Diane and I went to The Derby. Not the Kentucky Derby, but Derby Lane in Saint Petersburg, Florida.
Derby Lane is a racetrack too, and we were there on the same day as the other derby in Kentucky.
But there weren’t any horses present. Derby Lane is a greyhound racing track. Opening in 1925, it was the first commercial greyhound racetrack in the United States.
Dog racing isn’t something I’ve ever been exposed to, another experience I’ve only seen in movies and on television. In most regards, it is similar to horse racing. The greyhounds parade to the post with their handlers.
Each fit, beautiful dog walks up the track wearing coloured race silks and a muzzle.
Spectators get a good look at each dog, and have a last chance to place their bets.
The dogs are loaded into starting traps and wait, trembling with excitement, for the doors to open. The dog handlers run back down the track.
And they’re off!
The greyhounds chase a mechanical lure known as a ‘rabbit’ around the track.
The dogs are extremely fast. Greyhounds can reach up to 70 kilometers per hour (43.5 mph) within their first 6 strides, and accelerate faster than any other land animal on the planet except the cheetah. The fastest dogs win and place, and the rest of the pack follows.
Greyhound racing is a controversial form of entertainment. The number of states that allow greyhound racing is declining; several states instituted specific bans in the 1990s. Florida has about half of the 30-40 commercial greyhound race tracks remaining in the United States.
According to the Human Society of the United States, greyhound racing is considered inhumane because of the industry’s excessive breeding practices, the sometimes cruel methods by which unwanted dogs are destroyed, the conditions in which some dogs are forced to live, and the killing and maiming of bait animals (like rabbits) during training exercises. The Greyhound Racing Association of America counters that excess dogs are humanely euthanized by licensed veterinarians under American Veterinary Medical Association guidelines, that the greyhounds are well treated, and the use of live lures in training and racing is prohibited. Recently doping has also emerged as a problem, which the industry is actively working to prevent by introducing urine testing. Attempts are made to recover urine samples from all greyhounds in a race (there’s a job I don’t want), not just the winners.
A racing greyhound’s career begins at about 18 months of age, and ends some time before they reach 6 years of age. Prior to the formation of adoption groups, thousands of retired greyhounds were killed each year in America. Today, thanks to the efforts of greyhound adoption groups, the majority of retired greyhounds are adopted, but many are still destroyed because there are not enough homes to accept them. In addition, many greyhound puppies that won’t be competitive are ‘culled’ at a young age.
I was surprised to learn that greyhound racing is legal in Canada. Dog racing is unregulated in Canada, except for the general animal protection legislation that applies more broadly. Only horse racing and the parimutuel betting associated with it are legislated in Canada. There is only one permanent greyhound racing facility in Canada, the Calida Greyhound Race Track in Sylvan Lake, Alberta. Only pool betting is allowed there, which means that the track makes no money from the gambling, so it is not subject to gaming legislation.
Lure coursing and sighthound racing are also practiced as an amateur sport across Canada and the United States. Oval, straight, and track racing are popular (apparently particularly in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia where I’m from) for all sighthound breeds, not just greyhounds. Canada also has a small greyhound adoption association, the Northwest Canadian Greyhound League located in Grande Prairie, Alberta.
Diane didn’t enjoy the dog track. I saw and learned what I wanted and we left.
Parking and entrance to The Derby greyhound track are both free. Those of you who believe that greyhound racing is a violation of animal rights can rest comfortably knowing that Diane and I didn’t leave any of our money there.