In our latest blog, we spoke to GBGB’s Track Liaison Officer, Mark Peacock. Mark works closely with every GBGB track to ensure greyhounds are racing on the safest possible surfaces. Here he reflects on his role so far and how the sport can harness new advancements in track preparation and maintenance.

“It has been three months since I joined the GBGB team and, unsurprisingly, my first aim has been to visit all tracks to meet their teams and carry out an initial assessment of the tracks. It has been a pleasure to meet many enthusiastic and passionate ground-staff colleagues for which greyhound welfare is clearly their top priority.

Overall, my review so far is that the tracks are doing a very good job with the equipment, budget, and materials currently available to them. There is, however, more that they each could be doing. With the launch of GBGB’s Welfare Strategy on the horizon next year, I believe that now is as good a time as ever to explore new and innovative approaches to track preparation and maintenance to see if we can make our tracks even safer for the dogs.

My background is in horseracing and, for the past 12 years, I worked as part of the fantastic team at Godolphin Racing. Primarily, my role was to ensure that these elite animals were running and training on safe and consistent surfaces. While you cannot completely rule out injury in any athletic pursuit, whether that be human, canine or equine, I strongly believe that we must do everything in our power to minimise any risk.

I’ve been asked on a few occasions what I think greyhound racing can learn from horseracing’s approach to track preparation. There are aspects we could and should explore – but it is not only horseracing that we need to look to. We need to keep learning from the absolute best of all sports, including football and rugby and, in the process, welcome new materials and test new techniques and equipment.

As someone relatively new to greyhound racing, I am bringing a fresh pair of eyes to the tracks. The answer “because it’s what we have always done” will not do. I am pleased, therefore, that two of our tracks have recently trialled Verti-Drain machines. In short, these can alleviate sand compaction further down in the sand profile without disturbing the overall consistency of the track. This allows oxygen to get down into areas that regular harrowing cannot, helping improve the overall health of the sand and ultimately making it safer for the dogs.

This machine has been used by some tracks in the past, but it would be beneficial if they all made this a regular part of their maintenance routine. To support this, GBGB has track improvement grants that our stadia can apply for and as part of my role I will be advising and supporting them to access this funding.

As a sport, it is hugely valuable that we can draw on the expertise of STRI. They are world-renowned and respected experts and, while they have been working with the tracks for a few years now, as part of my job I will be following up on their recommendations and supporting the tracks to make these improvements. It is good to have this independent view of the sport to give us a measure of how we are doing and where we can do better.

We have also set up a small working group comprising academics, vets, promoters and groundstaff to explore future surfaces for our sport. While some research was undertaken into this a few years ago, the science has moved on vastly now. I strongly believe it is time we looked again at the potential benefits of these materials. We know too that supplies of silica sand, which is currently used, are getting smaller, so it is only sensible that we look for a sustainable alternative; especially if it will make racing even safer in the long term.

To explore this further, early next year the working group will be heading to Southwell and Lingfield Park racecourses to look at two alternative all-weather surfaces currently used within equine activities. These are made up of the same sand currently used at greyhound tracks which is then mixed with different ingredients which alleviate the need for watering and salting. This bespoke mix is tailored for the needs of the horse and is designed to replicate the feel of turf. Similarly, I believe that we can find a blend that is right for our greyhounds. This type of surface would not look any different, aside from not having a smooth plated surface, but could potentially benefit the dogs.

Of course, we will need to build a picture for these alternative surfaces based on data and scientific evidence. In the meantime, we are looking at other additives such as surfactants and wetting agents which either retain moisture in the sand profile or move water through the profile more quickly. Likewise, there are additives that would prevent freezing and therefore remove the need to add salt to the tracks during winter.

There is certainly lots to explore and, as we do, I will be working closely with all GBGB licensed stadia to further build on their safety standards so their greyhounds can continue doing what they love.”