Greyhound History in the Twentieth Century
Around 1912, Owen Patrick Smith invented the mechanical lure (in use, right). He opened the first greyhound track (circular in shape) in Emeryville, California. Six years later he owned 25 tracks around the nation, including ones in Florida, Montana, and Oregon. Florida became the US capital of the sport after dog racing was introduced there in 1922. The first track race in England opened in 1926. Greyhound racing became very popular with the working classes in America and Britian. Before long it spread to Ireland and Australia as well.
Greyhound racing has become one of the most popular spectator sports in America. Attendance at tracks was nearly 3.5 million in 1992. The over 50 tracks in America ran a total of 16,827 performances in 1992, over which fans wagered almost 3.5 billion dollars. The largest track was Gulf Greyhound Park near Houston, with an average attendance of 5,000 for each of its 467 performances in 1992.
For the first year of their lives greyhound puppies live together with their litter mates and are handled frequently by the breeders and other staff associated with the breeding "farm," but they are not exposed to other breeds of dogs. As a result, they often do better with unknown people than with other breeds of dog. They are given a lot of exercise in large pens that allow them to run at full speed. Training starts at about 8 wks of age, as they race each other in runs that are 250-300 ft long. They are placed in individual crates in the kennel between 4-18 months of age, where they spend most of their time between exercise periods and training. The crate becomes the dog's refuge from other dogs. At 6 months of age their training starts in earnest.
Training with the drag lure begins around 10 to 12 months of age. A mechanical device drags an artificial lure along the ground so the puppy can see it and pursue it. By age 18 months, their training usually is over and they are sent to the track. They are given six chances to finish in the top four in their maiden race. If they do not, they are retired--put up for adoption or euthanized. The best runners go to the most competitive tracks.
Nearly all US racetracks are quarter-mile ovals. Eight to twelve dogs compete per heat, with 13 heats a day the norm. Races range from 5/16ths to 9/16ths of a mile and last about 30 seconds. Earth Call holds the world record for the 5/16ths-mile course with a time of 29.59 seconds, while P's Rambling has the 3/8ths-mile record at 36.43 seconds. The Agua Caliente racetrack in Tijuana, Mexico, from which many of our greyhounds come, runs 13 races every night and matinee performances on weekends. The races are 5/16ths and 7/16ths of a mile. The dogs are weighed two hours prior to running and are examined by a veterinarian and a paddock judge. They are next blanketed and muzzled, and taken onto the track for the pre-race parade. At race time the greyhounds are put in the starting box, the artificial lure comes around the track, and the box opens. Drug testing is conducted after each race.
Each state has its own rules regarding the grading system. The most common grades are A, B, C, D, E, J, and M. Most states also have S for stake races and T for races with mixed grades. Some tracks, such as Wonderland, Gulf, and Lincoln, have a top grade of AA. Some tracks also have a Grade BB. Agua Caliente also races grades D and E.
The Racing Secretary is responsible for the proper grading of the greyhounds under the provisions outlined by the state. Before the opening of the race meet, the Racing Secretary, after schooling all greyhounds, and considering their past performance, assigns the greyhounds to a proper grade. As a greyhound wins a race it advances one grade until reaching A. The winner of a M (maiden) race advances to Grade D or in some states Grade J (new, non-maiden dogs).
The Racing Secretary may reclassify a greyhound at any time, but not more than one grade higher or lower. Generally if a greyhound fails to finish first, second or third, in three consecutive starts (except in Grade E or M), or fails to earn more than one third in four consecutive starts in the same grade, that greyhound will be lowered one grade. Greyhounds in lower grades are given more opportunities to race in the money before being ruled off. A greyhound doesn't have to win in order to stay active. For example, a greyhound named Jamie's Simoneyes ran 170 races with no wins.
Most racetracks in America have a kennel compound which houses the approximately 1,000 greyhounds needed to operate the track. Each track has a list of 16-20 kennels which may operate there. Greyhounds must be leased to one of those kennels by their owners in order to run at that track. Normally the kennel owner takes 65 percent and the dog owner 35 percent of the greyhound's earnings.
In the past, greyhounds were moved from track to track as various racing seasons ended. Year-round racing now keeps many dogs in one geographical area. A consistent racer may spend its entire career at only one or two tracks. However, dogs whose performance improves or declines still may be moved to higher or lower-graded tracks.
The greyhound Hall of Fame in Abilene, Kansas, sponsored by the US racing industry's National Greyhound Association, features famous American racing Greyhounds. The most important race in the US is the Greyhound Race of Champions, sponsored by the American Greyhound Track Operators Association. Held since 1982, it attracts the top greyhounds in the nation. Other top stakes are the Wonderland Derby near Boston, the Sunflower Stake at the Woodlands in Kansas City, and the American Derby at Lincoln, Rhode Island. Since 1970, the Irish-American Classic has matched the best Irish greyhounds against the best of the US.
Greyhound racing has hit hard times in the late twentieth century. In Britian, its popularity declined in the 60s. Many tracks closed in the 70s and 80s, and the industry has experienced ups and downs in the 90s. In America, greyhound racing flourished in the 80s but has lost popularity in the 90s, due in part to the rising popularity of other forms of gambling. A number of smaller tracks have closed their doors in the 90s. It still is the sixth largest spectator sport in the nation, even outdrawing attendance at National Basketball Association games.
Competitive coursing is an amateur sport in the United States today. The greyhounds compete for honors, not money. No gambling takes place. Due to concerns over humane treatment of hares, live hares have been replaced by artificial drag lures. The course is typically 800 yards long. A white plastic bag is attached to a thin line strung along a series of pulleys in the ground. A motor winds up the line, causing the bag to mimic the movements of a hare. The greyhound's front legs are usually wrapped to prevent cuts from the line.