A Short History of Greyhound racing
“I see you stand like Greyhounds in the slips
Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot:
Follow your spirit: and upon this charge
Cry ‘God for Harry! England and St. George!’”
The greyhound is one of the oldest breeds of domesticated dog. There is a site in Turkey dating bate to 6000BC featuring carvings of greyhounds.
Greyhounds were revered by the ancient Egyptians and the tombs of several Pharaohs are decorated with images of their favourite dogs or contain their mummified remains. The ancient Greeks and Romans kept Greyhounds for hunting and as pets and they are often depicted in their art and mythology.
In the 10th century, a Welsh King named Hywel Dda (Howel the Good) made a law that declared the punishment for killing a Greyhound the same as for killing a person - execution!
King Canute who ruled England from 1016 to 1035 enacted the first laws that limited the ownership of Greyhounds to the aristocracy. This law lasted nearly 400 years! He initiated the barbaric practice of crippling other breeds of dog so they couldn’t compete with the King’s Greyhounds.
William the Conqueror upheld the ban on commoners keeping Greyhounds and even went as far as to order all non-Greyhounds to have three toes amputated (called expedition) to reduce their speed. King Henry II continued the practice and the law was still active until 1334.
King Henry VIII adopted the Greyhound as his personal standard and it remains the symbol of the House of York today. He owned many Greyhounds and was a great lover of hunting and coursing and was the first person to wager on the sport.
Greyhounds were among the 20 dogs that accompanied Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to the Americas. In addition to hunting for food, unfortunately the dogs were used to subdue the native population in extremely brutal ways!
Whilst horse racing is known as the sport of Kings, Greyhound racing is the sport of Queens. Queen Elizabeth I was a great lover of Greyhound coursing (the pursuit of game) which is the precursor of today’s racing. She was concerned about the unfair advantage the dogs had over the game so in 1561 she ordered “The Laws of the Leash” to be drawn up. They included that the prey was to be given a head start before the dogs were released or “slipped”.
The botanist Joseph Banks who sailed to Australia with Captain Cook on The Endeavour brought a male and female Greyhound with him on the voyage. Banks was a keen hunter and his diary entries often referred to the dog’s regular pursuit of the native animals.
In 1788 when the First Fleet sailed into Botany Bay, on board were Captain Arthur Phillip (who was to become the first Governor of NSW) and his Greyhounds and “assorted puppies”. The dogs were used to hunt game, particularly the kangaroos that were damaging the early settlers’ crops. The dogs were often crossed with other large dogs such as Scottish Deerhounds and were referred to as “Kangaroo Dogs”.
Greyhound racing grew out of the sport of coursing in which pairs of dogs would be set after an animal, in England, usually a hare, in an open field. The dog that caught the hare won.
The first official coursing meet was held in 1776 at Swaffham, Norfolk. The rules of the Swaffham Coursing Society specified that only two greyhounds were to course a single hare and that the hare was to be given a head start of 240 yards.
The 'blue ribbon of the leash' was the Waterloo Cup that was held every year from 1836 until the introduction of the Hunting Act 2004 came into effect in 2005. It was inaugurated by William Lynn proprietor of the Waterloo Hotel in Liverpool's Ranelagh Street. Encouraged by the extra trade generated by the Waterloo Cup, the Liverpool entrepreneur turned his attention to the Turf the following year and organised the first running of the Grand Liverpool Steeplechase, known as the Grand National since 1839.
In Australia the Waterloo Cup was held from 1868 to 1985 after which it became an RSCPA approved 'lure coursing' event. In was a major sporting event in the 19th century and the champion dog was celebrated in the press.
The first recorded attempt at racing greyhounds on a straight track was in 1876 beside the Welsh Harp reservoir in Hendon, England. Six dogs raced over a 400-yard straight course, chasing an artificial hare riding. This was the first attempt of introducing mechanical racing to the UK, however it did not catch on at the time.
The industry emerged in its recognizable modern form, featuring circular or oval tracks, with the invention of the mechanical or artificial hare, in 1912, by an American, Owen Patrick Smith.
O.P. Smith had altruistic aims for the industry to stop the killing of the jack rabbits and see "greyhound racing as we see horse racing". In 1919, Smith opened the first professional dog-racing track with stands in Emeryville, California.
Greyhound racing was brought to Britain from America by Charles Munn, an American businessman who obtained the overseas rights to the mechanical lure (hare). His business partners were Alfred Critchley and Francis Gentle and together they formed the Greyhound Racing Association (GRA) and raised £25,000 to build a racecourse at Belle Vue. On July 24, 1926, in front of 1,700 spectators, the first greyhound race took place at Belle Vue Stadium where seven greyhounds raced round an oval circuit in pursuit an electric artificial hare.
In Australia racing with a mechanical lure, often called the “tin hare” began in 1927 when the Lang Labour government amended the Gaming and Betting Act to allow legal wagering. The Greyhound Coursing Association was formed and the first race took place at Epping (later known as Harold Park) on 18 May.
A very strange fad developed in America in 1930 which was practiced in Australia up until the 1950’s. Capuchin monkeys were trained to ride racing dogs for sport over a short course that sometimes included hurdles and water jumps. They used specially designed saddle harness and wore miniature jockey silks. This photograph shows monkey jockeys at Shepherds Bush, Mascot, Sydney in 1930.
sources : various Wiki and http://www.greenhounds.com.au/education--learning/history.html