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Next generation trainer making her mark

There is something remarkably refreshing when speaking with a young teenage girl whose first utterance is not about the Kardashians or TikTok.

In fact, none of these things are referenced at all by 13-year-old Giaan Watts, granddaughter of longstanding Wendouree greyhound trainer, Wayne Gray.

And, after talking with Giaan, it is pretty clear where her heart lies, thanks largely to the unique and delightful bond that she shares with her grandfather and their greyhounds.

Wayne himself was 13 years of age when he first became involved with greyhounds, thanks to his uncle Malcolm Gray, who was a renowned greyhound trainer in the Bendigo region.

Wayne was rewarded early in his greyhound experience by his uncle, giving Wayne a dog to prepare that would go on to win its first start for Wayne, kicking off an intergenerational association.

Giaan’s fascination and fondness of her grandfather’s greyhounds became obvious from the age of eight.

With Wayne’s guidance Giaan started walking, feeding, brushing and rugging the animals and had her first coursing experience at the age of 10 and has been hooked ever since.

So much so, that at the beginning of this year (pre COVID-19 restrictions) Giaan was awarded the 2019 Junior Encouragement Award by the National Coursing Association of Victoria.

Both Wayne and Peter Craig, President of the NCAV, noticed how Giaan’s responses to questions from the coursing fraternity were far greater than a one word response.

Giaan’s level of detail concerning nutrition, recovery and the temperament of greyhounds involved in coursing was well beyond her years.

A clear reflection of the impact of Wayne’s guidance and insight into both caring for and racing dogs successfully.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic was at its peak in the state of Victoria during the 2020 winter, it did not stop the greyhound coursing season thanks to the industry’s coronavirus racing protocols and management, allowing Wayne, Giaan and many others the opportunity to participate.

Greyhound racing is renowned for bringing family members together and this is certainly the case with Giaan and her grandfather Wayne Gray.

With several meetings held at Lang Lang, Giaan stepped up her involvement and was walking greyhounds to the slipper for various trainers, in addition to Wayne, and was conversely catching dogs once they had completed their course.

Furthermore, Giaan was also checking the animals’ feet and preparing them for their next event.

Giaan’s efforts during the recent coursing season were certainly not unnoticed by industry insiders, as well as how much taller she has grown.

Greyhound trainers including Murray Collyer and Sean Lithgow were very impressed by Giaan’s ever increasing capacity and love for racing greyhounds.

Giaan shared what she believes are some of the important aspects and considerations when attending a race or slipping track for competition with racing dogs.

“(it’s important to) keep the greyhounds calm and hold them correctly, so you don’t get pulled over,” she explained.

“Place your hand across their chest or under the front so they can’t hurt themselves.”

“On the way to the track, the greyhounds are number one and it is most important to have the air conditioner or heater on in the vehicle or trailer that best suits them, not you.”

“The radio in the car should never be loud either.”

“Giaan has developed a great eye too…she can pick out when a dog has a sore leg and knows exactly what to feed each greyhound and when.”

A very proud Wayne also mentioned Giaan’s involvement in exercising their greyhounds.

“When we are running the greyhounds down the slipping track at Ballarat over 220m, Giaan has taught the dogs to run down and return to her. We start this when the animals are about 12 months old,” Gray said.

“The small yard adjacent to the slipping track is great and Giaan loves playing with the dogs beforehand, so the animals really enjoy the experience and respond very well to her.”

“Giaan has developed a great eye too…she can pick out when a dog has a sore leg and knows exactly what to feed each greyhound and when.”

One of Wayne’s greyhounds, Giaan’s Girl (Jagger Swagger x Why Not Trish), won her first start at Warrnambool earlier this month, and despite the race being held midweek, by the time Wayne had returned home after a two hour drive, Giaan had fed, brushed and rugged the remaining animals in Wayne’s kennel.

Discussing the future with Giaan and Wayne, Giaan is quick to point out that she would love a greyhound trainer’s licence.

“I will be 14 in February next year and know that I have to be 15 years of age before I can obtain a handler’s licence,” she said.

Wayne goes on to mention with a laugh, “She can get into a pretty filthy mood knowing that there is another year ahead of her, but she will be there before she knows it.”

“It would be great to see some races staged for young handlers one day. The kids would love the opportunity to box and catch the greyhounds, it’s invaluable experience.”

“Some young trainers’ events would be good as well – that would be a great way to encourage more young people for the future.”

It’s a safe bet that Giaan Watts will be a fully licensed greyhound trainer in the not-too-distant future, and she certainly doesn’t need any encouragement.

Victoria Shaw
About Victoria Shaw - Australia's only female race caller and the only woman in the world to have broadcast four codes of racing in this country and overseas. Victoria has co-hosted international racing awards and hosted racing forums focusing on women's inclusion within international racing communities including Poland, Morocco, Spain & the United Arab Emirates. She has called races on the Victorian thoroughbred picnic circuit and at numerous greyhound tracks around the state as well as the 2020 Waterloo Cup. Victoria is fascinated by the incredible efforts of racing animals as well as the people that love and prepare them, no matter where they are in the world.
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