What has four legs, a tail and is preparing to make his first start for a group of Thoroughbred owners headed up by bloodstock agent Sean Feld? If you guessed “a Thoroughbred” or even “a racehorse,” surprisingly you'd be wrong. Feld and a group of 16 investors are eagerly awaiting the first lifetime start for their newest runner, a Greyhound named PJ Fire Away.
Even better, one of the partners will get to keep the pup when his racing career concludes.
Feld, whose Thoroughbred ventures include managing the Thoroughbred racing partnership The Club, LLC, and serving as managing director of Climax Stallions, which stands Bullet Train, Curlin to Mischief and Editorial, used to visit the Greyhound track in Phoenix while in college and later in West Virginia on his way home each year from Fasig-Tipton's Midlantic sales.
Feld says he's wanted to own a Greyhound for years. Recently he decided to familiarize himself with the process of race dog ownership and the sport in general, so he called the National Greyhound Association, which is akin to The Jockey Club.
“They connected me to a guy in West Virginia who then connected me to a second man, Monte Jacobs, who was great about explaining the business to me,” said Feld. “I can only imagine getting a cold call from someone saying, 'I own Thoroughbreds, but I want to try owning a dog.' I don't think it's something that happens every day.”
Jacobs explained the process of purchasing a young dog to race, which is similar to purchasing a horse out of a 2-year-old in training sale for Thoroughbreds. He also explained the daily care, training process and racing format to Feld, who saw many similarities to how Thoroughbreds are cared for during their formative years and racing careers, including high quality feed, daily handling and grooming and keen attention to any health and medical needs.
Greyhounds must be 15 months old to begin their formal training, which starts with “schooling trials” with 1-2 other dogs. They must be at least 16 months and have a minimum of two schooling runs before they can make their first official start.
“Just like with horses, if they're quick learners and are running fast trials, they'll put them in a race, but if they need more time to mature, they'll wait and keep schooling them,” said Feld. “It's more like harness racing in that they race more frequently and don't need as much recovery time between races like Thoroughbreds do. A healthy dog can run weekly.”
There are two Greyhound sales each year and Jacob helped Feld come up with a short list of dogs they wanted to consider for purchase.
“Our budget was $5,000 and we had a list of seven dogs we liked. Hip 65 was the first dog on our list to go through the ring, but it brought $14,000, so that was definitely off the table. Hip 77 was the next best and that's the one we got,” said Feld.
“Leo” as he's known around the kennel, will be based at Tri-State Greyhound Park, which is located on the grounds of Mardi Gras Casino and Resort in West Virginia. Feld said each dog at the kennel not only had a large private crate (for safety reasons the dogs are housed separate from one another), but also several turnout areas for them to stretch their legs and play in several times a day.
Like Thoroughbred racing, Greyhound racing is governed by state law. While Greyhound racing, specifically the care, treatment and post-racing welfare of the athletes, has increasingly been a point of contention with animal welfare groups the past several decades, the National Greyhound Association has taken significant measures to regulate the industry and has imposed a strict enforcement system.
Dogs at Tri-State Greyhound Park and other pari-mutuel Greyhound tracks are cared for by licensed professionals, who must abide by not only state laws and regulations but also racetrack policies and procedures, which include strict regulations regarding animal welfare.
“When I got to the kennel they turned him out and told me I could go in and get to know him. I thought I would get to see him and maybe pet him, but I didn't think I'd get to actually play with him. With horses, we'd never let a rookie owner go into the stall of their new soon-to-be-racehorse and play with them – I don't think that would end well,” Feld laughed. “I've been told Greyhounds are typically low key and kind of lazy and usually don't have much personality until they're older, but Leo started jumping on me and licking me. It was really cool to see him show that much emotion.”
Feld hopes Leo will make his first official start in December (under the name PJ Fire Away) and said he and the rest of the owners, who bought shares in Leo for $300 each, are planning to make a day of it.
“The majority of Leo's owners are horse people and the track is only about two and a half hours away, so I'm definitely going to go whenever I can and I know others want to as well,” said Feld.
Just as in the Thoroughbred racing world, aftercare for Greyhounds has been a hot-button issue over the past several decades, both within the sport and in the mainstream press. While the most successful dogs are retained for breeding purposes, many are adopted out through Greyhound aftercare organizations.
Leo, on the other hand, already has a long line of dog lovers hoping to adopt him.
“The leading Greyhound sire stands for $3,000, so hopefully Leo is the next Tapit, but just in case he's not, we've got it covered,” said Feld, explaining that most of the partners are interested in adopting Leo when he retires. “We'll hold a raffle among the interested partners to see who gets to call him their own once he retires. I hope, and I think, the experience of owning a racing Greyhound is going to make several others want to adopt one off the track as a pet.”
Feld said the partnership with Leo filled up so quickly he foresees doing other Greyhound partnerships in the future. Anyone interested in becoming a partner in future ventures can email Sean Feld at [email protected].
* In researching Greyhound racing for this article, I came across the 501c3 organization Greyhound Facts, which offers education and insight regarding all aspects of Greyhounds' lives, from breeding and racing to adoption. Of particular interest to those wanting to do their own research may be the “Off to the Races” page, which details the care and daily routines of Greyhounds racing in North America.
Much like The Jockey Club's safety and advocacy initiatives, the National Greyhound Association has the American Greyhound Council, which focuses on welfare, adoption and education for Greyhound breeding and racing.
Jen Roytz is a marketing, publicity and comprehensive communications specialist based in Lexington, Kentucky. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, her professional focus lies in the fields of equine, health care, corporate and non-profit marketing. She holds board affiliations with the Make a Wish Foundation, Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance and the Retired Racehorse Project, among others. While she currently has no plans to build an ark, she is the go-to food source for two dogs, two cats and two off-track Thoroughbreds.
Email Jen your story ideas at [email protected] or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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