Mullingar greyhound race track had the highest rate of injuries and deaths for dogs in each of the past three years, a Sunday Times analysis has found.

A study, based on figures provided by the Irish Greyhound Board (IGB) under freedom of information, shows that, although 6.3% of the 285,000 dogs that raced nationwide between 2015 and 2017 competed at Mullingar, the venue accounted for 12% of all dogs euthanised after suffering injuries.

Of the 1,205 race injuries reported nationwide in the past three years, 17.5% of those were as a result of racing in Mullingar.

In the past three years at the Co Westmeath venue, one in every 400 greyhounds that ran (0.25%) was put down. Dundalk (0.23%) and Limerick (0.21%) were the only other tracks with death rates above 0.2% of their starters. Youghal has the lowest death rate with seven dogs euthanised in three years, giving it a 0.05% rate of starters put down. The average for all 17 tracks is 0.14%.

Mullingar’s rate of injuries, 1.17% of its starters, is almost twice that of the next most dangerous track at Limerick, which has an injury rate of 0.68%.

Shelbourne Park in Dublin, the country’s busiest race track with more than 26,000 runners in the past three years, recorded an injury rate of 0.4% and a death rate of 0.09%, far below that of Mullingar.

Of the 45 dogs that died or were euthanised after racing in Mullingar, 36 were injured on the first bend. While some suffered serious injuries such as a “severed spine”, the most common was a fractured hock bone, equivalent to a greyhound’s ankle.

Correspondence released by the IGB shows that it has identified poor track maintenance at some grounds as causing injuries, although not at Mullingar.

An inspection was carried out at Shelbourne Park in October 2015 after five dogs, one of which was put down, suffered hock injuries.

A report from Damian Quigley, the IGB’s racing and maintenance manager, said: “The major factor in the dogs sustaining broken hocks on the track is predominantly a track with a hard pan close to the surface.”

Greyhounds require a soft sandy surface to provide a cushion that allows them to sprint without acquiring injuries.

Quigley’s report on Shelbourne Park said a “solid hard pan formed between two and three inches below the track surface on the majority of the circuit”. He said the straights in Shelbourne Park were “packed firm, with no top cushion layer”.

He said despite “extensive training” and telling staff to constantly monitor track conditions, the track “clearly should have been power- harrowed last week” before the injuries, but this had not been done over the previous six weeks.

At the time Pat Herbert, head of regulation at the IGB, said Quigley’s report was “extremely worrying”.

Last week the Irish Greyhound Owners and Breeders Federation said the injury and euthanasia figures were “shameful” and it was “very concerning” there was no sign of improvement over the three years.

Bill Murphy, chairman of the federation, said that his organisation had “repeatedly raised concerns regarding the unacceptable level of injuries to greyhounds at Irish tracks”. The IGB received annual state funding of €16m last year.

Aideen Yourell, a spokeswoman for the Irish Council Against Blood Sports, said she was concerned there was something wrong with the Mullingar track because of its high injury rate.

“Greyhound racing is inherently cruel and I do not believe it can be cleaned up and that’s why it has been banned in many American states,” she said. “The design of the tracks means there is inevitably going to be bunching and injuries to the dogs on the bends.”

Denis Healy, the IGB’s veterinary director, said its control stewards carried out track inspections prior to all race meetings and trial sessions. “The track vet attends all race meetings and sales trials to ensure that appropriate care is provided to injured greyhounds and to advise the stewards on welfare,” he said.

“As with any sport involving speed and athleticism, injuries do occasionally occur and best veterinary care and advice is followed in every case.”

The IGB said it would ensure “best practice in track maintenance is followed” to reduce injuries where possible. “Investment has taken place at specific sites to address deficiencies identified,” it said.


Editors Note.

The IGB’s veterinary director Denis Healy’s generic answers are totally a odds with what was happening on the ground. Ger Dollard CEO of IGB said that Healy’s role encompasses welfare issues. It would be interesting to compare the level of injuries since Mr Healy was appointed.

The Head of Regulation, Pat Herbert, stated that report into the failures were “extremely worrying”. It might be interesting to know what action was taken by Herbert and the IGB following this “extremely  worrying” revelation.