GREYHOUND racing behind a mechanical lure took place for the first time on Australian soil on a cold Saturday night May 28, 1927. Yet that historic moment was almost stillborn due to the government of the day’s decision to outlaw betting on the races. To the men involved in the establishment of racing behind the ‘tin hare’, as the lure would be first known, the inability to have legalised betting would almost certainly mean financial ruin.
The NSW Trotting Club had been racing at the Epping racecourse in Glebe since 1902, and the directors of the Greyhound Coursing Association (GCA), which had been formed to promote the sport, leased the inside of the harness racing circuit to build their track. Work began on building a cinders track on January 27, the task by an American, Jack O’Brien.
The GCA, led by American Frederick Swindell -who called himself ‘Judge’- alongside locals Joe Galbraith and Jack Munro, believed they would be able to conduct betting on the races, similar to the situation which existed in Britain and the United Sates, where greyhound racing had first begun, but the government of Jack Lang refused to allow betting to take place.
In spite of this setback, the GCA continued with its plans to start greyhound racing at the Epping course.
On May 23, the first trials were conducted with greyhounds behind the lure. A total of eight greyhounds were trialled and the result showed the operators and onlookers that, just like their canine counterparts in the USA and UK, they would chase a mechanical lure.
As the correspondent for Truth newspaper noted, ‘A cutting wind did not prevent a crowd of about 3,000 people turning up…[but] without betting, the quietness of the crowd was a strange contrast to those used to the noise and bustle from race or coursing meetings, but, as the dog’s drawn for the first heat of The Puppy Stakes…came into the arena, led by their attendants dressed in similar colours to the rugs worn by the dogs, a buzz of excited anticipation arose from the crowd.’
The reporter continued, ‘The crowd became more interested as the courses were run-off, and apart from a little raillery when a wrong number was hoisted after the third run, everything went smoothly. Some of the hounds ran a bit wide, but the leaders kept a fairly straight line on the scent of the “game”.’
The Sydney Morning Herald correspondent, commenting on whether the greyhounds would chase a mechanical lure, noted, ‘Many of those present did not think the dogs would be deceived, but apparently they were, for they gave chase readily enough.’
The hare was first flashed past the starting boxes, described as ‘cages’ by the press, in order to excite the runners. When it circled the track and came flashing past for the second time, the boxes were opened and the field released.
The first race, a heat of the Puppy Stakes scheduled to start at 8:00pm, was taken out by Bellamaud (The Turf x King’s Battery). The brindle bitch scored by four lengths from Our First with Trixie 10 lengths further back in third place in an eight-dog field. Bellamaud ran the 480 yards (439m) in 29.0.
It’s worth noting that various accounts of the results of the first meeting render the spelling of Bellamaud as Bellamond. Be Quick was rendered Bquick by one publication and Bequick by another while Masquerader was called Masquerade.
Two bands were employed to entertain the crowd between races while extra trams were scheduled for the evening to make sure racegoers could get home without difficulty.
R.Brown was the most successful owner on the night, with wins by Bellamaud, Be Quick and Battery Lad and a second with Baffle, all in the heats of the Puppy Stake, which gave him half the field for the final, which was run as the last of the eight races conducted on that first night.
The Turf, sire of Ballamaud and Battery Lad, also competed on that first night, finishing third in a heat of the All Aged Stakes.
The no betting edict by the government became the first major obstacle which needed to be addressed by the sport if it was to be able to continue to exist. Daylight meetings were conducted on June 6 and June 11, but the paying crowds were poor.
Then, following a cabinet reshuffle, the new Attorney-General, Andrew Lysaght, gave his opinion that coursing with the mechanical hare came within the meaning of the Gaming and Betting Acts. The next meeting, held on June 18, saw betting legalised and a crowd of around 16,000 attended. The new sport was saved and racing continued at Epping, better known in later years as Harold Park, until 1987.
Had the Baird government’s ill-conceived plan of 2016 to ban the sport remained in place, greyhound racing in NSW would have only just made it past 90 years of operation. As it stands, the sport faces some tough times ahead, but if the spirit of those who made it all happen 90 years ago still lives in the hearts of today’s participants, there is no reason to believe we cannot overcome the obstacles faced by the industry in 2017 and beyond.
Results of the first greyhound meeting
Heat 1 Bellamaud (The Turf x King’s Battery), Our First 2, Trixie 3
4 lengths x 10 lengths 29.0 £12 to the winner
Heat 2 Connie White (All Comedy x White Queen), Baffle 2, Monopoly 3
3 lengths x 0.5 length 29.2 £12 to the winner
Heat 3 Be Quick (Andrew Micawber x Clan Hope), Millabar 2, Pig’s Trotter 3
10 lengths x 4 lengths 29.0 £12 to the winner
Heat 4 Battery Lad (The Turf x King’s Battery), Lilac Lass 2, Brilliant Trooper 3
1.5 lengths x 0.5 length 28.8 £12 to the winner
All Aged Stakes
Heat 1 Careful Charlie (Dicken’s Works x Careful Elsla), Forest King 2, The Turf 3
1.5 lengths x 1 length 28.4
Heat 2 Masquerader (Shady Spot x Major’s Image), Star Chief 2, Galboam 3
6 lengths x unknown 28.2
Heat 3 Happy Bachelor (All Comedy x Brown Walsey), Beon 2, Queen Verse 3
4 lengths x unknown 29.2
Puppy Stakes Final
Be Quick, Connie White 2, Bellamaud 3
1 length x 0.5 length 28.6 £25 to the winner