First published in November/December 2002 Edition
The Greyhound, a tall, fast sight hound is a pure breed, that is, it has not evolved from crossings with other types. Indeed it seems unlikely that this breed has altered materially since early Egyptian times, as proved by a carving of a Greyhound in an Egyptian tomb in the Nile Valley, circa 4000 BC.
The name ‘greyhound’ may have been a corruption of a ‘gazehound’ which must have been an allusion to the breed’s immensely keen sight. The greyhound, in common with all sight or gazehounds, hunts its quarry by sight and not scent. It is thought to have originated, in common with other greyhound-type dogs, the Afghan hound, the Saluki, and the Borzoi, in the Middle East, where, with the hawk, it was used for hunting by the nomadic Arab tribes.
During the days of the Roman Empire, these gazehounds found their way across Northern Europe to become firmly established among the Celtic nations, adapting to climatic conditions and becoming staunch favourites in Southern Europe, particularly in England, where the sport of coursing, chasing a live hare, has existed for more than 2000 years. Many of the rules of ‘The Leash’ have little changed since they were described by the Greek historian Arryah in the second century BC.
It was at one time illegal under English law for a commoner to own a greyhound. They were bred and raised by the aristocracy. However, by the early 19th century, the coursing of hares had developed into an organised sport and, with the invention by Owen Patrick Smith of the mechanical rabbit for use on a round or oval track, the racing of greyhounds grew in popularity.
Certainly the history of the greyhound has been bound up with coursing but there came a startling innovation in September 1876 when, at the Welsh Harp, in London, greyhounds chased an artificial hare for the first time. The hare ran on a rail embedded in the turf’ of a 400 yard straight course. Newspaper reports described it as exciting and interesting, but it did not catch on.
At Tucson, Arizona, the forerunner of modern greyhound courses came into being in 1909 with greyhounds competing on a circular course. Then came Houston in 1912, Tulsa in 1920 St Louis in 1921 and Miami in 1922. The spark had been kindled. An American. Charles Munn, came to England, and interested Brigadier A.C. Critchley in the new sport and jointly they founded the Greyhound Racing Association. Belle Vue in Manchester saw the first meeting on July 24th 1926 which was a sensational success.
The derelict stadium of the Franco-British Exhibition which housed the Olympic Games in 1908 was refurbished and the sport came to London at the White City on June 20th 1927. It is somewhere recorded that 100,000 people were there to see Charlie Cranston win White City’s first race, but it is likely that the report was a little exaggerated. A success however it certainly was as other circuits quickly sprang up.
Perhaps one of the most famous greyhounds of all time was Mick the Miller. born one of a litter of eight pups in Ireland in June 1926. Despite being, if not the runt, at least the weakest of the litter, and a subsequent victim of distemper, he was, at 18 months, brought to England by his parish priest owner, Father Brophy, and eventually put up for auction on the terrace steps of White City, fetching what was then, 1929, a fantastic sum for a novice greyhound, 800 guineas.
Mick the Miller ran 20 races in Ireland and 61 in England and was first or second in all but five races. He earned £10,000 in prize money and, after his career was at an end, lived on in happy retirement until the ripe old age of 13 when he died on May 5th 1939. Readers may like to know that Mick the Miller can be seen to this day, for his body was embalmed to be exhibited in the Natural History Museum in South Kensington, London.
But was he really such a racing phenomenon? Perhaps the clue lies in that, after his death, it was discovered that Mick’s heart weighed one and a half ounces more than that which was usually recorded for a greyhound. But that he was a big-hearted dog was never in doubt.
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