In St. Petersburg, Florida, August 2020, the greyhound’s thunder around the sandy oval track in Dieby Lane. Derby Lane, America’s oldest continuous track for dogs, and two more tracks for Florida closed in December. The voting ended the sport effectively.
It’s Saturday evening in August at 8:30 p.m. The sky hangs down with a gibbous moon, and its glow does not compete for the neon sign which declares GREYHOUND RACING and DERBY LANE.
Around 300 people are dispersed here in St. Petersburg, Florida at the grandstands, which once had thousands and whispered as loudspeakers play big band and rockabilly. When Frederick Davis leads the dog parade, they are silent.
“TNT Sherlock,” the advertiser tells us, as Davis hits them in front of stands, calling for the first of the eight sleek animals. A number is attached to every dog’s jacket known as a blanket. The advertiser calls “Tailspin,” “Charlotte York …”
In their glorious days in the 1950s, Derby Lane attracted thousands of enthusiastic racing fans, including Joe DiMaggio, who left Marilyn Monroe in the car while running to put his bets inside. Unfortunately, just a few hundred races now show a sign of the decline of its supporters base.
Over the old fashioned entrance of Derby Lane, gather the storm clouds. Since it opened in January 1925, the same family operates on this Florida track, attracting big-name fans like Sophie Tucker and Babe Ruth. Back in 1931 bettors found a way to get around the law until gambling had been legalized.
The dogs are then placed in the starting box by Davis, 41, and eight managers that he supervises. Hare-son Hare is a mechanical rabbit who has zoomed, choked and shot blue sparks. The doors are open, and the greyhounds are blowing onto the path. Their paws are tossing sand in the air as they are galloping the oval at speeds of up to 45 miles/hour for 30 seconds.
Derby Lane, opened in 1925, had once been acclaimed as the greyhound racer Churchill Downs. By the time the dogs were in existence last year, you could still feel the glamor and excitement of the day of the track in the twentieth century. At that time, the stands were packed in suits and hats with fans. Sophie Tucker was visiting Babe Ruth and entertainer. Once upon a time, Joe DiMaggio left Marilyn Monroe in an idling car when he ran into his wagons.
Derby Lane was the oldest continually operational greyhound race track in America, but was on its final track in December 2020. Florida had more greyhound paths than any other country two years before, 11 out of 17 nationwide. It was only three by the end of 2020, with approximately 2,000 dogs still running. These paths are now also closed.
Greyhounds extend their legs to the races of the Farmer Racing race, owned by John Farmer, the champion trainer. He left them in the stylus five times a day in 2020, mixed up to prevent playful nips, for up to two hours to clean up their boxes and prepare their food. Farmer planned to take his dogs to Western Virginia, one of the 3 states where racing seasons are consistent. The other two are Iowa and Arkansas. When Florida closed its course.
Florida voters had the opportunity in 2018 to approve an amendment to the Constitution — Amendment 13 — that prohibits greyhound bets on 31 December 2020. The racing business is betting that the amendment was refused by Floridians, although this has been passed by a broad margin, mainly because of the growing concern at the national level over the mishandling of animals, like circuses.
The last race for Derby Lane was planned for 27 December. Davis, a slender man with a quick smile and a dreadlock, was one of many staff whose future was uncertain. For 14 years he was on the road and thought it was his perfect job.
Greyhounds stretch their legs between races in the turnout pen at Farmer Racing, owned by champion trainer John Farmer. He let them lounge in the pen five times a day for up to two hours in 2020—muzzled to prevent playful nips—so their crates could be cleaned and food prepared. When Florida closed its tracks, Farmer planned to take his dogs to West Virginia, one of the three states where there are consistent racing seasons; the other two are Iowa and Arkansas.
Davis said, “I love dogs, and I love to be out there.”
He was not the only employee of Derby Lane to ask what was next going to happen.
“It’s a pity to stop 95 years later,” CEO Richard Winning, 64, said. Since its inauguration in 1925, his family has owned Derby Lane. With the tracks closed in Florida, he warned that there would certainly be tracks elsewhere. “Will anyone remember in 20 years what was the greyhound race?”
It is the one thing that he endorses Carey Theil, who has led the drive towards Amendment No 13 in the Massachusetts-based advocacy group Grey2K USA: Shut down the tracks of Florida and the industry goes there.
“The industry really was Florida,” said Theil.
The barbed-grey The victory is a narrator born. He began to collect half-dollars from tournaments 45 years ago. The track restaurant served 37 unit prime rib and a live band played between races. He also remembered when Rakish players named “the Flickinger” and “Champagne Tony” were regular.
Dog collars are hanging over a bath full of raw beef and rice as Farmer is preparing to feed 60 dogs. When the dog’s race, the daily diet includes about 90 pounds of beef, mixed with commercially dressed dry dog food, water, electrolytes, rice or macaroni, multivitamins and anaemia blood builders.
Farmer’s muscle-soothing liniment rubs his dog, Rick Swift Creek. He also checks ticks on his dogs, examines their nails and massages their muscles. The dogs spend their days waiting for or after the 30 seconds they race.
Greyhounds in the Bible are the only breed of a dog, Winning says. This is kind of true. This is true. Proverbs 30:29-31 from King James refers to them as “good in.” (Afghan hollands or Salukis are the original Hebrew scholars say) In his then popular sport called coursing, two greyhounds race to take a rabbit. the King’s translators knew the greyhounds. I loved Queen Elizabeth, hence the nickname “sport of the queens” of greyhound competition.
Dog races as we now know them have been born of Owen P. Smith, an American inventor moved to find an alternative by the grim death of the rabbits. The idea of Smith was to substitute a mechanical one for the live rabbit. He was awarded an Inanimate Hare Converter patent in 1910. In 1910.
“Nobody has changed the history of any sport, as did the inventor of the device, and yet no sport inventor in history is so unknown,” commented Sports Illustrated in 1973.
The Blue Star Amusement Company was established outside Oakland in 1919, and two partners have also designed the first modern greyhound track. California. Like many others, it failed because it did not allow betting. Gambling was illegal, while popular.
In a sumptuous area in Florida known as Humbuggus, the first successful track, the Miami Kennel Club, was one Smith and his partner. It was so near the Everglades that the owners used to snap street reptiles with a snake caught. According to Gwyneth Anne Thayer, a book on racing greyhounds and its place in popular culture, it became a success because it was the use of electric lighting. Lights meant that when working people could attend the races at night. Thousands of new inhabitants wanted night-time entertainment in the mid-1920s of Florida. (The track later became a horse race and the Hialeah Park was renamed.)
Derby Lane opened under a cloud on the other side of the state in 1925. The partners which built it were money running away, so lumber magnate T.L. Weaver, grandfather of Winning, took over. In the infield, he grew beans, says historian Louise Weaver. He once had a monkey running through the dog between races, his uniforms sewn to the blankets of the greyhounds to prevent them from escaping and dogs from bucking them off.
While betting was illegal, the tracks were “sneaky,” said Winning. “Shares in the dogs were sold.” Winners are going to receive a ‘dividend.’ Losers would not. Losers would not. Another track went “on the fix,” meaning that they would continue to operate until the coast was clear and raided.
Florida legislators approved a bill to legalize and tax race betting in 1931 with the Great Depression bankrupting the local governments. The devoted Baptist Governor Doyle Carlton objected. Years later, he told gamblers that the $100,000 bill would be offered to him. He vetoed it, however. State senators have overruled his veto and made Florida the first state to legalize dog races. Then tracks of dogs emerged in Tampa (1932) and Orlando and Jacksonville (1935). (1953).
Greyhound racing is part of the sun-and-fun picture of Florida. Mickey Mantle filmed Derby Lane. Film stars and boxing champions hung out on the tracks. In 1959, Frank Sinatra went into the Miami Dog Cup film A Hole in the Head.
Florida can be a shady, sunny place. Much was attracted by the money involved in dog racing. Tampa mobster Santo Trafficante, Jr. recalls the winning players placing bets at Derby Lane. However, some Mafiosi have been more than clients. The tracks of South Florida dog, said Scott Deitche, author of seven Mafia books: Charles “Lucky” Luciano and Meyer Lansky.
Mob’s participation gave rumours of fixed breeds. Bettor said dogs were overfed or clenched with rubber bands to slow them down, or they had been drugged to make them run faster or lighter. Finally, they were drugged to run.
In the past few years, doping has remained a problem. State officials revoked a license of Derby Lane in 2017 because five of his greyhounds tested positively for a stimulant, cocaine. Months later, after a dozen dogs tested positive, a trainer on another track in Florida was suspended. Over the next two years, 11 more trainer dogs have been positive, say state officials.
Doping was only one of the concerns of race opponents. Gray2compilation K’s of the welfare reports for racing greyhounds has spent almost 20 years. It argues that even standard industry practices constitute abuse. It says dogs are forced to race in conditions that can lead to severe injuries, like broken legs and locks, broken skulls and spines, and even lure. An additional concern is what happens to dogs who do not compete. In 1952, the Grayhound Racing Record claimed that 30% of the racing greyhounds, leaving the destiny of the other 70%, would be competing. Dogs that do not compete are about the age of four.
Grey2K collected a number of stories about the euthanization or sale of greyhounds to labs. In 1987 the American Greyhound Council formed the industry to set up adoption agencies and to examine the best thing for dogs to address these issues. However, the 2000s saw two of the worst scandals.
In 2002, a former track guard from Pensacola was arrested after authorities discovered that 1,000 to 3,000 Greyhounds have been killed and buried on his Alabama property. He said that he was paid $10 to shoot them each. According to a story in the New York Times, the prosecutor called the guard’s estate a “Dachau for dogs.” Before being tried, the guard died. A trainer killed dear dogs in the Florida town of Ebro in 2010. In 2010. He pleaded guilty to cruelty and sentenced him to five years.
When public concern for animal welfare increased, scandals were cut to the popularity of greyhound races. In the meantime, dog tracks attracted new competing gambling operations – The Seminole and Miccosukee Tribes’ casinos and Florida Lottery.
Left: Greyhound’s chase of the mechanical lure around the oval path, which is over in just 30 seconds, in the daily morning race at Derby Lane. A tractor smoothes down the sand between races to minimize injuries, which is a point of dispute between races.
Right: The mechanical lure, called Hare-son Hare, scoots on wheels that squeal around and sparkle in the blue. The inventor Owen Smith patented the lure in the year 1910 in order for the greyhounds to pick up and tear apart from living rabbits.
Left: Farmer has “America’s Top Sprinter” award plaques in 2008 and “America’s Top Distance Dog” award plaques in 2015. In an overflowing Tupperware container he keeps his cache of awards.
Right: A photo of the historical archives of Derby Lane in 1937. Kennell owner William Art Miller, one of the uniformed executives who escorts the dog into the box of departure, and Derby Lane founder T.L. Weaver are in the front row, left to right. House Gregory, chairman of the judging team; Tom Gregor, secretary of the race; and Sid Harris, judge associate, are in the back row. Chick Starter is supposed to be the dog.
The fans who were older were skewed. In 2001, Steven Soderbergh filmed a scene in Derby Line for the Ocean’s Eleven featuring the reception to robbery of George Clooney and Brad Pitt. Their objective, Carl Reiner, at 79, fit the greyhound crowd perfectly.
In the last days, Jim Wickert (76) was the typical fan of the track, and he had been in his tan Orvis fedora two times a week in Derby Lane since 2003. He was retired golf course owner. He said he liked the challenge of disabling the opportunities of his dogs.
He said, “I like to try and find them out. “I don’t bet great, but when you find stuff out, it’s still exciting, and they’re running as you think.”
Once the track closed, he was unsure what he would do. There seemed nothing else as exciting.
Certain people have competed because they love greyhounds. Trainer and owner of kennels John Farmer, a member of the Oregon Klamath Tribe, said that when he was 11, his mother let him watch Multnomah Greyhound Park races. He fell in love with the race. In a Tupperware container now 55, he has memories of his winning dogs
Greyhounds, not particularly high tension, are affectionate animals, said longtime vet Donald Beck. Beck said he was never bitten at Derby Lane in his time—but he was scratched at by excited dogs who jumped on him.
When you remember winning champions, you can find out: Keefer, the dog who won the Distance Classic in 1986 in Derby Lane. 12779 people, the biggest crowd in history, have been drawn by that race. By 2020, perhaps a thousand Saturday races drew.
In the last decade, the money generated by live greyhound racing fell from 117 million dollars a year to less than 40 million dollars. It fell from 12 million dollars on Derby Lane to 4.3 million dollars.
In 1996 the industry attempted to adapt to the needs of poker rooms and simulcasting, with legislative approval. This permits bettors to bet on races elsewhere. The poker rooms were full. After dog races were finished, some fans drew simulcast races. But the dog’s tracks could not be saved.
Grey2K tried for a 10-year period to convince Florida lawmakers to restructure races without success. The group finally called on the State Commission for Revision of the Constitution, which meets every two decades,
And Commissioners persuaded them to support the racing end proposal.
The organization and its allies have spent $3 million on Amendment 13, says Theil, primarily on television ads showing racing dogs that are mistreated. Only $534,000 was spent by two opposing groups on the amendment. Grey2K was accused of exaggerating the danger by one of the groups.
Jack Cory of the Florida Greyhound Association said: “The vast majority of the dogs are very well-trained, well treated and beloved. He referred to Grey2K as “liars of pathology.”
In addition to the job losses of track workers, trainers and crib owners were affected by the shutdown. Farmer for instance has said he will move to West Virginia, one of the three states that are still running consistently (along with Iowa and Arkansas).
In those countries and in Australia, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Vietnam, and the UK, Grey2K USA prohibits racing.
Greyhound adoption agencies are planning to find homes for dogs still racing in Florida by December 2020. The Sun State Greyhound, which Sharon Dippel ran, was one of these organizations. She’s eight adopted dogs with her husband, Brian. Every 10 days or so, they pass through a couple of bags of 44 pounds of food.
Many people lined up to embrace dogs, Dippel said. It helped Florida not shut down tracks at the same time. Some closed shortly after the vote in 2018, others due to COVID-19 in early 2020.
Like domestic animals, greyhounds always like to go outside even without a mechanical device to chase, Dippel said. When they get indoors, however?
Susan Butchko (left) pets her recently adopted dog, a retired racing greyhound named Remy. She has been fostering and adopting greyhounds since 1999. Before the 1980s, greyhounds that retired from racing often were euthanized or sold to laboratories.
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