the board of GRNZ. He used priv­i­leged in­for­ma­tion to in­struct a trainer to is­sue an un­de­tectable drug. Scott was not banned for life. He was banned for 11 years.

Why not a life ban and why do most train­ers seem to rou­tinely re­ceive noth­ing more than a fine when their dogs are found to have a pro­hib­ited sub­stance in their sys­tems? Dogs of lead­ing South Is­land trainer John McIn­er­ney tested pos­i­tive for pro­caine in 1997, hep­taminol in 2001, codeine and hy­drox­ys­tanolo­zol in 2010, caf­feine in 2013 and ke­to­pro­fen ear­lier this year. Cu­ri­ously stanolo­zol is the drug that dis­graced Cana­dian sprinter Ben John­son tested pos­i­tive for at the Seoul Olympics. In the hu­man world, ath­letes are held re­spon­si­ble for what they put in their body. But grey­hound train­ers suc­cess­fully plead that their dogs have been fed con­tam­i­nated meat from live­stock.

In the lat­est case in­volv­ing McIn­er­ney the Ju­di­cial Con­trol Au­thor­ity ob­served ‘‘there was no ma­li­cious in­tent’’ and ‘‘Mr McIn­er­ney main­tains a very pro­fes­sional ken­nel of the high­est stan­dard’’.

In June, 2013 Marcy Flipp’s dogs tested pos­i­tive for a num­ber of pro­hib­ited drugs that had been ad­min­is­tered through a prod­uct called ‘‘ca­nine EPO’’. She had a pre­vi­ous of­fence in 2003, but ‘‘the com­mit­tee did not re­gard it as such (an ag­gra­vat­ing fac­tor) given it was 10 years ago.’’

The fol­low­ing year Flipp was found guilty of kick­ing a dog at a race meet­ing. The pros­e­cu­tor wanted the of­fence to be con­sid­ered in the light of pre­vi­ous of­fences, but the com­mit­tee ruled that the pre­vi­ous penal­ties ‘‘were of no as­sis­tance to the com­mit­tee as none in­volved an im­proper act sim­i­lar to that in the present case’’.

The trainer I spoke to al­leged that dop­ing was com­mon­place in the sport, that fields and draws were fre­quently fixed and that the com­mit­tee of GRNZ never did any­thing as many of them had vested in­ter­ests.

I put these charges to Holden. I also ob­served that there had been sev­eral races this year where one trainer had eight or seven dogs in a field of eight. That surely opened up the fu­ture pos­si­bil­ity of race fix­ing given the ease of off­shore bet­ting in to­day’s gam­bling mar­ket. I also won­dered why fol­li­cle test­ing (for drugs), which was sup­posed to be in­tro­duced in Fe­bru­ary, had still not come in.

Holden says, ‘‘The RIU are the peo­ple who have to phys­i­cally do it (fol­li­cle test­ing). There have been some chal­lenges round the method­ol­ogy at their end. We’ve been ap­ply­ing some pres­sure, but ran­dom test­ing should be in within the next week.’’

When I spoke of the per­cep­tion that races could be ma­nip­u­lated by a trainer with mul­ti­ple dogs in the field, Holden said, ‘‘We would agree with that. We want na­tional field se­lec­tion like they have in Aus­tralia. We want a box draw process that is in­de­pen­dently au­dited. We are fo­cused on putting in a na­tional field process that will ab­so­lutely change the na­ture of fields and bring in trans­parency.

‘‘We are work­ing on it now and look­ing to dis­cuss it with the Rules of Rac­ing Com­mit­tee at the Novem­ber meet­ing. We would like to bring it in early next year. I’m fairly hope­ful it will be straight­for­ward.’’

The elec­tion re­sults thun­der on through the land. Politi­cians talk about the in­creas­ing in­equal­ity of so­ci­ety. It is no dif­fer­ent in grey­hound rac­ing. Lisa Cole and McIn­er­ney dom­i­nate much of the scene. The big cor­po­rates are push­ing the smaller train­ers to the wall. Bren­don Cole, who does much of the train­ing in the Cole ken­nels, has been threat­ened at the track. Ob­jects have been thrown onto the tracks in front of the Cole dogs, en­dan­ger­ing their wel­fare. It is not so very dif­fer­ent from the re­bel­lion and protests that go on in much of the western world about the in­equal­ity of our so­ci­ety.

But if there wasn’t hope, we might as well all give up. Holden views grey­hound rac­ing as a sport, not an in­dus­try. He says, ‘‘The word ‘sport’ res­onates. It’s about pas­sion­ate peo­ple, com­pet­i­tive ath­letes, i.e. our dogs, and then there is the tribal as­pect. We love our sport, we love our dogs and they love to race. Peo­ple re­ally do care about their dogs. If they don’t, it isn’t a sport.’’

Holden knows there is a long way to go be­fore the sport will be ac­cepted by the broader com­mu­nity. But he sounds like a man who will stand up for the lit­tle guys. He says, ‘‘There is a bright fu­ture for the small trainer who love their dogs.’’

Look­ing out of the win­dow of the Del­phic Dog­house, it doesn’t look too bright over the hills in the dis­tance. But these peo­ple re­spect Holden and they want to give him a chance. In so many ways, he is their only re­main­ing hope.

JOSEPH JOHN­SON/STUFF

Smaller grey­hound train­ers com­plain they can’t get a fair go in the in­dus­try dom­i­nated by big play­ers.

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