Greyhound racing is a sport that developed in England, and this is also where the greyhound dog breed was developed. From England, greyhound racing spread throughout the world – especially to regions with strong ties to England.
England before the modern dog racing era
The ancestors of today´s modern racing greyhounds were sighthounds used for hunting in open landscapes, and the greyhound is just one of several breeds that belong to the sighthound group.
Sighthounds needed to be very fast and agile and also have good eyesight since they were sent out to hunt in a very independent fashion. The hound would use its keen eyesight to locate the prey, then use its speed and agility to catch it, before killing it and bringing it to its human handler. This combination of speed, agility, independence and determination is still strongly present in today´s greyhounds.
As hunting with sighthounds declined on the British Isles in favour of other types of hunting, a sport called lure coursing developed. During lure coursing, sighthounds – such as greyhounds – would chase a prey animal, such as a rabbit, in an open field. Today, live prey has been replaced with a mechanical replica capable of mimicking the erratic movements of a rabbit trying to escape from a predator.
The early history of greyhound racing in England
The oldest known English rules for dog racing are from the 1500s, and we do know that various types of dog races were held in England throughout the centuries. In 1876, six greyhounds competed against each other on a 400 yard straight racetrack in Hendon.
Dog racing as we know it today – with greyhounds on a special oval racetrack chasing an artificial hare – did not catch on in England until the 1920s.
The very first English greyhound race on an oval racetrack with an artificial hare was held at Belle Vue Stadium in Manchester, using a 440 yard track. Over 1,700 spectators attended, and the race was won by Mistley with the finishing time 25.00 seconds.
Eventually, greyhound racing on racetracks became a very popular pastime in England – much more popular than lurecoursing. By 1927, 40 active dog racing tracks were found throughout Great Britain. Unlike lurecoursing, the dog races quickly became strongly associated with betting.
From England, greyhound racing spread to other parts of the world – near and far. Many countries where greyhound racing is popular today are places that once were a part of the British Empire, such as Ireland, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand.
About the artificial hare for dog racing on an oval track
You might think that the artificial hare for dog racing on an oval track was invented in England, but it is actually a United States creation. Owen Patrick Smith built the very first one in 1912, and seven years later he created another first: the world´s first professional dog-racing track with an artificial hare for the dogs to chase after. This track was in Emeryville, California, USA.
England was a bit slow to catch on, and dog races with an artificial hare did not become widespread here until the second half of the 1920s.
Examples of big events
The three largest greyhound racing events in the United Kingdom are:
- The annual English Greyhound Derby at Wimbledon
- The annual Scottish Greyhound Derby at Shawfield Stadium
- The Northern Irish Derby at Drumbo Park
(There is no longer any Welsh Derby)
Even though Northern Ireland is not a part of Great Britain, there are very strong ties between the two greyhound communities since Great Britain and Northern Ireland are both a part of the United Kingdom.
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GBGB racing vs. flapping
Greyhound racing in Great Britain can be divided into two groups:
- Races that are registered with the Greyhound Racing Board of Great Britain (GBGB). At the time of writing, there are 25 stadiums for GBGB-registered racing.
- Races that aren´t registered with the Greyhound Racing Board of Great Britain (GBGB). Unregistered racing is commonly known as “flapping”. At the time of writing, there are nine stadiums for flapping.
Stadiums for GBGB-registered racing
- Belle Vue Stadium, Manchester
- Brighton and Hove Stadium, Brighton and Hove
- Coventry Greyhounds, Coventry
- Crayford Stadium, Bexley, London
- Doncaster Greyhound Stadium, Doncaster
- Hall Green Stadium, Birmingham
- Harlow Stadium, Harlow, Essex
- Henlow Stadium, Central Bedfordshire
- Kinsley Stadium, Wakefield
- Mildenhall Stadium, Mildenhall, Suffolk
- Monmore Green Stadium, Wolverhampton
- Newcastle Stadium, Newcastle upon Tyne
- Nottingham Stadium, Nottingham
- Pelaw Grange, County Durham
- Perry Barr Stadium, Birmingham
- Peterborough Greyhounds, Peterborough
- Poole Stadium, Poole, Dorset
- Romford Stadium, Havering, London
- Shawfield Stadium, South Lanarkshire (Scotland)
- Sheffield Stadium, Sheffield
- Sittingbourne Stadium, Swale, Kent
- Sunderland Stadium, Sunderland
- Swindon Stadium, Swindon
- Wimbledon Stadium, Merton, London
- Yarmouth Stadium, Great YarmouthAll the stadiums for GBGB-registered racing are found in England, except the Shawfield Stadium in Scotland.
Stadiums for flapping in Great Britain
Flapping, also known as independent racing, is not registered with the GBGB, and GBGB rules do not apply. Naturally, British law and applicable local regulations must still be adhered to, e.g., animal welfare and betting.
There is no umbrella organisation for flapping, so it is difficult to know precisely how large this industry is in Great Britain.
Flapping is carried out at nine stadiums:
- Armadale Stadium, West Lothian
- Askern Stadium, Doncaster
- Easington Stadium, Durham
- Halcrow Stadium, Dumfries and Galloway
- Highgate Stadium, Barnsley
- The Valley Stadium, Caerphilly
- Thornton Stadium, Fife
- Wansbeck Stadium, Northumberland
- Wheatley Hill Stadium, Durham
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What is the GBGB?
The Greyhound Racing Board of Great Britain (GBGB) was founded in 2009, as the two older organizations merged: The National Greyhound Racing Club and The British Greyhound Racing Board.
Racing registered with the GBGB must adhere to the GBGB rules, as stated in ”Rules of Racing” and ”Directions of the Stewards”. These documents do not only cover the races themselves and how they must be conducted but stipulate rules for a wide range of associated activities, including the care for the dogs.
Examples of areas regulated by the GBGB are the conditions of race tracks and stadiums, the conditions of the trainers´ dog facilities, general dog welfare, and the treatment of retired racing dogs. There are also rules in place to prevent cheating.
In some place of the world, such as the United States, it is common for racing greyhounds to live in kennels at the race stadium. This is against GBGB rules, and GBGB racing dogs live in kennels kept by their trainers away from the stadium.
In an average year, roughly 10,000 new racing dogs are registered with the GBGB.
Greyhounds are known for their speed and grace. While many greyhounds achieve fame on the racetrack, some become well-known for other reasons, such as their work as service animals or their appearances in media. Here is a list of some famous greyhounds:
- Mick the Miller: Perhaps the most famous greyhound of all time, Mick the Miller was an Irish-born greyhound who became a sensation in England in the late 1920s and early 1930s. He won numerous races including the English Greyhound Derby twice.
- Master McGrath: An Irish greyhound who achieved fame in the 19th century. He won the Waterloo Cup three times, in 1868, 1869, and 1871.
- Ballyregan Bob: Held the world record for consecutive wins (32) and was the Greyhound of the Year in the UK in 1985 and 1986.
- Patricia’s Hope: A famous UK racing greyhound from the 1970s who won the English Greyhound Derby twice.
- Spanish Battleship: Considered one of Ireland’s greatest greyhounds, he won the Irish Greyhound Derby three times in the 1950s.
- Scurlogue Champ: Known for his incredible stamina, he was a popular stayer in the 1980s in the UK.
- Rural Rube: An American greyhound, Rural Rube was one of the first inductees into the Greyhound Hall of Fame. He set many records in the 1940s.
- Endless Gossip: This Australian greyhound was a highly successful racer in the early 1980s.
- Fernando Bale: One of Australia’s most successful greyhounds, Fernando Bale set numerous track records and earned over $1.2 million in prize money.
- Brett Lee: An Australian greyhound that was the world’s highest prize money-winning greyhound when he was retired in 2001.
- Snip Nua: An Irish greyhound owned by a syndicate that included Irish television presenter Ryan Tubridy and Harry Findlay. She gained fame after being featured in a television series.
- N.G.A. Rural Rube Award winners and All-Americans: Many greyhounds that have won the N.G.A. Rural Rube Award or been named to the All-America team are famous within the greyhound racing community.
These greyhounds have left a lasting legacy within the racing community and are celebrated for their speed, endurance, and competitive nature.