History of Greyhound Racing
Ironically it was an American Owen Patrick Smith who introduced greyhound racing to Britain in its modern day format. Having invented the very first mechanical lure and circular track in the US in 1925, Smith struck up a deal with Charles Munn, a shrewd businessman who could see the international appeal of the sport and together they set about promoting greyhound racing in Britain. Together with politician Brigadier-General Alfred Critchley and entrepreneur Sir William Gentle they set up the Greyhound Racing Association (the GRA).
The GRA built the very first purpose built greyhound racing stadium in Britain in the Gorton area of Manchester in 1926. Belle Vue Stadium, as it was called, held its first meeting on the 24th July 1926 and 1700 people went through the gates to watch six races of seven greyhounds take place. A red greyhound named Mistley won the first race by eight lengths at odds of 6/1. Despite this relatively quiet start, word spread quickly and only week’s later crowds of 11,000 per meeting were clambering to see this exciting new sport.
Soon there were greyhound stadiums appearing all over the country. By the end of the 1926 the GRA was able to repay an initial bank loan of £10,000 and begin planning expansion into London. The product of this planning was that White City, a stadium originally built for the London Olympics in 1908 was bought and opened for greyhound racing in 1927. Later that year White City held the very first Greyhound Derby with a prize of £1,000. The Derby is still the biggest race in the greyhound racing calendar and is now held at Wimbledon stadium in south west London.
With all the money exchanging hands around greyhound racing the potential for foul play and malpractice became evident. In 1928 the National Greyhound Racing Club was set up to establish and enforce a set of rules for racing.
Greyhound very quickly became an extremely popular pastime. Canine superstars such as Mick the Miller developed huge followings of fans wherever he went. Attendances suffered during the war years as was the case with most recreational activities, but in the period that followed greyhound racing experienced it’s biggest attendance boom. People flocked to the stadiums, happy to be out and enjoying themselves in the open air following the bleakness of black outs and air raid shelters.
The boom continued throughout the 50s and 60s, however, the broadcasting of live horse racing on television saw attendances drop. A property slump in the 1970s caused a further fall. Some tracks were forced to close but many continued to do well and provide excitement and entertainment for punters. Superstar greyhounds such as Scurlogue Champ continued to appear and attract the crowds.
In the mid 1980s one particular greyhound made his way into the homes of millions and became a house hold name in the process by appearing on the BBC. Ballyregan Bob, a brindle greyhound trained by George Curtis in the south of England achieved a world record breaking total of 32 consecutive wins. The 32nd of these was achieved at Brighton and Hove stadium and was aired live on BBC television under the banner “The Racing Post World Challenge”.
Just prior to the Ballyregan Bob era, in 1979 the British Greyhound Racing Board was set up to enable various stake holders in the sport to discuss the promotion and improvement of the greyhound racing industry, to consult with the NGRC regarding the rules of racing and to improve the care and welfare of the greyhound.
On the 1st January 2009 the Greyhound Board of Great Britain (the GBGB) became operational, taking on the functions of both the British Greyhound Racing Board and the National Greyhound Racing Club. To read more about the formation and structure of the Greyhound Board of Great Britain click here.
There are now 26 licensed greyhound stadia in Britain (25 in England and one in Scotland). Despite a decrease in number, the quality of both the racing and the facilities at each track remains consistently high. Tracks in Sunderland, Nottingham, Kinsley, Great Yarmouth, Peterborough, Sheffield and Wolverhampton are examples of just some of the tracks that have recently completed six-figure refurbishment projects.
As a betting product, greyhound racing has never been more popular. Some £2.5bn is staked on the outcome of greyhound races each year, but a falling percentage of that is being traded at the tracks. As of 1st September 2007, the Gambling Commission came into being, introducing under its licence conditions many of the new laws set out in the 2005 Gambling Act. Among them, licensed betting shops became able to trade until 22.00 every evening throughout the year. Prior to that, evening opening of betting shops had been restricted to May-August. While nothing beats a visit to the track to watch the dog who is carrying your money, it is easy to understand the relative appeal of a two minute walk to the local betting shop and a swift return home, set against a 20 minute drive to the stadium. It is even easier to understand the appeal of placing the same bet without leaving the house. It is now possible to have a greyhound bet online, by WAP on your mobile, even through your digital television's set-top box. A percentage of off course betting turnover (currently 0.6% of turnover) is returned to the sport via a voluntary levy. It amounts to approximately £12m per annum and is used to finance welfare and integrity work, plus promotion of the sport and commercial activities.
The challenge for greyhound tracks is therefore to adapt to their new audience, while looking after the needs of their established customers.
Work parties, groups of friends, hens and stags are increasingly turning to greyhound racing for an evening's entertainment. Total attendance figures in 2006 slipped to 3.32m from 3.52m in 2005, but there is little doubt that with the loss of so many 'regulars' to the off-course betting industry there are actually more different people experiencing greyhound racing today than at any time in the past decade. According to research conducted for the horse racing industry, greyhound racing remains Britain's third most attended spectator sport.