Murray Bridge’s new greyhound track revealed

At a time when greyhound racing's future is being questioned around Australia, spending $8.5 million on a new track in Murray Bridge might sound like a surprising burst of optimism.

But Matt Corby has a message for anyone who would like to see the South Australian industry shut down: come and see it for yourself before you condemn it.

The chief executive officer of Greyhound Racing SA (GRSA) said protests – including a petition against the new track signed by more than 120,000 people from around the world – only motivated him to make the industry as safe as he could.

"We've shown over a long period of time that SA bats at a higher level, in an environment where rigour is an everyday proposition," he said.

"I don't think many people would anticipate that this year we've spent $1.5 million on re-homing greyhounds.

"We ... compel re-homing of dogs – there isn't a choice.

"In April 70 per cent of the greyhounds which retired from racing were re-homed; by the end of the year it will be 80 per cent."

Only those whose temperaments did not suit them to home life were euthanised.

But he pointed out that 22pc of stray animals collected by the RSPCA met the same fate.

He also noted GRSA's track injury rehabilitation scheme, which heavily subsidised the cost of veterinary treatment for any dog hurt during a race.

"We've got to behave in a manner that sets the standard, advocate for other states to follow that standard, and we've got to work towards being part of a healthy and accountable national industry," he said.

"You can ... fear the future, but if you don't invest in yourselves, you'll have no future."

Peak body took long-term view

When GRSA reviewed its assets in 2011, it found its 11 tracks were under-utilised and not well aligned with the three main centres of greyhound racing in the state: the Adelaide Plains, southern Adelaide and Mount Gambier.

"We had too many tracks and in the wrong regions," Mr Corby said.

The organisation decided to focus on its flagship circuit at Angle Park, in Adelaide; Gawler; Mount Gambier; a "non-TAB" venue at Port Augusta, whose race meetings are not broadcast; and a new venue to replace the ageing one at Strathalbyn.

Murray Bridge's association with other forms of racing, and the supportive attitude of the city's council, made it a natural fit.

GRSA looked at eight other sites around the district, including one alongside the new racecourse at Gifford Hill, before settling on a block of land on Kennett Road, between the speedway and showground on the east side.

In 2016 it lodged plans for a state-of-the-art facility it hoped would be among the most modern and animal-friendly in the nation.

Both its straight track and its circle, with only one sweeping turn, were designed to make racing easier on greyhounds' bodies.

"The larger the radius (of a corner), the easier it is to get around," Mr Corby said.

"Not only are there safety benefits ... but older dogs might be able to race longer as well."

It will be the first wholly new greyhound racing venue built in Australia in about 15 years.

Its location only a few kilometres from Mobilong Prison, where prisoners train ex-racing dogs ready to be adopted, will also be convenient; and its main building will be available for hire as a function centre, something Murray Bridge had lacked.

First meeting due in five weeks

A final race meeting was held at Strathalbyn on October 21, and GRSA hopes to host the first meeting at its newest venue next month.

Sand was still being laid on the racing surface on Wednesday, and will need to be compacted before trainers are allowed to bring dogs for solo trials, half-race trials and finally a dummy race meeting planned for December 8, when strategic projects manager Scott Wuchatsch said track lights and audio-visual equipment would be tested.

"We've got to be able to get our vision out, our race callers out, make sure the TVs are working, make sure the bar's working," he said.

"The biggest one we're waiting on is the lights – the lights are (coming) on a boat."

Should all go well, an inaugural race meeting has been pencilled in for December 19.

When the venue is fully functional, weekly races will be held on Sunday evenings, "a family-friendly timeslot".