Reporter: Claire Doan
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) – Excitement! Power! Energy!
You might hear those words in promotions for the sport of greyhound racing, but there are other words you won’t hear: fractures, pulled muscles and lacerations. Injuries are the dark side of racing.
Like every racing sport, some wipeouts are unavoidable, as demonstrated in many YouTube videos, showing greyhound races across the country going terribly wrong.
Tucson Greyhound Park (TGP) CEO Tom Taylor has told 9 On Your Side over and over that the welfare of dogs is paramount.
“Everything we do here at Tucson Greyhound Park is what is good for the greyhound,” Taylor said in an August interview.
“These dogs are athletes and we want to treat them that way. We have to give them the best because if we give them the best, then they race the best,” Taylor told KGUN9 News in another interview.
But does the track always put those words into action?
9 On Your Side obtained a number of state reports that suggest otherwise. The Arizona Department of Racing documented 68 injuries at TGP over the course of just two months this year.
More alarming is what greyhound caretakers told investigators about track conditions. Among their complaints: people in charge of the track and running the tractors “didn’t care;" unmaintained dirt near the inner rail caused dogs to get their toes broken; and the fast dogs pulled muscles from running on heavy sand.
The Department’s Chief Greyhound Veterinarian found that injuries are “consistent with poor track surface conditions.”
However, revelations in the reports come as no surprise to Mike Sapovits, a former Director of Player Development at TGP. He told 9 On Your Side that during his years working there, operators often did not use the right equipment.
“This created an uneven track surface and these dogs would pull up and they’d break down,” Sapovits said. “We had one week where there were seven greyhounds who broke their legs.”
Taylor said Sapvoits is suing TGP over his firing in May, citing sex and age discrimination, and is a "disgruntled employee." Taylor explained that the track simply hired a woman over 50 years old with better credentials.
Does that injury rate sound reasonable for a busy track like TGP? We put the question to Councilman Steve Kozachik, who led the steroids ban against the track.
“It’s a racing sport and injuries will happen, but to the extent that you make sure the track is in proper conditions, you’re not going to be breaking legs,” Kozachik said, adding that track conditions are yet another reason to shut down the track.
In March, one inspector complained about TGP's delays in repairing equipment and wrote: “This neglect will not be tolerated.”
Taylor talked to 9 On Your Side in the past, but declined to be interviewed for this story, citing death threats.
He confirmed the rash of injuries but also said that after TGP added sand to the track and fixed the equipment, the track is in good standing with the Department of Racing.