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By James Cockington – The Age
Despite its marginal exposure in the media, greyhound racing is a major sport in terms of cash rewards. Typical first-place prizemoney for a novice dog is $5000 at city tracks such as Wentworth Park in Sydney, or Sandown Park and The Meadows in Melbourne.
If the dog shows potential, it graduates to Group 3 races (prizemoney of about $25,000), Group 2 ($30,000 to $70,000), then, for elite performers, Group 1. Here the upper limit is the Golden Easter Egg held at Wentworth Park in April. This year’s first prize of $250,000 was the highest in the world.
Or it was until Melbourne recently decided to up the stakes to $350,000 for the winner of this year’s Melbourne Cup for dogs at the Sandown Park track.
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With total prizemoney of half a million dollars, Sandown now claims this event – billed as ”the race that stops a suburb” – as the richest ever run.
There will be a total of $1 million on offer during the track’s November Superdogs series.
Australia is a profitable place to race a winning greyhound and there is added value after the dog’s race career if it continues as a brood bitch or sire, through stud fees and the sale of puppies. Artificial insemination using frozen semen is often used for breeding.
Entering the sport is relatively cheap, certainly when compared with a thoroughbred. You can pick up a dog with good breeding for about $3000 or take a punt on buying one for even less at auction.
The largest greyhound sales in Australia – some say the world – are held each year at Wollongong. This year’s Dapto Puppy Auction on May 6 had lower results than previously. The top price was $8000 each for four pups with race-winning pedigree.
The 290 dogs that were sold grossed more than $681,000 at an average price of $2348 a pup.
Last year, $15,000 was paid for one dog with impeccable breeding. You can add a zero or three to that price for the equivalent in horseflesh.
Most owners trust the daily training of the dog to a professional. The trainer will house and feed it, teach it to chase the lure and pay for vet bills in exchange for 50 per cent of any prizemoney.
If there is no prizemoney, the trainer may ask the owner for $70 to $80 a month to continue racing.
There are about 4000 registered greyhound trainers and about 8200 registered greyhound owners in NSW. The most prolific owner-breeder in NSW is Paul Wheeler, who runs a large operation near Young.
According to Greyhound NSW statistics, Wheeler earned $5 million last year from prizemoney and fees.
Stud fees vary but the sire regarded as the most valuable in Australia is Tony Lockett’s Collision. This dog is worth an estimated $200,000. Yes, that’s ”Plugger” Lockett, the former St Kilda and Sydney Swans AFL star and a long-time owner and breeder of greyhounds.
Numerous celebrities own greyhounds, including Socceroos star Tim Cahill, the co-owner of Fancy Dean, which competed in the Golden Easter Egg in April. It didn’t win that race but has won on 23 previous occasions.
Another enthusiast is Vic Larusso, the Australian Traffic Network’s helicopter reporter. His top dog is a stayer called He’s My Future.
It has had 15 wins in 39 starts, with total prizemoney of $80,000.
A healthy greyhound can run more than 30 races a year during its expected two-year racing career.
When they retire, they can be retrained as pets and adopted out through a variety of schemes.
They apparently make wonderful pets and are noted for their sooky nature and ability to sleep for 18 hours a day.
For details, see Greyhound Racing NSW at www.thedogs.com.au and Greyhound Racing Victoria at grv.org.au.