Greyhound racing

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Greyhound racing is almost certainly one of the oldest canine sports. The first greyhounds are described in the fourth century BC. Arrian wrote about hunting competitions using live game in the first century AD in his cynegeticus, On Coursing. The Celts continued this tradition.

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Races after game and at specially designed dog tracks began to be held at the end of the 19th century. A horserace track in Hendon, London hosted the first recorded dog race in 1876 over 360 metres. The sport also took off in the United States, after the first dog track was opened in Tucson, Arizona in 1909.

Races drew huge crowds in the 1930s and some dogs became legends, not least Mick the Miller, a dog that clocked up 19 consecutive victories at one point, winning the English Greyhound Derby in 1929 and 1930.

The setup is a simple one. Six to eight dogs are released from their starting box and chase after an artificial hare over an oval sand or grass track. Distances vary between 250 and 800 metres, depending on the stadium and the dog. The sport owes its popularity to short races and the possibility of betting large sums of money.

Dog races for betting purposes are held in the UK, Ireland, some of the United States, Australia and New Zealand, as well as some other countries on a smaller scale. In some countries on the continent betting on dog racing is illegal, which is one reason why the sport is not so well developed there. There are also cultural differences, of course.

Dog racing is a very professional sport, just like horse racing, with dedicated breeders, trainers and race clubs. Specialised sports medicine has been developed, including anti-doping controls, training and nutrition. The dogs receive special treatment, including stays at training centres and specialised clinics.

In Britain 20,000 Greyhound births are registered every year and annual attendances at races top 3 million spectators (Sittingbourne Greyhound track can accommodate 4,750 spectators in its main arena at Central Park Stadium). In the USA, champions can win anything up to $125,000 depending on the race. The best dogs are able to reach speeds of around 45 mph ahead of the first bend, covering 525 yards in just 25 seconds.

Other breeds which are raced for money include Whippets, Italian Greyhounds, Borzois, Afghan Hounds, Salukis and Sloughis.

In the major dog racing countries, there are numerous charities which try to rehome Greyhounds, whether a success on the track or not, although it can be an uphill struggle.

The natural variant of dog racing – coursing – was a sport once popular with the nobility in Britain. In coursing, Greyhounds are set on a live hare, while a judge on horseback compares their skill and speed. Nowadays a decoy is used instead of a live hare. The Hunting Act of 2004 in England and Wales and a similar law in Scotland made it illegal to course hares.

Both of these sports draw on the hunting instinct. Dogs have to be intelligent, because they need to anticipate what is likely to happen and take up the right position in relation to other participants. In coursing, agility and the ability to take acute corners are most important, while racing is primarily based on pure speed.

Learn more

A Research Centre for Racing Dogs

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Greyhound racing is one of Florida’s main cultural activities. These unique canine athletes, able to cover a 480-metre (1,575 feet) course in twenty-five seconds at speeds exceeding 70 kilometres (44 miles) per hour, require a very specialized approach to their preparation (training and nutrition) and medical care (true sports medicine). This approach involves concepts new to the everyday veterinarian. In the spirit of progress, the University of Florida in Gainesville recently established the Research Centre for Canine Sports Medicine, focused entirely on the Greyhound. This centre has its own training course for the practical observation of problems specific to the breed.

Professor Mark Bloomberg, University of Florida, Gainesville (USA).

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Greyhound racing
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