« ForrigeFortsett »
the whippet, attempts were made to form clubs with more or less " tone " about them to encourage dog racing, but none of them got beyond an initial stage, although they were no doubt considerably assisted by the publication by Mr. L. U. Gill, of Freeman Lloyd's "Whippet or Race Dog," a very complete compendium of all that appertained to that dog and its sport. Then at the Ladies' Kennel Association show in 1895, held in the Ranelagh Club grounds, whippet racing formed one of the attractions (?). It, however, fell flat, and generally the attempt to popularise this sport with the better class of people in the south of England has, to say the least, not been a success. Its surroundings have not, as a rule, been of the highest in the social scale, nor have the rabbit coursing matches and tests of speed always been conducted by its owners in the fairest way possible.
Various tricks are tried by the unscrupulous to prevent an opponent's dog winning, and a trainer or his friend has to be a sharp man in his line, to run successfully the gauntlet of all that is placed in his way during a match for money where such dogs compete. And it must be confessed that, notwithstanding the fairness, honesty, and firmness of the owners of the enclosed grounds where dog races and coursing take place, and of the umpires and referees, the general spirit of the sport is not the most wholesome in the world. Of course, these remarks are not applicable to all owners of whippets —many of whom are as straightforward and good sportsmen as ever owned a dog — but there can be no doubt that the popularity of the variety has been kept back and will continue to be so by those " black sheep" to whom allusion is made.
As I have said, the whippet ought not to be a big dog, weighing, from 12lb. to, say, about 25lb. when in training. However, some of them are much heavier than this, and many of the so-called champion rabbit coursers reach 40lb. in weight or even more. I have known a thoroughbred greyhound take part in one of the big handicaps that are held during the season in the neighbourhood of Manchester and elsewhere. It scarcely remains for me to say that these bigger dogs' are the direct cross with the greyhound, and some of them are built on such lines, and contain so much grey hound blood, as to be scarcely distinguishable from the real article.
Such animals are fast, clever with their teeth, and oftener than not run straight into their rabbit, "holding" it without a turn, the one that does so winning the trial, irrespective of the capacity it shows for working, turning, or making the points as in coursing hares. The law allowed varies from anything between 30 and 70 yards, and directly the rabbit is dropped the dogs are slipped, the latter being done by a skilful man, specially appointed for the purpose. Handicaps are made according to the weight or height of the dog; in Newcastle-on-Tyne and the surrounding districts, the latter being the custom—the dog being measured from the top of the shoulder blade to the pad of the foot—whilst in Lancashire and Yorkshire handicap by weight is preferred. In all cases a dog has to allow a bitch three yards start. These customs or rules likewise apply to dog racing, as dealt with later on. In some of the more important handicaps, each couple of dogs, as they are drawn together, have to compete the best out of five or even more courses. In minor affairs, one rabbit for each trial is made to suffice.
Private matches between two dogs are frequently run, and such often enough create as much interest as the handicaps, notably when two "cracks" are competing. Here the conditions may vary somewhat, the start given the rabbit being specially named, and the number of courses being usually the best of twenty-one, or, perhaps, of thirty-one; a certain interval, generally five minutes, being allowed between each trial.
However, if the whippet is to become generally popular, it will not be by means of an ability to kill rabbits. The dog racing by him will be more likely to find favour with the public. Those who are not connected with the sport will be surprised to find the hold it has obtained amongst the working classes in the north. There are repeatedly from one hundred and fifty to over three hundred such dogs entered at one competition, the trial heats of which, three dogs taking part in each heat, being run as a rule one Saturday, the finals the Saturday following. This day is a half-holiday with the miners and workpeople, hence its selection, but other meetings are held on the recognised Bank holidays, and sometimes on the Monday.
Dogs of all sizes compete in the same stake, they being handicapped according to height or weight, if unknown; otherwise according to their performances, weight, &c, of course, likewise being taken into consideration. The most useful size of the whippet is, probably, a dog scaling about 2olb. or so, and the pace such an one can go for a comparatively short distance is extraordinary. 200 yards having been covered in 12^ seconds. It is generally considered that a dog about 15th. is the speediest animal in proportion to its weight.
Before these dogs have attained sufficient proficiency to take part in a handicap or match, they must undergo a certain tuition, during which they come to run at their greatest speed. All preliminaries being arranged, the dog makes an appearance at one of the many "running" grounds. Here a course is laid out on the cinder path, the distance usually being 200 yards. At one end the various handicaps are marked out, three dogs start in a heat, and each, as in ordinary pedestrianism, has a side allotted to it by draw or otherwise. The starter is behind the dogs, pistol in hand. A friend of the owner holds his dog on the mark, the owners or trainers run in front of their dogs up the course calling to them, and dangling something attractive—a chicken's or pigeon's wing, perhaps, or a piece of rag, a towel or an old shirt; rabbits and live stock are not allowed. These owners or trainers having reached the limit of the course, the pistol is fired, the dogs are slipped, and at their full pace urge on to the goal where their trainers await them. Near there the judge is placed, who quickly and promptly pronounces which dog wins, and so the fun goes on. The rules are stringent to a degree, as all rules ought to be (subject even to no appeal in a court of law), and any man slipping his dog before the pistol is fired is disqualified, not only for that heat, but for the whole stake. The sport is exciting enough, and if it does not attract the thousands that gather to