"I came out of the womb with a collar in my hand, basically."
Corey Steele lives and breathes greyhound racing. The son of prominent Waikato trainers Wayne and Tracy Steele, the 26-year-old has had a passion for the industry his entire life.
And while he attributes much of his knowledge to what he's learnt from his parents, he has also adapted his training methodologies according to things he has picked up along the way from other trainers.
He first got his handler's licence at age 11, before it was taken off him a couple of years later, due to a rule change requiring handlers to be 14 years old. As soon as he turned 14, he was back handling greyhounds at the track.
"When I turned 18, I finished school on my birthday. The next day, I took the bus to John McInerney's Marton property to start working for him," remembers Steele.
"Over the next three or four years, I floated between different trainers and learnt a lot from them. I'm one of those people that will ask a million questions; I won't just ask what to feed the greyhounds, I'll also ask why, and how it's beneficial to the dogs.
"About six or seven years ago, I trained a dog called Looks All Good for a while, but I found there wasn't enough money in it with only one or two dogs. So, I went down south and worked for Andy and Janine McCook for three years. They're great people, and I learnt so much from them."
After his southern stint, Steele experienced what he describes as a "rough patch", which prompted him to return to the Waikato for a "freshen-up" at his parents' property. After a six-week hiatus, he commenced work for Robin Wales, a pre-eminent owner, breeder and trainer.
"I started working there in January 2021 and in June, he told me that he was going to cut back on training, and focus on breeding. He suggested that I set up my own kennels, and said that he would send me up some dogs.
"So, my Dad and I worked out how we would go about it. We started building the 10 kennels in July and they were finished in January 2022. Dad really built them all, with mine and my grandad's help."
Steele purchased a van, which was fitted out by Peter Clausen, and collected a vanload of greyhounds from Robin Wales. He then took his new chasers to the Cambridge races for the first time on 20 January this year, where he had two winners.
"It was a bloody good start. Opawa Racing – Robin Wales and the late Graham Campbell – are great supporters and I can't thank them enough."
Steele's genuine love for his greyhounds is obvious when he speaks about them. His favourite is in his parents' kennels.
"Opawa Phil. He's my son, everyone knows that. He's as spoilt as they come. In my own kennels, I've got a soft spot for Opawa Bailey, which is Phil's brother.
"They're all my kids, and I treat them as good as anything. I'm a big believer that the dogs will only perform if they want to. If you've got that rapport with them, they will go so much better.
"My dogs have all got soft teddies and I buy them new rugs all the time. I've got 10 dogs here and about 30 rugs! And they all get a dentist stick after dinner every night. It's expensive, but it keeps their teeth clean and it keeps them happy.
"No matter how things are going in your life, the dogs are always happy to greet you in the morning. They jump up in the kennels wagging their tails, and jump on me for a cuddle every morning."
Steele is also kept busy as the Vice-President of the Waikato Greyhound Racing Club, following a couple of years of serving on the Board of the Christchurch Greyhound Racing Club.
"I learnt a lot about the management side of things from Tony Music (Manager Christchurch Greyhound Racing Club), and I still have no problem ringing him now if I have any questions. He is a magician!
"And at Waikato, I love working with Georgie (Clark, President) – we go back and forth with ideas a lot.
"The political side of greyhounds is important to me because that's my future and I want to have a say in the future. I'm on the Board because I want to help to benefit the whole sport, not myself. Some decisions made at club level might actually be detrimental to me, but because they are largely good for everyone, I'll vote for it.
"It's about everyone as a cohesive unit."
Steele was recently named as the winner of the May GRNZ Board Award, which is awarded to young achievers in the greyhound racing industry. Each monthly winner receives $500, and will also be considered for the $5,000 major prize at the GRNZ Awards night on 17 September in Christchurch.
"It was a surprise to win; I'm not one for the limelight, and I'm just happy doing my own thing," he says modestly.
"I train dogs for myself. It's my enjoyment and it's what I want to do for the rest of my life. I always really appreciate it when everyone congratulates me on training a winner and I always congratulate everyone as well.
"When I first got my handler's licence at that very young age, I always wanted to bring back the winner. But now, I get my enjoyment from the dogs performing at their best, whether that's winning, or running second, third, fourth or fifth.
"You have your ups and downs in this game, but we're all in it together, and I enjoy everyone else's successes as much as my own."