Greyhounds are unique. While most dogs depend on their acute sense of smell, greyhounds do not have particularly sensitive noses. Instead, they tend to chase when they see movement. They have excellent eyesight, and can reach speeds of seventy kilometers per hour in the chase. Greyhounds were built to run.
Greyhound racing as we know it today evolved from a sport called “coursing,” in which the dogs chase a live animal. Nobody is sure when coursing originated, but it is believed to be quite old. Pictures of coursing scenes have been found on the walls of Egyptian tombs over four thousand years old-and the dogs look much like modern greyhounds.
In ancient cultures, greyhounds were important animals. The Pharaohs of ancient Egypt held them in high regard, as did the nobles of Persia, Greece, and Rome. It is believed that the greyhound arrived in England around 1500 BC.
In medieval Europe, only the nobility were allowed to own greyhounds. This law dates from 1014, when King Canute enacted the Forest Laws regulating greyhound ownership. The dogs became status symbols, and coursing was a way of showing them off. Originally, only one dog would chase a hare, deer, or other game. The sport was not a race, but an opportunity for nobles to showcase the speed and hunting prowess of their dogs. Commoners were not allowed to attend.
In the 1500’s, however, coursing became a competition. Queen Elizabeth herself established the rules, making greyhound racing the “Sport of Queens.” Two dogs were matched together against the game, and the owners would place bets on who would win. Coursing matches often attracted crowds, and side bets were common.
The first official coursing club was the Swaffham Coursing Society in Norfolk, England, which put on its first event in 1776. The rules stated that only two dogs at a time could be pitted against each other, and that the hare must be given a head start of 240 yards. Coursing quickly became a popular spectator sport. The Waterloo Cup Meet, which started in 1837, regularly drew crowds of 75,000 or more. This event is still in existence today.
Today, greyhounds chase an artificial target along a circular track. The first event similar to modern greyhound racing occurred in 1876. In Hendon, England, six dogs chased an artificial hare on wheels. Called “coursing by proxy,” this type of racing did not catch on at the time.
Meanwhile, greyhounds were being imported to America. They played a role in the Civil War, often accompanying scouts on their missions. They made exceptional scouts because of their ability to detect movements from far away. George Armstrong Custer himself was said to have been a greyhound enthusiast and to have coursed his dogs the night before the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
As farmers and settlers settled the Midwest, more and more greyhounds were imported to help keep rabbit populations down on farms. Coursing meets became popular ways to spend free time. In 1905, Owen Patrick Smith, the chamber of commerce director in Hot Springs, South Dakota, was charged with organizing such a meet to attract tourists.
Smith’s event went well, and the town considered it a success. But Smith didn’t like the sport-he felt it was inhumane. He began to look for a way to make the sport less bloody using an artificial lure similar to that used in the “coursing by proxy” experiment decades ago.
After much trial and error, Smith attracted investors and perfected an artificial lure system. His tracks allowed for six greyhounds to race at a time, and were circular instead of straight. Eventually, he took his idea all over the country, where his greyhound racing tracks attracted thousands of visitors.
American-style greyhound racing was brought to England by an American businessman named Charles A. Munn. Munn managed to secure the rights from Smith for artificial-lure racing in England. He founded the Greyhound Racing Association in 1926, and before long dozens of greyhound race tracks were opening all over the U.K.
At first, Greyhound racing in the U.K. was a popular and lucrative sport. But televised horse races and new gambling venues caused a drop in attendance that many racetracks never recovered from. The Greyhound Racing Association received help when Jack Aaronson, a businessman famous for rescuing failing companies, took control.
Today, the sport of Greyhound racing is seeing a resurgence. Crowds are once again flocking to the tracks to watch these magnificent dogs do what they were born to do: run.
If you would like to experience the thrill of greyhound racing we have a great night out for two people with our Greyhound racing for two