by Dennis McKeon
We all know that Greyhounds love and live to run. What we seldom address, is the difference between running, and the organized, state-regulated activity of racing.
If a Greyhound is to succeed in a big way as a racer, a lot of things have to fall perfectly into place. It seldom happens by accident.
Firstly and foremost, the breeder has to select the “correct” parents. While nearly every available sire is almost certain to have been an outstanding performer on the racetrack, some excellent dams were only moderate performers when racing—but were members of litters where siblings may have performed at a much higher, or world-class level. So the breeder’s intuition and acumen is very important in selecting which females are likely to throw pups who express the best characteristics of “family”, not necessarily her own.
Then the breeder has to determine which bloodline cross is likely to yield the optimal result, taking into consideration not only the results of matings between others who are close relatives, or of similar ancestral background, but of the individual strengths and aptitudes of both prospective sire and dam, and which faults, if any, he would rather not amplify.
To enable this sort of meticulous and painstaking selectivity, and to choose a compatible mate for his female, he has the results of racing competition, upon which to draw.
While he can never be certain that any mating will produce the desired result, the one truism that he can always rely upon, is that “like tends to beget like”.
Greyhounds who possessed blistering early pace, TEND to produce greyhounds who can express similar aptitude, to a greater or lesser degree. Likewise, Greyhounds who displayed an inordinate amount of stamina and the ability to “stay as long as your mother-in-law”, TEND to produce offspring with a similar capacity.
Now the breeder must decide which attributes and aptitudes he would like to enhance, and which faults he would prefer to modify, rectify or entirely eliminate in the offspring.
The conventional wisdom has always been that one should “breed the best to the best, and hope for the best”. Just who has proven themselves to have been “the best” of their generation, is essentially what the head-to-head competition of racing provides for the breeder. The results of racing competitions among Greyhounds are the prism through which each and every breeder evaluates their crucial breeding decisions. It begins by illuminating for breeders, first of all, which Greyhounds, from which Greyhound families, are among the most desirable of breeding prospects.
Desirable breeding prospects are greyhounds who not only expressed super natural speed on the racetrack, but who showed an inordinate amount of desire to lead the pack, or what we traditionally refer to as “heart”. A fast greyhound who has little or no “heart”—desire to lead the pack, irrespective of any adversity he may encounter within a race, such as other dogs who may not be quite so fast, but who have more “heart”—will almost always under-perform his opportunities. A Greyhound who is moderately paced, but who has the unquenchable desire, or the “heart” to lead the pack and to overcome adversity, will often outperform his opportunities.
Additionally, the breeder must take into consideration the athleticism of the prospective parents. A Greyhound who has trouble negotiating a hairpin turn while in traffic, perhaps unsighted of the lure, and/or who lacks the nerve and courage to hold his line while under inside or outside pressure, or both, will have to give up ground and positioning, thus losing all chance of prevailing later in the race.
The ability to achieve fluency with his footwork and stride, when entering a turn, negotiating it, and powering off it onto the straightaway, is not something all greyhounds are born with. Repetition can help a Greyhound learn to perform seamless lead changes in his galloping gait, without losing forward velocity or precious ground to his rivals. But the capacity to cope with congestion, jostling and bumping on a sharp turn at full speed, is, to a significant degree, a matter of inheritance, will and phenotype.
A rangy, narrow, long-legged Greyhound will have more difficulty holding his line and maintaining speed while leaning into a turn, than will a wider-bodied, shorter-limbed Greyhound, who has a lower center of gravity, and a shorter stride. It is while racing around the turns, where the great often separate themselves from the merely very good. Likewise, a nimble and athletic Greyhound of modest ability, can often defeat a less adroit Greyhound, who has superior pace on the straight-aways, by avoiding trouble, and by his ability to thread his way through traffic, without having to slow down or check stride.
On the other hand, a larger, heavier, sturdier greyhound, provided he possesses the will to do so, can employ his size and strength to his advantage in tight spots, by simply powering through them and his rivals.
So the breeder must walk a very fine line when assessing the racing temperament, athletic ability and the physical type of his breeding prospects, to achieve some semblance of equilibrium in their offspring.
In the final analysis, each breeder, whether he realizes it or not, is striving to have his Greyhounds “out-adapt” (or if you prefer, to “out-evolve”) those of his competitors. Those judged and proven to have been the “best” Greyhounds of any generation, are those who are on the cutting edge of adaptation to the function of racing.
The trouble with Greyhound racing, is that it provides a testing and sometimes unforgiving proving ground for breeders’ powers of observation, of their raising and training skills, and of their intuition and acumen.
The beauty of it all, is that furious racing competition assures us that only the most perfectly adapted, physically resilient, and temperamentally well-adjusted Greyhounds have input to the collective gene pool. There are no concessions made to vacuous beauty, to unrealized potential, or to highly subjective interpretations of what racing results have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt.
The end result is a population of Greyhounds that are physically gifted, supremely functional, and well-adjusted enough to make a complete life-transition, from racing athlete to family or personal pet and companion, well beyond their formative stages—and ordinarily, without too much strain, to the sheer delight of their ever-widening audience..