A Simple Primer On How Racing Works in the USA
Copyright 2014 by Dennis McKeon
It never dawned on me that many people who have adopted retired racing greyhounds, donʼt entirely understand how racing works.
Of course, it starts with the greyhounds themselves, and the people who breed them. Racing greyhounds are all registered with the National Greyhound Association, of which their breeders are members.
There are some breeders who keep and control very large colonies of breeding females and sires, and who raise hundreds of greyhounds each year. There are others who have much more modest operations, and there are others, still, for whom breeding is not the sole source of their income, and who may have second careers, apart from racing.
Some breeders have contracts to race at certain tracks, and breed mainly to supply their own racing enterprises. There are others who donʼt have racing enterprises, and who breed to “lease” their dogs to a racing kennel(s), which may or may not be a subsidiary of another breeding operation.
The typical leasing agreement is 35% to the kennel, 35% to the owner, with the rest kept by the kennel for training services, upkeep and veterinary costs. Owners do not pay a weekly or monthly fee to the kennels they race with.
Twice a year the NGA holds a competition for sapling greyhounds, who are almost ready to go to the racetrack and begin their careers--after which an auction takes place. People who are not breeders, as well as breeders, can bid on any greyhound they like, and if they are the highest bidder, they purchase that greyhound for themselves. They may have their own racing enterprise, or they might be an independent owner. It does not matter.
All racing greyhounds are owned by either a racing kennel, a group, or by individuals.
The racetracks do not own the greyhounds.
The racetracks simply contract kennels to supply them with greyhounds, and ordinarily provide housing space on premises, for which the kennel ordinarily pays to rent/utilities as part of the deal. When a kennel owner signs a contract to race at a track, he/she guarantees that they will keep an “active list”—which is a mandated number of greyhounds, fit for racing at all times. Failure to sustain that active list can be cause for the track to revoke the kennelʼs contract to race.
So the kennels are responsible for providing the greyhounds, and the tracks provide the kennel space, security and the racing venue—the racetrack itself.
It is the job of the racetrack management to actually manage the racetrack and the racetrack surface, as well as the lure, and whatever outbuildings there are for the dogs. The kennels have no access to the racetrack, other than to provide greyhounds to race on it. The racetrack management is also the entity who promotes and advertises what they offer—or not.
The racetrack also handles all the money the public wagers on the races. Here in the US, we use the Pari-Mutuel system of wagering, where all wagered monies are pooled, and where the public bets against one another. The racetrack has no interest in whether you win or lose your bets, they simply handle the pools, sell the tickets, and pay out to those who hold winning tickets after the race is official. The more money that is wagered, the more money the tracks, kennels and states make.
The odds you see on the tote board, reflect what they call the “takeout”. They are not fixed, and they fluctuate as betting ensues. The “takeout” is a pre-deducted percentage of each dollar wagered, from which the track, the kennels and the state derive their income. The takeout is split—usually unevenly—among the track, the state and the aggregate kennels, with the larger percentages ordinarily taken by the state and track.
The state is the regulatory authority. They inspect the kennels and the racetracks, via appointed Racing Commission or other Gaming Commission officials called “judges”, and the office of the state veterinarian--who usually consults with the track veterinarian on matters of greyhound well being. The racing judges have the right to fine and suspend, via commission hearings, for any alleged rule-breaking, either on the part of the tracks, their employees, the kennels, and their employees and associates, the latter of whom are those persons who own dogs which are leased to a kennel.
The greyhound trainers all work for the kennels. They are not track employees, and they are licensed by the state. The “trainer of record”--the one listed in the racing program--is the legal “sole insurer” of the dogs in his kennel. Which simply means he is the responsible party for seeing to it that all rules, welfare protocols, environmental mandates and procedures are followed, to a “T”.
The Racing Secretary is employed by the track, and he is the person who “cards” the racing performances, draws up the races, and insures the impartiality of competition, and the drawing of post-positions.
The track General Manager and/or Director of Racing is the person who sets the agenda at the racetrack, and who can ultimately exert great influence over which kennels will have their contracts renewed, which might be told to move on, and which kennels might replace them.
In the late 1800s, the greyhound was imported to America to help Midwestern farmers control the jackrabbit, a noted crop destroyer. With the advent of the greyhound in America, coursing events soon followed.
Greyhound track racing, as we know it today, began with Owen Patrick Smith’s invention of a mechanical lure around 1912, which made racing around a circular track possible. The first circular track opened in 1919 in Emeryville, California. Although this track was not very successful, it paved the way for the development of the greyhound racing industry in America.
History has proven that the greyhound is an animal born to run. They were originally bred as hunting dogs because of their speed. To run is the fulfillment of a greyhound’s basic instinct. Greyhounds by nature are gentle and have always had a strong relationship with humans. The breeding and training of greyhounds is an extension of the human/animal relationship established thousands of years ago.
Greyhound racing is recognized as one of the nation’s largest spectator sports. It is legal in 16 states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Oregon and South Dakota do not conduct “live” greyhound racing activities at this time.
USA distances are easy, since most of USA tracks are cookie cutter quarter mile ovals.
This places the 550 yard box in a chute beyond the top of the homestretch.
USA track surfaces are generally much deeper and looser than those of the better tracks in IRE and the UK, and the turns are sharper than on the galloping tracks there.
So times for our tracks seem slow by comparison.
Our 3/8ths or 660 yard races, place the starting box in a chute which is angled from outside of it, to the main track, near the end of the backstretch. The dogs have to contend with the far turn for the first time, shortly after they break. So they run from that box into the turn, down the homestretch, around the curtain turn at the end of that stretch, onto the backstretch again, around the far turn, and then down the homestretch once more, to the finish wire.
Our 770 yard races begin at the start of the backstretch, or just beyond it. The dogs run straight down the entire length of the backstretch, around the far turn, then down the homestretch, around the curtain turn, down the backstretch again, around the far turn once more, and down the homestretch to the wire.
OK...the homestretch, if you are standing at the finish wire, is the straightaway right in front of you. The curtain turn is the turn to your right, the far turn is the one to your left. The backstretch is the opposing straightaway to the homestretch.
Ocean (mid) 3/8 (670 yards 660? 2010ft?) (603 meters)
Lincoln (marathon) 7/16 (776 yards) (710meters)
Mile (sprint)5/16 (550 yards)( 503 meters)
3/16 of a mile = 300meters
- Daytona Beach Kennel Club, Daytona Beach
- Flagler Greyhound Track, Miami
- Hollywood Greyhound Park, Hallandale
- Jacksonville Kennel Club, Jacksonville
- Jefferson County Kennel Club, Monticello
- Melbourne Greyhound Park, Melbourne
- Naples-Ft. Myers Greyhound Track, Bonita Springs
- Orange Park Kennel Club, Orange Park
- Palm Beach Kennel Club, West Palm Beach
- Pensacola Greyhound Track, Pensacola
- St. Johns Greyhound Park, Jacksonville
- St. Petersburg Kennel Club, St. Petersburg
- Sanford-Orlando Kennel Club, Longwood
- Sarasota Kennel Club, Sarasota
- Tampa Greyhound Park, Tampa
- Ebro Greyhound Park, Ebro