It is simple mechanics that the physical structures of the greyhound to some extend limits it’s speed, as well as dictate how sound this greyhound will race.
In my opinion the preferred physical shape of the racing greyhound is as follows:
Viewed from above you should be able to draw a straight line from the outside front edge of the shoulder blade to the centre of the elbow joint, the centre of the wrist joint, and finish central on the foot.
Any deviation away from this standard may cause some long-term injury problems.
For instance, in some greyhounds the point of the elbow protrudes outwards, this will increase the possibility of track-leg problems, simply because it reduces the clearance between the front leg, and the inside of the hind leg during part of the stride.
The wrist needs to continue in a straight line in relation to the long bones in the front leg, any sideways angulation will increase the strain on the ligaments and tendons of the wrist joint, and may lead to long term repetitive strain damage.
The feet should be neither turned inward nor outward.
While galloping the greyhound rotates the foot in the direction of it’s running line, and if the feet are turned naturally outward this will in turn force the elbow to turn outward, again reducing the clearance to the inside of the hind leg.
Many trainers will select a greyhound with turned in feet (pigeon toed) in the belief that this may reduce the chance of track-leg occurring, as the elbow turns inward during the stride, but doing so will turn the elbows closer to the trunk, possibly hampering the galloping action, in particular if the greyhound has a broader than normal rib cage.
The other problem that occurs with a pronounced inward turn on the foot, is that this will increase the strain on the rail side wrist joint while driving through the turns.
The Shoulder Blades
When viewed from the side, they should angle forward approximately 36 degrees in relation to a vertical line drawn from the tip of the blade to the ground.
This will allow the front legs to reach maximum forward extension without undue strain to the muscles of the shoulders, in particular the Long Head of the Triceps.
The shoulders should be closely coupled to the trunk, with the top of the blades level with the spine.
Shoulder muscles should be well developed and defined without excessive bulk; if the front end looks bigger and more developed than the hindquarters, it is likely that the greyhound is suffering from a lower back problem, or some type of bone damage to the hind legs.
When viewed from side on, these should be a straight continuation of the front leg, or stand slightly forward at the foot.
Any weakness in the ligaments or bones of the wrist joint that allow the wrist to flex forward unduly, will not only result in further ligament strain and possibly damage to the Carpal bones, but if severe enough may also reduce the length of the greyhounds stride.
Head and Neck
The only feature of the head and neck that may affect the galloping action, and thereby the speed of the greyhound, is that the head and neck should be carried well forward, as this will reduce the up and down movement of the head during the stride.
The size and shape of the head is rather unimportant when it comes to pure speed.
However, I must admit that I prefer a greyhound with a head that looks almost too small for its body, rather than the other way around.
The ribcage should be reasonably flat and not bulge outwards, as this may interfere with the smooth straight action of the front legs.
As far as the depth of the chest is concerned, it is generally accepted that the underside of the Pectoral muscles should be somewhere in line with the tips of the elbow joint when viewed side on, and thereby providing good depth, and sufficient space for the heart and lungs.
This should be broad and well muscled, either straight or with only a slight arch to the lower portion, and with a strong well-muscled coupling to the pelvic area.
Greyhounds with a flat spine or only a slight arch, will be able to extend the hind legs out further.
This type of spine is capable of going concave during the full extension part of the stride, and this reduces the tension on the upper muscles of the hind leg, such as the Tensor Facia Lata and Lateral Vastus.
It has been said, that the greater the distance between the pin bones and the start of the tail, the faster the greyhound is capable of running.
There is some truth in this observation, as it gives a good indication of the type of pelvic bone where the hind legs are set back further, again allowing for easier extension of the hind legs.
Hind Legs and Hocks
Most of the driving power of the racing greyhound is derived from the lower spine and the muscles of the hind legs; it is for this reason that the hindquarters should be well developed, and possibly the most prominent feature of the greyhound.
The pelvic area should be broad with good development to the Gluteal muscles.
When viewed from above and behind, the hind legs may curve out slightly from the hip to the knee and then form a straight line to the foot allowing the dog to stand slightly wider with the hind feet than the front feet.
The line from the tip of the Tarsus (the uppermost part of the hock) to the foot should be straight, as any sideways angulation in the Tarsus / Metatarsus junction will eventually lead to hock damage.
Many greyhounds have hind legs that are turned out, where the foot instead of facing straight to the front of the greyhound faces slightly outward.
This slight deformity does not to appear to affect the speed of the individual greyhounds, however, I believe that on a tightly turning racetrack this may increase the side slip of the hind foot, and thereby contribute to the chance of hock damage.
The hind leg when viewed from the side, should again show a well developed muscle structure, and hocks that are straight from the tip of the Tarsus to the foot, with good angulation where the hock joins the rest of the hind leg.
The greyhound when standing normally, should stand with the hind feet well back, to the extent that the hocks are almost in a vertical position.
Straight hocks should not be confused with a structural deformity known as “cow hocked”; this is a problem that thankfully occurs only rarely. Where when viewed side on, the hind leg is virtually a straight line from the knee to the ground and the greyhound looks as if it is walking on stilts.
The greyhounds that I have seen with this problem, appear to be able to run with reasonable pace in a straight line, but tend to lose balance on tight turns.
The only other observation I should make in relation to the muscle structure of the hind legs, is that greyhounds with a larger than normal Extensor Pedis muscle (the muscle at the outside front of the hind leg just below the knee), appear to have more early speed after jumping from the boxes, than the greyhounds with less development in this area.
It is an old saying and a corny one, but very true “A greyhound runs on its feet”. Well sprung and knuckled toes will reduce the strain on the wrists, and allow the greyhound to cope with different surfaces, while flat or splayed feet will cause no end of problems with Sesamoids, tendons, and wrist ligaments.
I have trained a number of greyhounds who looked like the greyhound equivalent of Greek gods, and had unlimited ability, but no matter what I did, just would not try in a race.
Then there were greyhounds that looked like superstars, but had no pace at all, or as they say in the classics, were absolutely legless.
At the same time, I have trained many greyhounds with some structural problems and only limited ability, that tried their hearts out and won their share of races simply by never giving up.
That brings us to the only point that really matters.
What makes one greyhound a better performer than the next greyhound?
Simple answer: the greyhound’s attitude!
In other words: it is the greyhound’s attitude to chasing and competing that wins the races; while the structure of the body and muscle tissue, are simply a limiting factor.
All you can do is to breed with, or select greyhounds from keen chasing parents, rear them on the best of food, educate them with care and patience, and hope for the best.
As far as fast twitch muscle fibre is concerned, again this is inherited, and the same rules apply. If one or both of the parents could not or would not run fast and race keenly, why breed or buy a greyhound from that bloodline?
However, if you do buy a greyhound from the right parents, why not pick one out that has all the physical attributes required for a long and successful racing career.