Inside Greyhound Racing: The Life of a Stipendiary Steward
For many, the term ‘Stipendiary Steward’ sounds very official but how many of us know what they actually do? Meriel France gives us an insight into her working life.
“When I tell people what my job is, they usually say ‘’what?” and then I have to explain carefully the role and duties of a Stipendiary Steward.
My background in dogs is varied. My family are involved in greyhound racing and I regularly used to visit Chester track on a Saturday night, parading and handling dogs during my youth. I am a qualified Veterinary Nurse and I’m involved with dog showing and breeding. I’m also a qualified teacher in animal care, so when I saw the job advert, I thought this is the job for me.
Stipendiary Stewards work within the greyhound racing industry and are, broadly speaking, responsible for upholding the GBGB’s Rules of Racing in matters relating directly and indirectly to greyhound welfare. This might sound dull but that couldn’t be further from the truth; the job is challenging, engaging and rewarding. No two days are the same and you never know what will be around the next corner (quite literally at times, as there is a lot of driving involved!). Routine duties include regularly visiting tracks and residential kennels, taking urine samples, writing up reports on inspections and preparing any documents needed for local inquiries and other procedures.
I always try to educate and work with trainers to help them comply with the Rules of Racing and ensure standards are as high as they possibly can be. This involves talking to them about how large each kennel should be and what it should be made from as well as the size of exercise paddocks and how to safely and comfortably transport greyhounds. I also talk to them about keeping greyhounds fit, healthy and, above all, happy.
Obviously, if there is a breach of the rules I will issue penalties accordingly and if necessary, I will escalate this to the Senior Stipendiary Steward and ultimately the Director of Regulation who can take the appropriate action.
What is really rewarding is working with a new applicant to get set up or helping an established trainer refurbish and expand. All residential kennels have to conform to the Rules of Racing and discussing construction materials, kennel sizes and design at the beginning can save money and time.
I recently supported a new applicant, who wanted to upgrade from an “Owner Trainer” (where trainers are licensed to have up to two greyhounds living in the home) to a “Greyhound Trainer” (where the licence is issued for up to 12 greyhounds living in kennels). This particular trainer had bred a litter of puppies and wanted to race them. We initially spoke on the phone about converting an existing building and discussed the size of each kennel unit, flooring, lighting etc. I later visited to check if all the requirements of the Rules of Racing had been met. After a few tweaks, such as adding an isolation unit, he was granted his GT licence. Most of the puppies are now racing and have progressed through the grades to A1. He’s now planning to breed again and I feel there will be talks on expansion plans.
Stipendiary Stewards are also required to visit licensed tracks regularly. Again we follow the Rules of Racing to ensure good animal welfare, although there is always a Veterinary Surgeon on site during racing. Track duties include observing kennelling procedures for the greyhounds as they arrive at the track, their accommodation on site, the safety of the track, and taking urine samples which are then sent to an animal sports laboratory to test for a range of prohibited substances which protects the integrity of the sport and the welfare of the greyhounds.
As a Stipendiary Steward, I have an important role to play in delivering the Greyhound Commitment. The Commitment is a great initiative for our sport and it is has been really encouraging to see the trainers and tracks embrace it. It is my job to implement it and ensure that every greyhound is treated with care and respect throughout its career – a common goal for anyone passionate about our sport.”