A Track Blog: Mark Peacock, GBGB Track Liaison Officer
In our latest blog, we spoke to GBGB’s Track Liaison Officer, Mark Peacock, about the steps ground staff across GBGB-licensed tracks are taking to ensure safe and consistent surfaces for their canine athletes:
“In a recent RPGTV interview, Professor Madeleine Campbell, author of GBGB’s new welfare strategy, spoke about the time she asked a trainer what they would find most useful in order to improve the care they give their greyhounds. The reply: ‘knowledge’. This is true in all roles within racing; however long you have worked in the sport, there is always more to learn.
Since joining GBGB, I have encountered a similar desire and willingness to learn within the ground staff community. Everyone wants to know what more they could be doing and are keen to understand the thinking behind particular approaches. To meet this demand, I have been working alongside Dr Christian Spring from sports surface experts, STRI, to explore the ways we can better support knowledge-sharing between the ground staff teams across GBGB’s licensed tracks.
As a starting point, last month we hosted our inaugural track maintenance seminar which was well attended by teams across the country. Up until now, there has not been a forum for track staff to meet regularly to discuss common issues and how best to tackle them. Overall, there was a huge amount of experience amongst the attendees, and we have only just scratched the surface of the knowledge which exists within the sport. It was acknowledged that improvements always need to be made, supported by further investment into staff training, updating equipment and an openness to harness new technology.
We will be holding the seminars quarterly and, schedules permitting, will head to specific tracks to showcase any new equipment or processes. Along with Christian from STRI, we will also be tapping into the expertise of our international counterparts to share knowledge and problem solve together. We’re keen to explore, for example, the performance of the Steriline lure system used in Australia, which is an effective and provenly reliable system and could be an alternative for our tracks to consider.
As well as getting this new network started, we are in the process of creating an updated track preparation manual for the sport. The last edition of this is a few years old and our understanding of the science of track preparation has come a long way as has the equipment available to us. This comprehensive document will be a useful tool for the tracks and we intend to complement certain aspects with specific training. In time, I would like to introduce more formal training to ensure that every individual tasked with preparing one of our tracks is fully certified to do so.
It has been good to see more tracks making the most of the services provided to our sport by STRI. As part of our new welfare strategy, GBGB is aiming to increase STRI’s visits from annually to quarterly. This increase in monitoring and reporting can only be a good thing for track surfaces.
An issue the whole industry has faced for several years now is changes in the specification of sand being produced by the UK quarries and indeed a reduction in the number of those quarries. It is now generally a more refined sand and, as a result, has different moisture retention and packing qualities than the established track sands of old. This means some tracks are having to water more regularly and, in some cases, the sand can be more prone to compacting quickly. Given this, it is vital that tracks are confident they are using a high-quality product. STRI will test any samples sent to them by the tracks; it costs the tracks nothing as GBGB foots the bill but understanding what is being supplied could make a tangible difference in the long run. GBGB is exploring the best ways to ensure the availability of suitable sand to the tracks as well as potential additions to it and, while not a solution in the short term, our Working Group continues to investigate alternative racing surfaces for the future.
The safety of our canine athletes is the number one priority, and the importance of proper track preparation will not be overlooked. We all need to be confident that, each time the traps open, our greyhounds can run on a safe, consistent surface. This is a common goal for everyone involved in the sport and I am hopeful that our new ground staff network will prove a useful tool as we all work to continually improve standards.”