Madison Hamilton has been awarded the inaugural GRNZ Board Award.
The award was established to recognise and celebrate the young achievers in the industry industry, and following a call for nominations, the GRNZ board selected Hamilton as the first winner of the monthly award at their February board meeting.
Hamilton is a 24-year-old greyhound trainer based in Invercargill, and she was nominated for the award by racing commentator Justin Evans, who owns a greyhound with Hamilton.
"Madison Hamilton is a bright young spark in greyhound racing and certainly fits the bill of a young achiever in the industry," said Evans.
"She has always been not only professional but also an absolute pleasure to deal with as the trainer of my first ever greyhound – a homebred greyhound from a litter she has reared.
"She was extremely giving and helpful with information when I was curious about taking on ownership and gave me and my family confidence to enter the industry as new owners."
Hamilton is only in her second year of training, and last year, she was awarded the Southland Strike-Rate Trainer of the Year, thanks to the successes of her small team of racedogs.
"Winning the GRNZ Board Award was definitely surprising – I didn't even know I'd been nominated!" Hamilton laughs. "So, it's unexpected but exciting."
The granddaughter of southern greyhound racing royalty, Roy and Georgina Hamilton, she has had a lifelong affiliation with canines.
"I've basically been interested in greyhounds since I could walk. When I was five years old, I was out doing street walks with Grandad and the dogs. I just love them."
After she finished high school, she ventured down a different path. She studied in Palmerston North at Massey and UCOL and subsequently became a full-time vet nurse – but her affinity with the dogs remained strong.
"I think I always wanted to get back into greyhound racing, but while I was studying, there was nowhere for me to have greyhounds. I wanted to come back home and help Grandad, and I was offered some greyhounds by other trainers.
"One of the first people to offer me a dog was trainer Malcolm Grant, and I've known him since I was little. Training dogs myself started from there."
And so, she temporarily put her career as a vet nurse on hold and became a greyhound trainer. Fitness is also a passion of Hamilton's, and she works part-time as a personal trainer at a local gym.
"I will probably go back to vet nursing down the track – it's probably a bit more handy for the dogs!"
She currently has one racedog at home, along with four younger puppies who haven't hit the track yet. Hamilton bred the younger litter herself, and has found it "super exciting" watching them grow up. One of them, Astro, has his own Facebook page and has developed somewhat of a cult following.
"The Facebook page is basically all down to one of his owners, Justin Evans. I supply him with the photos and updates of Astro at home which he can use.
"Justin is a very awesome owner to have – he loves to visit Astro, and when the dog retires, he's already guaranteed a forever home with Justin and his wife."
Hamilton is also kept busy with being in charge of the Rehabilitation to Rehoming (RTR) programme for the Southland region. The RTR programme is entirely funded by Greyhound Racing New Zealand, and it allows dogs who are injured on raceday to receive specialised care and rehabilitation until they are ready to be rehomed.
"I really like the RTR side of things – I've been doing it for six or seven months now. I get to see the different dogs grow into their personalities when they come out of racing.
"I definitely get attached to them – I haven't had to let go of any yet, but I've got one coming up soon who is going to be rehomed and that will be hard."
Hamilton enjoys working closely with her grandfather, who is best known in recent years for the feats of his start chaser, Southern Lights.
"Because he's of an older generation and I'm younger and a vet nurse, we bring different perspectives to racing," she explains.
"He's always been very gentle towards the dogs and he connects with them a lot individually. He lets them all out separately and has alone time with each of the dogs, which I think is really important.
"When the dogs look at him, you can see that they love and trust him. When I was little, I used to watch him give a very special head pat to all of the dogs."
As a qualified vet nurse and young greyhound trainer, Hamilton is proud of how far the industry has come.
"I'm really proud to be a part of it," she enthuses.
"Being a vet nurse, I have a different perspective of how animals get treated every day. I can say that the way greyhound trainers treat their dogs, from the ones I've worked for and others I know, the dogs get a really high standard of care.
"We've come a long way, and the RTR programme is fantastic. It's awesome that every greyhound is guaranteed a chance to be rehomed, no matter their status."