WCRA‘s Getting Started Guide – soon to be available in colour on paper

Introduction

This guide is intended for the beginner venturing into the world of pedigree whippet racing for the first time.  Its purpose is to make those first tentative steps beneficial to both the enthusiastic owner and to that trusting companion the whippet. The guide has been produced by the Whippet Club Racing Association, a body, which represents the interests of pedigree whippet racing, so welcome to the sport of whippet racing!  Good luck and may you have many rewarding years of racing.

History of the Whippet Club Racing Association

The WCRA, as it is more commonly known, was formed in 1968.  It is a section of the senior breed club, The Whippet Club, which represents the interests of the whippet breed, which in turn reports to the Kennel Club for overall guidance. The WCRA’s role as governing body is to set, review and ensure standards are maintained concerning all aspects of pedigree whippet racing.  The actual implementation of such standards is entrusted to the officers of clubs affiliated to the Association. The WCRA has an elected committee that is responsible for monitoring the affiliated member clubs.  There is no direct personal membership of the WCRA. The WCRA provides the following services in the execution of its duties:

*  Racing Whippet Registration
*  Organises and runs 4 Championships annually
*  Consultative advice available to affiliated clubs
*  Administers Club affiliation
*  Administers Superstars Points incentive schemes

The Affiliated Racing Clubs

There are clubs geographically spread across the country.  Names and addresses of contacts will be detailed in a separateLinks page on this web site.  Meetings are held on a regular basis, mostly on Sundays.  Clubs in the same area try to run on alternate weekends so there should be plenty of opportunity to see and enjoy a race meeting most weekends. Club meetings usually commence around lunchtime and are finished and packed away by late afternoon.  It should be noted that it takes time to set up and put away equipment necessary for a meeting and often these tasks are performed by a few dedicated individuals, so volunteers of help are always welcome. Club meetings are the bread and butter of whippet racing and are conducted in a way that encourages a relaxed, friendly atmosphere that really promotes the family element of the sport. Most clubs produce a race programme a few days prior to the event.  This requires owners to contact a nominated club official on or prior to a certain day to ensure they are included in a racing programme.  This may also be required by some clubs for schooling trials as well.  Check with the club Secretary for details.

Race Meetings

The format and structure of race meetings vary from club to club, both in terms of the track layout and racing programmes.  The club race calendar will give some indication as to format and events scheduled.  Further information can be received from club officials.  Typically, races are run over a straight or bend with distances varying between 150-200 yards on the straight and 200-300 yards on the bend.

Spacer for Parallax

The structure of a race meeting

Set Up

The equipment and track are first assembled, i.e. Traps, lure machine, score board etc. Few clubs have permanent tracks so this is where help is always well received.

Weigh-In/Check-In

Dogs are weighed at the start of the meeting; to establish their handicap in relation to other larger or smaller dogs. This is typically the most common form of handicapping. There are other methods that help to ensure that even the slowest dog has a good chance of crossing the line in a winning position. Race and schooling trial fees are normally collected at the same time. Most clubs set a time when weigh-in (as it is commonly known) closes. At major meetings late comers are not usually allowed to race.

Trials

During the club meeting times are set aside for young dogs to be schooled or experienced dogs to be brought back after a rest. These may take place before, between and following sets of races. When these take place will be announced during the meeting and will normally be a routine event. Club officials put a lot of work into schooling trials and novice owners shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help or advice, indeed everyone started out in the sport the same way!

Races

During a normal race meeting you can expect to receive at least two runs irrespective of your dogs performance. This could be as much as four; depending on the overall entry. Races will typically commence with a set of heats followed by a break, quarterfinals or semi-finals followed by a break and then a final. A few events also include a Supreme Final where the weight group winners run-off against each other. Up to five dogs may take part in a race. The dogs placed first and second in a race usually qualifying for the next round. To ensure all dogs get a fair crack of the whip (no pun intended), those dogs placed 3rd, 4th and 5th usually go through to a set of consolation races.

Joining a Club

You will normally need to become a member to be able to race your dog at club events. However, this is usually a small sum even for a complete family. The charges will most probably be an annual subscription, check with the relevant Club Secretary for details. A list of all clubs with contact addresses and telephone numbers is printed at the end of this booklet. Secretaries do change occasionally, so if you have any difficulties contact the Secretary of the WCRA or check the web site.

Other Meetings

On occasions clubs may open their doors to non-members and run what is known as an Open event. This gives the opportunity for the better dogs from different clubs to compete together. Clubs may organise a number of these events during the racing year and will publicise them to ensure they are well attended. The WCRA organise Championship meetings that are open to all holders of a identity papers for their dog(s), known as WCRA Passports. There are four Championships per year, run on straights and bends. These meetings are the most prestigious in the racing calendar with the best dogs competing for the coveted title of Whippet Club Racing Champion (WCRCh). Dogs are not handicapped but run against dogs of similar weights in separate groups. This format has evolved as a special feature of the Championships and there are no Consolation races.

The WCRA Passport

This document is similar to your own Passport, both in purpose and content. It is designed to uniquely identify each pedigree racing whippet. This can be applied for once the dog is twelve months of age and confirms the pedigree status of the dogs together with other criteria including a height restriction of 21 inches at the shoulder. KC Registration alone is not enough; the passport application will need to be actioned by a Whippet Club Seconder before the passport is issued by the Registrar. WCRA events and some Club events require a WCRA Passport as a condition of entry.

The Passport Sticker

These are obtainable from your WCRA affiliated club Secretary on a yearly basis. One is required for each dog and is stuck inside the dog’s passport. Entry to a WCRA event will not be permitted without a current sticker.

Getting Started

Whippets instinctively take to chasing and in most cases are easy to train for racing. At first puppies treat the whole business of racing as a big game but as they become fully-fledged racers the tenacity, enthusiasm and sheer pluckiness of the breed will be fully appreciated. It is not always an easy road so training requires careful application and common sense to produce an “honest” racer.

When should I start?

Each club has it’s own set of guidelines and rules when puppies may start schooling. Puppies may be “socialised” during club meetings, watching the racing take place and generally get used to the noise and atmosphere. It is recommended that puppies start formal training between the ages of 8-10 months and should not start racing before the age of 12 months. No puppy training at an affiliated club is allowed to run behind a mechanical lure before the age of 6 months. As a general guide to puppy training the following will help you form the basis for your own training programme.

At Home

Puppies should be encouraged to “chase” by playing games. Bits of fur and other toys are ideal to begin with. Let the puppy take the lead and try not to overdo it to avoid boring the puppy.

At the Racetrack

Puppies may be started in a similar fashion, being teased with the lure, running a short distance and letting the puppy chase and catch the lure. Try to keep the puppy interested. When the puppy has matured (and reached at least 6 months of age) it may be schooled behind a driven lure initially over a short distance, increasing this gradually over a number of weeks. The puppy should be released by hand during these trials. The puppy should also be introduced to the traps. This requires some care as although most dogs become used to the traps eventually future dividends will be reaped if you are able to train your dog to trap well.

Open Trap

At first it is advisable to encourage your puppy to go through an open trap i.e. with the front up and the back open. This will familiarise the dog gradually to the confines of the “box”. This process can progress initially from manually pulling the lure a few yards to encourage the puppy to run through the trap to full trials with a driven lure. This process can be started in those early weeks of training.

Closed Trap

Once you are happy with the puppy’s progress through an open trap try closing the front only, at first with the spring off lifting the front manually. Next, put the springs back on and just release the front manually. This will introduce the dog to the noise and timing associated with the lure being started and the traps opening. During this process you will need to hold your dog in the trap. This will give the dog initial confidence. This should be continued until the dog is happy with the front being down. When you are confident try the dog with the front and back closed. During this stage of schooling it is advisable to put the lure directly in front of the trap so that the dog sees it when it moves.

Multiple Trials

The major turning point in your dog’s training programme is its first multiple trial, its first run with another dog. How this aspect of training should be approached is a subject of much debate, so it is best to ask and listen and then make your own decisions. However, here are some basic ideas to get you thinking. For the multiple trial I would suggest you select a dog that is slower than your own (a veteran may be the best choice). The dog will need to be “honest” i.e. will run straight and true invariably under any circumstances. Most owners are prepared to bring a dog along especially for the occasion. You will need to organise this with the other owner yourself. It is also worth asking an experienced racer to observe the first multiple trial with you. This will help you with some objective feedback for the next steps, in any case you will probably be too nervous. Further multiple trials will need to be performed, increasing the number of dogs and varying the handicaps so that you simulate in a controlled manner a race.

Clearance Trials

When you are happy that your dog has completed enough successful multiple trials the next step is to obtain formal approval by the club for your dog to race. This is achieved by staging a special trial where your dog is required to race others and demonstrate that it will behave during all aspects of a race. Each club will have its own specific rules of how these trials are conducted so make enquiries with your club secretary. Once your dog has been successful in this process it is then ready to race.

Bend Training

This aspect of racing has to be the most exciting even though it only lasts for approximately 15 seconds (when running over 240 yards) but it does require effort to train a dog to run a bend competently. The bend does by definition put extra strain on your dog and therefore most injuries tend to occur during these events. I would recommend that you do not consider trialling your dog around a bend until the dog is fully mature and races on a regular basis. When you start you may consider hand slipping your dog part way round the bend and gradually increasing the distance until they are totally familiar. I can best describe what you are trying to achieve with the analogy of a racing car. The driver will accelerate hard to the bend, brake, and change gear finding the optimum line and speed through the bend and finally accelerating hard into the next straight. The “class” dogs perform this whole process with what seems to be effortless ease. The smoothness and coordination necessary being the secret of their success. It is not just speed that our dog will need to win bend races, they will have to use their brains.

The Secrets of Success

There are key elements through training that can make a difference to your dog’s performance which include endeavour and honesty. Should you achieve this level of training then you will receive just rewards for your efforts and give pleasure to yourself and many others who enjoy racing for just the sheer pleasure of watching a good race. Speed cannot be discounted as a dog either has it or it hasn’t but patience and a through approach to training can exploit the dog’s full potential. Having said that, speed is not everything, although the faster a whippet the greater its winning potential. The prime objective is for your pet to enjoy a good hard run and everyone enjoys watching a good race. Many slower whippets are given “respect” purely for their skill and determination.

Endeavour

A dog that gives a little bit extra just when it is needed will prove difficult to beat under any circumstances. This may manifest itself anywhere during a race, at the traps or in the final yards of a race. A closely fought race with a dog making a supreme effort in the last few yards of a race to win by a nose or for a dog to make up a seemingly unattainable handicap will add pleasure and excitement experienced during a days racing and will remain in peoples memories for years to come.

Honesty

A dog that can run straight and true irrespective of trap or lure position is taking the shortest route to the finish, which has to be preferable when 100ths of seconds may make all the difference. Compare this to a dog that moves from one side of the track to the other wasting valuable yards. This not only slows down the race but also increases the risk of injury, especially round the bend.

Fitness

Have a close look at your dog; you will see a body built for speed, a deep chest, strong back and shoulders, powerful and well-defined muscles. Make a comparison with one of the world class sprinters and you will see many similarities. Like these athletes your dog will need careful preparation to be able to achieve its best performance. Many people will give you advice but it will be up to you to get the best out of your charge. A well balanced diet, sensible exercise routine and a happy home are a good starting point. If you are at all unsure about your dog’s health then consult your veterinary surgeon who will give sound and independent advice. As a general rule, if a whippet is given an hour’s exercise each day (either free running or on the lead) while it is learning to race it will be fit enough to do itself justice when it races. It is clear that a dog cannot possibly perform week in and week out, without some time off. Bitches obviously enjoy a rest during their seasonal break.

Dogs on the other hand may be rested at the owner’s discretion, a situation that can be advantageous with the rest period worked into the racing calendar so the owner is able to pick the most appropriate meetings for their dog. This will help to get the dog in the best form for the most important meetings. Unfortunately, bitches form is not as easy to influence. Their seasonal layoff could cause them to be out of training for anything up to 13 weeks after their season has finished.

Equipment

Racing coats

These are lightweight, usually nylon, multi-coloured coats that are used to identify each of the runners. The coats are normally numbered for further clarity, listed as follows: 1. Red 2. Blue 3. White 4. Black 5. Yellow 6. Black & White Stripes Ensure your coats are in good condition i.e. they have not faded and the number is easily read.

WCRA Whippet Racing Jackets

Muzzles

These are primarily for safety both during and in particular at the end of the race when all the dogs tumble in for the lure. There are a number of types on the market. Wire muzzles seem to be the most popular and consist of a fine wire cage that covers the dog’s nose completely. These are secured by means of a small leather strap.

WCRA Whippet Racing Muzzle

Injuries

During racing injuries may occasionally occur. It is best to be prepared to administer first aid by always taking those essential items with your as already described. Many injuries may be prevented by ensuring that your dog is properly warmed up before each race. This may be achieved by massaging the dog’s muscles to help ensure that muscles are ready for exertion. Also note it is advisable to inspect your dog closely after each race. Racing injuries are like any sports injury and specialist help should be obtained. Your vet should be able to give advice and treatment.

Kim Saxby – Revised 2012

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