Melissa Steele deserving winner of monthly greyhound racing youth award

Melissa Steele is hugely passionate about greyhounds. Photo supplied.

Since the day she was born, Melissa Steele was always going to hold collars and leads in her hands.

And so it has transpired, with the daughter of Wayne and Tracy Steele having been a lifelong integral part of the Te Awamutu located, Te Mawhai named family kennels, with Melissa thriving in her allocated kennel activities and duties.

Her absolute dedication to greyhounds sees 20-year-old Melissa Steele being awarded the November GRNZ Board Award, which is recognition for young achievers within the industry.

“Yes, you can say that I was born with greyhounds in my blood. My first memory was my grandparents, John and Sally Steele, training greyhounds.

“Dad’s parents gave Dad the bug, and that bug has filtered through to us three kids. We were always helping out in the kennels whenever we could. I guess for me, it was pretty much as soon as I started walking,” recalled Steele.

“My parents absolutely have been the biggest influence on me. They have really helped me mentally and are great to work with. I wouldn’t be where I am without them.

“My first favoutite greyhound was Mumble Jumble (2005 whelp). My parents let me do everything with her, letting her out into the pens, grooming her, completely looking after her.

“My parents are more than greyhound trainers. They have bred so many litters over the years. And with them doing so, they educated us and the puppies, helping all of us to develop.

Steele considers that socialising the puppies is always an important part of their development.

“That is an area that I thoroughly enjoy being involved with. I would sometimes take sickies from school so I could be involved whenever I could!

“A fascinating part for me is watching all of the puppies develop personalities. It is amazing working with litters, and seeing them progress all the way from pups through to being racing dogs. As soon as the pups enter the world, you have the responsibility to look after them for the rest of their lives. That responsibility is in all of our hearts,” said Steele.

She wouldn’t readily comment when asked on who she considers the best greyhound she has handled, although she did nominate one greyhound.

“I consider them all equal greyhounds when I handle them on the track. I have connections with them and I love them all equally. I’ve handled on all tracks in New Zealand and have handled in Group races for different trainers.

“Okay, I’ll keep it biased by saying that Ramblin’ Kane is a strong favourite for me, as in my grandfather’s eyes, he’s a champ, rating him the best dog in the country. My Grandad is my best friend.”

Steele has always maintained a close association with her siblings, as she explains.

“During school holidays, I used to go and help my sister Alysha with her dogs, and when Corey was in Christchurch, I used to often fly down there. Again, I just loved being with greyhounds at every opportunity.”      

And in a side note, Alysha Steele, when aged 20, and her partner James Black trained the 2015 Group 1 Railway Sprint winner Fireman’s Legacy. 

Melissa’s brother Corey has nothing but praise for his sister.

“Melissa is a freak of nature. She’s instrumental in my ability to run my business (training).

“Her work ethic as a 20-year-old is second to none. She’s a full hands-on person, who is the hardest worker I know. Just a few weeks ago, one of my bitches Opawa Lucy whelped a litter. Mum and I had to race that Sunday and Melissa spent 24 hours with the bitch, not leaving her until we got back home. That was after working a full Burger King shift.  

“I cannot speak more highly of her – she’s an absolute star who is super reliable,” commented Corey Steele, who himself is a Group racing winning trainer. Speaking about which, their parents have mentored six Group race winners themselves, highlighted by Hot Agent’s victory in the 2003 edition of the Auckland Cup.

Administration duties have been and still are a strong part of the Steele family industry involvement, with Dad Wayne being a former Waikato GRC President and the current Deputy Chair of Greyhound Racing New Zealand. Corey is also an active Waikato Committee member and is the Youth representative on the GRNZ Board.

That history and commitment poses the logical question for Melissa: does she hold any administration ambitions?

“No, I’ll leave the political side of the sport to my Dad and brother, they are the professionals in that area,” she chuckled. “Being hands-on with greyhounds is my satisfaction and I prefer to stay in the shadows.”

One industry aspect that Melissa is very good at promoting is on social media networks.

“I’ll do as much education online as I can. I try to keep comments positive, and I work hard to counter the propaganda that we encounter. I’ll assist at greyhound open days and keep everything as professional as I can. I’m very proud to be involved in the industry,” advised Steele.

“Greyhound racing is a very rewarding industry going through all the processes from breeding, whelping, rearing, training and racing, and then transitioning them into pets.

“I guess my phone has around 12,000 greyhound photos on it. I’ll post milestone moments, like when they win their first races. For example, when Ain’t It Fun won her first race last December, that was a very proud moment with her being out of Deception Diva. It was a pretty emotional occasion from which I received positive responses.”

Melissa Steele has picked up on the family business skills, with her quickly advancing into a management role while working at the Te Awamutu based Burger King retail outlet.  

She currently lives with her partner Danny Laing (greyhound trainer) in Cambridge, and she makes the daily 35-mintue commute to Te Awamutu.

“I’m a shift manager there, working my way up. Working there provides me with a great divide to my lifestyle. We are like greyhounds, needing routine.

“I start work at 7am and on a bad day, I might finish work as late as 10pm. I always find time to go out to the kennels – I can’t go back home until I’ve given the dogs lots of cuddles and affection. I love my job and my work enables me to buy plenty of treats for all dogs.  

“My boss is very flexible and allows me freedom to fit in the dogs, with my days off being Thursdays and Sundays. I value balancing the two aspects of my life that are so important to me.

“Danny is good for me, and while I deeply respect what my parents have provided me throughout my life, it is good having a “goofy one” around me like Danny! I tend to be serious,” expressed Melissa.

And talking about companions, Melissa, like most industry people, has her “couch potato” friend.

“I have Deception Diva with me. She sleeps on my bed, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The love the greyhounds give makes it just as important for us humans to reciprocate.

“Greyhounds are such beautiful dogs – they put a smile on your face even if you’re not having a good day. At times, I reckon they understand you better than humans.

“It is a nice feeling to be recognised winning the November award and the money has gone straight into buying toys and blankets for our greyhounds. I wouldn’t have it any other way,” enthused Melissa Steele.


By Peter Fenemor

Posted on 19 January 2024

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