When people use the term “greyhound races” they usually think of steeplechasing dogs or of the typical sports bar with dartboards where all the action takes place. However, the concept of greyhound races goes back much further than you might think. The first official race took place on July 19, 1894 and was organized by Dr. W. T. Pierson who was trying to establish a standard breed of dog for exhibition purposes. Since the 1800s greyhounds have been bred specifically for racing and until the 1900s the majority of the dogs that competed in the United States were of Scottish origin.
Early Greyhound Races
It was initially difficult to find a studbook for purebred Scottish greyhounds in the early days because almost all of them were working dogs or had been stolen and were considered “non-shorth-dependent” according to the breed standard at the time. The first official American Kennel Club (AKC) breed standard was approved in 1904 and it took until 1911 for the first American-bred greyhound to win its first race. The first Scottish-bred dog to achieve success in America was Caledonian II in the 1908 St. Joseph’s Race in Brooklyn. After that, the floodgates opened and the demand for Scottish greyhounds increased dramatically.
Champions Of Past Years
There have been many memorable champions in the history of the greyhound races. Here are just a few:
- Sir Trampoline – The King’s Dog
- Sir Gallahad – Lionheart
- Mermaid Melody – Songbird
- King’s Jester – Jester
- Black Prince – King of the Turf
- Pompeii Prince – King of the Rdws
- Sir Percy – High Sheriff
- Sir Colin – King of the Ragamuffins
Many of these dogs have achieved iconic status, with Sir Gallahad (Lionheart) being a particular favorite of King George VI for his regal antics. Others have become minor celebrities, like the aforementioned Sir Colin. The history of the greyhound races is full of colorful figures and famous champions.
The development of the modern greyhound was significantly slowed by the Great War. There were very few dogs suitable for racing after World War I and it wasn’t until the early 1920s that the sport really started to take off. The first “Golden Year” for the greyhound was 1922 when there were 20 million dogs in America and 2800 dogs were entered in races across the country. Things didn’t go smoothly. There were a record 73 dogs killed in automobile accidents in 1922, which was a 24% surge from the number of dogs killed in cars in 1921. A total of 125 dogs were killed in automobile accidents in 1922 and it was not until 1925 that the number of dogs killed in cars began to drop again. The following year only 64 dogs were killed in car accidents.
In more recent years the popularity of the greyhound races has increased as interest in horse racing waned and as a result, so has the use of the track. Today’s greyhounds are much closer to their ancestral dogs than those that participated in the early years of the sport. They still undergo a lot of the same genetic selection and are still primarily bred for racing purposes. As a result, today’s greyhounds are significantly smaller than their counterparts from 100 years ago. While they are still considered one of the most popular dog breeds in the U.S., the greyhound races are not quite what they used to be. Modern technology has also made it much easier for people to keep in touch with their beloved furry friends even when they are not around. The result is that many more people are volunteering to be pet-parents and are keeping the dogs that they love close by.
The history of the greyhound is interesting and full of significant moments. It was initially developed as a working dog but it wasn’t until the early years of the 20th century that they really started to be popularized as a pet. Nowadays people are often drawn to the protective nature of the breed and how easily they can be trained. It is interesting to see how far the greyhound has come in such a short time but also how much it has changed while still remaining relatively the same.