Coursing remains the ultimate test of a greyhound. Although other breeds such as whippets, deerhounds, salukis, afghans and lurchers can be said to “course”, greyhounds remain the most important coursing dog. The name “greyhound”, which certainly has nothing to do with colour, may be a corruption of “gazehound”.
In the 19th century the tremendous popularity of coursing with all strata of society saw enormous investment in the perfection of the breed. In 1882 the National Coursing Club created the original Greyhound Stud Book, which it has administered ever since. From that date the breed was “closed”. All greyhounds running on the coursing field and later on the track had to be registered in a Stud Book.
The intense competition of Victorian coursing produced a remarkable creature with classic looks, dazzling speed, and bottomless courage. All the greyhounds running today on track and field in Britain, Ireland, America and Australia trace directly to Waterloo Cup winners of the past like Farndon Ferry.
Many of today’s track stars come from very recent coursing families, thus preserving the greyhound’s determination to chase even an artificial lure.
Only two dogs are slipped at a time. As the hare enters the running ground they are held by the slipper, a trained official licensed by the National Coursing Club. Only when the slipper is satisfied that the hare is in a fit condition to have a chance of escape, and only when the hare is at least 100 yards in front of him, does he release the dogs.
The judge follows the course on horseback and awards each dog, which wears a distinguishing red or white collar, points for speed and for the ability to make the hare turn to evade its pursuers. Coursing stakes are simple knock-out competitions, and the winners progress through each round until a final of two dogs remains. Thus, to win the 64-runner Waterloo Cup, a greyhound will run six times over the three days of the meeting.
An average course lasts 35-40 seconds in which time a greyhound can cover a third of a mile. Hares have greater stamina than the greyhounds, and the dogs’ initial speed advantage is soon overcome since with a 100 yard slip it will be about 350 yards before the greyhound reaches the hare. A hare weighing 10-12 lbs can turn in its own length while a greyhound weighing six or seven times as much will invariably overshoot.
As the dogs only chase by sight, once the hare has escaped the dogs will pull up and the course is over. Under the Rules of the National Coursing Club coursing may not take place in an artificially enclosed ground. At some grounds, like those over which the Waterloo Cup is run, special refuges called “soughs” are installed to aid the hares’ escape.
The object of coursing under National Coursing Rules is to test greyhounds, not to kill hares. The rules of coursing are designed specifically to assist the hare to escape. In an average season, seven out of eight hares coursed escape.
In nearly every case of a hare being brought down, death is instantaneous. Even so the Rules insist on four “dispatchers” in a place of vantage whose function is to ensure that a hare brought down is dispatched immediately if not already dead.
Please note that under the Hunting Act 2004, all forms of coursing, including Coursing under NCC Rules, are illegal and therefore all references to coursing refer to coursing before the Act came into force.