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Traralgon’s J-Curve – the risk is all in the science

Increasingly as a society we are being urged to “believe the science” – whether it be climate change or Covid-19 vaccinations.

But there is no more evidence of the belief in science than Greyhound Racing Victoria’s commitment to racing safety and welfare with its world-first, J-Curve track at Traralgon.

When the first greyhounds chase the Safechase Lure around the new track later this year, the punters will not know how much detail has gone on behind the scenes of this unique track.

In 2018 GRV and the Traralgon Greyhound Racing Club closed the track indefinitely after a detailed investigation found on-going drainage issues had compromised the safety of the track. Multiple designs were developed with the aim of building the safest possible track.

That’s where Professor David Eager and his team of biomechanical specialists from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) came in.

David Eager is Professor of Risk Management and Injury Prevention at UTS. He is also an internationally recognised expert on the safety aspects of trampolines, playgrounds, play surfacing, and sports and recreation equipment.

Prof. Eager’s world is all about risk – that is the analysis, evaluation and assessment of risk.

“There is risk in everything from AFL football, children’s playgrounds, finance and banking and greyhounds,” Prof. Eager said.

“But the outcome is all about the tolerability to risk.”

Prof. Eager first got involved in the greyhound industry when, in 2015 he was invited to submit a submission for a grant to study the safety and welfare of greyhounds.

It is over those years that he and his team have built computer models, using Artificial Intelligence, to simulate racing dogs and the dynamic effects such a race congestion on various track configurations.

In particular, the forces the greyhounds experience as they accelerate from 0-70 kms/ph in less than one hundred metres.

To build these models, Prof. Eager has used the university resources from different engineering disciplines to achieve optimum safety.

And it’s the use of these many disciplines which combine to enable track surfaces and sweeping bends, such as Traralgon, to develop peak racing surfaces.

Take a look at the progress of the state-of-the-art J-Curve design Traralgon track.

“An example of this was early in our modelling we needed a way of interpreting the forces impacting racing greyhounds and calibrating our tracking device,” Prof. Eager said.

“We needed to calibrate the sensors we placed in the racing jackets of the dogs to analyse the acceleration pulses when the dogs’ paws hit the ground. So, I called on the resources of a civil engineering colleague to assist in the task.

“We attached the sensors to a greyhound at the track and then measured the physical position of every paw imprint to correlate them with the sensor spikes. That’s just a small, but critical part of our simulation model.”

And so, the model evolved.

“While it has evolved over five and a half years, it is built on very strong foundations. It’s not something you can just make up on a whim or a random concept – there is a lot of computer science underpinned by biomechanical engineering behind it.”

Then there is a matter of empathy with the sport.

While Prof. Eager was chosen for his expertise in children’s playgrounds and amusement parks and the safety aspect of impacts from falls and acceleration on roller coasters, it came as somewhat of a surprise to him that anyone involved in animal research had to do an ethics course.

“Our research was all about saving the lives and reducing the injury rates of greyhounds,” he said.

Prof. Eager and his entire team completed and passed the animal ethics course conducted by The University of Sydney’s Animal Ethics Committee before engaging in the greyhound research.

So, after all the work and modelling is Prof. Eager confident of a successful Traralgon project?

“You bet I am – I have a lot riding on this design,” he said.

“In engineering we talk about the benefit of risk and not all risk is negative. This is an example of positive risk. Just as Christopher Columbus and Neil Armstrong did before us – GRV has taken a positive risk by getting behind this design.

“I am confident that GRV and the participants won’t be sorry.” – Tony Homfray

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