Greyhounds Aren’t Grey   2 comments

I got together with an old friend last night and did something new.  It was Frank Denton (and his gracious wife Anna Jo) who were in Phoenix the last few days to enjoy some horse racing, some art at the Heard Museum and the Phoenix Art Museum and some dog racing.  I’ve known Frank since 1968 when he was the first to ever publish any St. Andre fiction in his fanzine–Ashwing.  (Ashwing was an owl, and owls have always been Frank’s totem.)

He lives in Seattle, and I live in Phoenix, and the chance to see him and talk to him doesn’t come very often, so I was happy to go out to supper with him on Tuesday night.  I introduced him to one of my favorite dives (I mean restaurants)–the Knock-Kneed Lobster at 32nd Street and Washington.  It was either that or the Big Apple, but I craved sea food instead of hamburger.  Frank and Anna ate catfish, something they apparently can’t get in the Pacific northwest.  I just had cod and shrimp.  (and deep-fried zucchini–yum)  It was a jumbo shrimp, roughly the length of my forearm.  We ate.  We talked.  Life was good.

After supper we went over to Phoenix’s own greyhound racing park–oddly enough called Greyhound Park.  It has been at 38th Street and Washington for all my life, and although I’ve been in the parking lot–which doubles as Arizona’s biggest flea market on weekends–dozens of times, I had never gone into the actual dog-racing stadium.  Tonight was the first time I’ve ever entered there.

Something about me–I have no heritage of horse racing, dog racing, auto racing, gold, football, baseball, etc.  My family never went to any kind of sporting events when I was a kid.  When I grew up, I never went to any sporting events either.  I attended maybe 4 football games while I was in college.  Arizona has had the Cardinals NFL football team for about 20 years now.  I have never gone to a professional game.   I just don’t go to sports very often.

So this was something new for me, and as such, a bit of an adventure.  It turned out to be easier than I thought.  Parking was free.  Admission was free.  Apparently they make all their money on gambling and on food and drink concessions.  Great!  I like to go places that are free.  There aren’t that many such places around any more.

The stadium was/is beautiful–clean, spacious, comfortable.  There were only about 20 cars in the parking lot, and I doubt if there were more than 30 people inside it.  There was seating for a couple hundred people, each with its own television monitor.  If you couldn’t see the track, you could watch the whole race on tv.  In fact, I did.  Being near-sighted as a bat, I couldn’t really tell how the dogs were doing a quarter of a mile away on the racetrack.

Anna Jo got programs for us.  What a marvelous thing those programs are–packed with information about every dog , every race.  That was when I learned that greyhounds aren’t grey.  I saw brown dogs, white dogs, black dogs, brindled dogs–didn’t see a single grey dog.

In case you know as much about greyhound racing as I did when we showed up, let me tell you something about how it works.  There’s a dirt track just like the one around your high school football field.  There is a set of gates, really just little boxes that the dogs start in.  There’s a rail around the inside of the track, and attached to that rail is a mechanical rabbit that can zoom around the track at speeds no real rabbit ever attained.  The dogs run about 550 yards–just over 1/4 of a mile.  They do it in about 35 seconds or less.  Each race consists of eight dogs, numbered 1 through 8.  Each wears a light blanket of a different color.

The dogs are rated by class.  AA is the best, and I think C is the worst.  Dogs only run against other dogs in the same class.  If a dog does well, it moves up to higher classes; if it does poorly, it moves down.  Thus, it’s always a “fair” race.  Handicappers rate the dogs and try to predict the winners.  As far as I could tell, they had no more clue than the spectators did.  In fact, I wondered if the handicapper picks weren’t there to mislead you into betting on the wrong dogs.

During the course of the evening I came up with half a dozen theories on how to pick winners.  I got lucky at the very beginning.  Frank and I liked the same dogs–I was judging by names and blanket colors–he went by the numbers in the program, which I didn’t yet understand.  But we got lucky right at the start–picked winning exacta bids for the first 2 races, and won about 40 dollars–20 for him, 20 for me.  Pure beginner’s luck.  After that, my luck ran out, and my picks all quit happening.  Before all my money was gone, I quite betting–that’s why i came away with a profit.  I managed to pick one more race correctly, the penultimate one, but by that time I wasn’t betting.  Frank won another $20 on that one–all I got was moral satisfaction.

All in all, it was a very satisfactory evening all around.  Frank bought me supper–yum.  We won at the racetrack–which doesn’t happen all that often according to him–and we got to talk for another couple of hours.  I regaled them with my youthful misadventures in Tahiti; they told me about walking around the coast of Britain.  We talked about books we’ve read, and authors we know in common (like Bob Vardeman) and other topics like medicine, health, Buddhism, family.  I told them a little bit about Tunnels and Trolls, my adventures and exploits as a gamer and author.  It was almost 1 a.m. before I said good night and went home.

When I mentioned I’d be going to the dog races, everyone was quick to tell me that Greyhound Park was closing this year–probably in December.  I could see why.  A place designed for hundreds of fans had a couple dozen people in it.  They had to be losing money by just having the lights on.  Dog racing does not appear to be a big money business.  The winning dog might make $300 for its stable.  That’s a shame.  Perhaps our culture has moved on.  Perhaps having Las Vegas style gambling at Indian casinos just outside of town has stolen away all the gamblers that used to make dog racing big business.  Whatever the cause, it’s obviously a dying sport–at least here in Phoenix.

I was glad to see my friend again, and glad to get the chance to experience dog racing. I barely scratched the surface of that subculture, but I feel like I’ve learned a lot.

Epilog: greyhound racing is a business–racing dogs are young and strong.  When they start to lose their speed, they are sold, given away, or put to sleep (and by that I mean killed).  The deaths of so many beautiful animals is a real crime that the dog stables practice–and they do it not because they like killing dogs, but simply because it’s a business and dogs need to pay their way to stay in it.  There are greyhound rescue services, and many big-hearted dog lovers adopt greyhounds once they are past their racing prime.  I’d like to do that myself (and I’d like a black one please), but there is no room in my house for a dog right now.  As dogs go, greyhounds are friendly, intelligent, and very fast.  They make great pets.  And they do love to run.



Posted October 28, 2009 by atroll in Uncategorized

2 responses to “Greyhounds Aren’t Grey

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  1. Who would have thought. I kind of expected them to be grey myself. I guess you will have to get one really big house to have one of those beast being able to run around!

    Mmm, sounds like you had great food. What did you get for supper?

  2. One of the biggest and best uses for retired greyhounds is training doctors. The size of their organs and blood vessels is basically the same as a person. Some of the most effective chemotherapy today was developed by testing on retired greyhounds.

    I only write this to say that they do not all die in vain. Many of them give their lives so we can keep ours.

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