CHAPTER XVIII. THE GREYHOUND

The Greyhound is the oldest and most conservative of all dogs, and his type has altered singularly little during the seven thousand years in which he is known to have been cherished for his speed, and kept by men for running down the gazelle or coursing the hare. The earliest references to him are far back in the primitive ages, long before he was beautifully depicted by Assyrian artists, straining at the leash or racing after his prey across the desert sands. The Egyptians loved him and appreciated him centuries before the pyramids were built. In those days he wore a feathered tail, and his ears were heavy with a silken fringe of hair. His type was that of the modern Arabian Slughi, who is the direct and unaltered descendant of the ancient hound. The glorious King Solomon referred to him (Proverbs xxx. 31) as being one of the four things which “go well and are comely in going—a lion, which is strongest among beasts, and turneth not away from any; a Greyhound; an he goat also; and a king against whom there is no rising up.”

That the Greyhound is “comely in going,” as well as in repose, was recognised very early by the Greeks, whose artists were fond of introducing this graceful animal as an ornament in their decorative workmanship. In their metal work, their carvings in ivory and stone, and more particularly as parts in the designs on their terra-cotta oil bottles, wine coolers, and other vases, the Greyhound is frequently to be seen, sometimes following the hare, and always in remarkably characteristic attitudes. Usually these Greek Greyhounds are represented with prick ears, but occasionally the true rose ear is shown.

All writings in connection with Greyhounds point to the high estimation in which the dog has always been held. Dr. Caius, when referring to the name, says “The Greyhound hath his name of this word gre; which word soundeth gradus in Latin, in Englishe degree, because among all dogges these are the most principall, occupying the chiefest place, and being simply and absolutely the best of the gentle kinde of Houndes.”

It was not until the reign of Queen Elizabeth that coursing in England was conducted under established rules. These were drawn up by the then Duke of Norfolk. The sport quickly grew in favour, and continued to increase in popularity until the first coursing club was established at Swaffham in 1776. Then in 1780 the Ashdown Park Meeting came into existence. The Newmarket Meeting in 1805 was the next fixture that was inaugurated, and this now remains with the champion stakes as its most important event. Afterwards came the Amesbury Meeting in 1822, but Amesbury, like Ashdown, although for many years one of the most celebrated institutions of the description, has fallen from its high estate. Three years later came the Altcar Club. But it was not until eleven years after this period that the Waterloo Cup was instituted (in 1836), to win which is the highest ambition of followers of the leash.

At the present time the run for the Waterloo Cup, which at the commencement was an eight dog stake, is composed of sixty-four nominations, the entry fee for which is P25. The winner takes P500, and the cup, value P100, presented by the Earl of Sefton, the runner up P200, the third and fourth P50 each, four dogs P36 each, eight dogs P20 each, and sixteen dogs P10 each. The thirty-two dogs beaten in the first round of the Cup compete for the Waterloo Purse, value P215, and the sixteen dogs run out in the second round for the Waterloo Plate, value P145. The winner in each case taking P75, and the runner up P30, the remainder being divided amongst the most forward runners in the respective stakes. The Waterloo Cup holds the same position in coursing circles as the Derby does in horse racing.

The National Coursing Club was established in 1858, when a stud book was commenced, and a code of laws drawn up for the regulation of coursing meetings. This is recognised in Australia and other parts of the world where coursing meetings are held. The Stud Book, of which Mr. W. F. Lamonby is the keeper, contains particulars of all the best-known Greyhounds in the United Kingdom, and a dog is not allowed to compete at any of the large meetings held under Coursing Club rules unless it has been duly entered with its pedigree complete. In fact, the National Coursing Club is more particular in connection with the pedigrees of Greyhounds being correctly given, than the Kennel Club is about dogs that are exhibited; and that is saying a great deal. It holds the same position in coursing matters as the Jockey Club does in racing. It is in fact, the supreme authority on all matters connected with coursing.

Various opinions have been advanced as to the best size and weight for a Greyhound. Like horses, Greyhounds run in all forms, and there is no doubt that a really good big one will always have an advantage over the little ones; but it is so difficult to find the former, and most of the chief winners of the Waterloo Cup have been comparatively small. Coomassie was the smallest Greyhound that ever won the blue ribbon of the leash; she drew the scale at 42 lbs., and was credited with the win of the Cup on two occasions. Bab at the Bowster, who is considered by many good judges to have been the best bitch that ever ran, was 2 lbs. more; she won the Cup once, and many other stakes, as she was run all over the country and was not kept for the big event. Master McGrath was a small dog, and only weighed 53 lbs., but he won the Waterloo Cup three times. Fullerton, who was a much bigger dog, and was four times declared the winner of the Cup, was 56 lbs. in weight.