She persuaded her father to let her leave school at 16 to start training, “to take up the passion”, as she puts it. She set up her own kennels at the age of 22 in County Kildare and just five years later won her first Derby.
Some 20 years on, she trains just 11 dogs – her own and those belonging to family and friends. “I’ve always believed in quality, not quantity – that’s the key to a champion. I’ve been successful for a reason.”
Her techniques are clearly respected by those who understand greyhound racing. When the Irish Greyhound Board decided to buy the RTE sports broadcaster and all-round national hero Micheal O’Muircheartaigh a greyhound to celebrate his retirement, he chose Ruth to be his trainer.
Her day starts at 8am, which she admits is quite late for most trainers. The dogs are “paddocked” – taken for a pee and poo – and the kennels cleaned out. After breakfast, the dogs are walked (they don’t need to go for four-mile hikes says Ruth, “but they do love to go out into a field to do doggy things”), groomed, have their feet washed, teeth brushed and are checked for injuries.
Some dogs may get special attention at this point – ultrasound, laser treatments or massages if they have a sore back, cuts or bone injuries. Some of the dogs go on a treadmill (no doubt listening to Who Let the Dogs Out? or You Ain’t Nothing But A Hound Dog). Ruth used to have a swimming pool for training, but says she has found other techniques get better results.
After this, any dogs that are not racing that week are galloped – run along a special track to build up their strength and fitness. Young dogs – known as saplings – start by running 250m after a lure with a “hand slip” start: Ruth holds and releases the dogs, rather than putting them into a trap.
The distance is gradually built up to the standard 480m run at the racetracks. Getting the dogs to chase the lure is not an issue: “They chase anything that moves,” says Ruth.
Afternoons are taken up with trips to the vet, dealing with emails, filling in entries for races and at least once a week going to the races. Dinner, the main meal of the day, is served at 4pm, although a light meal is given at 3pm to dogs that are racing that evening.
“I mostly race just once a week, every Saturday,” she says. “It’s sociable in that you talk to other trainers and have a bit of a crack.” On normal days she will finish by paddocking the dogs at about 9pm, but if she is racing, she will be lucky to be home by midnight.
Ruth lives near Shelbourne Park, “one of the greatest tracks in the world”, says Ruth. “It’s a very fair running track. Some are tighter but those don’t suit my dogs because they are pacey dogs rather than sprinters – they have longer strides.”
She usually sets off for the racetrack at 6pm. “The dogs love travelling because they know they are going racing,” says Ruth. They travel in a specially adapted van, with two large cages at the rear and one dog in the space in front of them, all lying on beds of straw. Underneath the cages are two large drawers filled with rugs, muzzles, leads – all the paraphernalia they might need at the races.