Spirit is still alive at empty greyhound tracks

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By Gary Clark

The Coronavirus has changed the lives of many – some lost, some fighting Covid-19 and others remaining in the comfort of their own homes just to be safe.

For all codes of sport around the world the stadiums, grounds, courts and pools are free from the competitive action that involves tens of thousands of spectators every weekend. It has been only the racing codes in Australia that remain active.

Greyhound Racing NSW  had to take immediate action to ensure the industry continued, so with the State broken into zones, some TAB tracks and all country tracks were closed during Covid-19 and all measures taken in accordance with the government and health experts as the new look structure was put in place.

Now temperatures are taken of all trainers, staff and officials before being allowed onto the track. Anyone over the prescribed cut-off of 37.5 will not be allowed to enter the track. Only one person per dog, no owners, no handlers, a limit of 50 people at each meeting – tight and strict.

Feature carnivals, Group races have either postponed or cancelled for 2020.

So now, I only have the chance to go to two race tracks a week, Goulburn and Richmond and what I see is a very different atmosphere to what we are accustomed to.

I can only report on these two tracks as entry to any track I don’t work on is not permissible, even being part of the media and calling for Sky, there are no favours any more, we all are under the same guidelines.

So, here is just one week in April, commencing with a Richmond meeting on a Sunday evening. 73-year-old Margaret Greer, a local trainer who was in the age bracket of the advice from GRNSW to stay at home, but for Margaret this is her life after nearly half a century involvement.

Margaret purchased her first dog back in 1975 and has raced many top line sprinters and stayers, including Golden Ambition and Romaro’s Triumph, a Tweed Galaxy winner.

Now a short-course sprinter named, Almost Time is her kennel star, winning six from 13 starts before this night and he is keeping Margaret going through the Covid-19 era.

Knowing just stepping out her front door could be dangerous, in times like this it is Margaret and her dogs that form a special bond and you can see that after the race she won on the night, nothing else matters. It’s like she has a force field around her and nothing is going to break her style.

Almost Time won his seventh race this night and the Coronavirus was a distant thought in her mind.

The Greyhound Products Direct mobile van which attends the Richmond meetings is now parked outside the front gate in an empty car park, this is now the only way many participants can obtain their much-needed supplies.

Business is very different at present but careful solutions are being found.

Then at Goulburn on the Tuesday the very feeling of emptiness and scattered people made you think: ‘Is there a race meeting in progress?’ The only noise and enthusiasm came from the race caller, like Richmond and most other tracks. No TAB, no betting, never been seen before on a race track.

To walk around the complex and see six or seven people spread out inside (as seen in the photo on this page), around 10 or 12 trainers eating lunch in an outside area in takeaway containers, no plates, knives and forks now, many trainers staying in their cars all day, there is no victory handshakes or post mortems after each race now, just hose your dog down, rehydrate him or her and off home.

With all country tracks closed, Crookwell trainer Bruce Peck was concerned that he and partner Rose Camilleri only had the low grade dogs who couldn’t compete with the strong TAB class dogs now.

“I said to Rose we won’t win a race for the next six months and we need to consider whether we step away from the sport,” he said.

But as fortune has it, and in a time of devastation around the world, fortune can turn very quickly as we see daily and for Bruce and Rose, they won two days later at Goulburn’s next meeting before Easter, with Milady Hope.

An Easter Miracle that may have just been enough to give them the ‘Hope’ they needed to get through the darkness of the current climate.

On the same day, 77-year-old trainer, Barry Curl had one runner, All Negoa. Barry is another trainer in an age bracket where he should have been at home.

Like so many of our participants how do they leave a dog in a kennel for six months and also lock themselves up at that age.

This is greyhound racing. We have seen many resilient people over the years who have overcome adversity, but at the moment this is their job, and no one is going to retrench them.

But for Barry it was not a great start to the day. After the first race he was in an outside area and went to pick up a drink before falling and hitting his head and shoulders twice against the cement and windows.

With social distancing in place there was no time for strategic plans and trainers raced to his aid, made him comfortable and the club rang an ambulance.

With no hesitation at the time, Ray Dixon who handles leading trainer Jodie Lord’s dogs, jumped in and made sure Barry’s dog got to the boxes without him being scratched, while local trainer Greg Hoare then took the dog back to his place until Barry was able to head home.

Barry was taken to hospital before eventually being allowed to go home after five hours. All Negoa finished fifth.

These were just three meetings, but in strange times at least there were some good stories that came out of the week.

Yes, there would have been similar stories in other zones, and those that were there would have felt similar emotions.

Just an indication of the spirit that is greyhound racing in NSW in a vastly different time.

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