Greyhound Racing Lures and their History
August 7, 2011
Greyhounds were originally brought to North America in the late 1800’s to control the jackrabbit population that was destroying crops in the Midwest. Because of the greyhound’s remarkable speed it wasn’t long before amateur greyhound racing became popular. Most of these races were run in a straight line, with the hounds chasing a lure (artificial prey). The lure was propelled forward ahead of the hounds using a pulley system. More sophisticated pulley systems that can turn corners are still used for amateur coursing today. The lure on these systems is often a white plastic bag.
In 1912, Owen Patrick Smith developed and patented the first mechanical lure in North America that that would run around an oval track. It took a few more years for the lure system to become reliable enough for commercial use, but in 1922 the Miami Kennel Club in Hialeah, Florida, became the first greyhound race track to use this system. Many others followed in the US and on a much smaller scale in Canada.
The lure mechanism has been the subject of invention and patents. Most consist of a motor that runs along a rail with an attached arm that holds an artificial lure. Lures have been suspended on a holder that looks an inverted “L” with the lure attached to the end of the short bar, over the track. Another approach attempted to use a system of lights to mimic the movement of a rabbit ahead of the hounds. Most commonly the lure is attached to a gate-like arm that travels along the track ahead of the hounds. The attached lure looks like a large dog toy in the form of a bone-shaped treat or a bunny.
The photo below by the late Stan Platkin shows how the motors that drive the lures evolved from the 1930s to much later in the century:
(Biscayne Kennel Club closed in 1995.)
Most lures were originally rabbit-shaped, but in the mid-1980’s there was pressure from animal rights groups and some humane societies to change the lure shape because the rabbit shape allegedly implied or even encouraged hound blood lust. Many tracks changed to a bone shaped lure at that time. Certainly it is more intuitive to have an artificial rabbit with a name than it is a bone. As one reporter put it “. . . replaced their mechanical rabbit lure with a dog bone. It enhances the image of the sport, we’re told. But come on – “Here comes the Bone?” “.
Below is a bone-shaped lure from Melbourne Greyhound Park, donated to a recent fundraising auction for greyhound adoption:
Some tracks have used the bone shape ever since, others moved back to the rabbit shape. The rabbit lure below is from Wheeling Downs, and was also donated to a fundraising auction for greyhound adoption:
Lures with No Name
Just before the start of a race the dogs are loaded into numbered boxes, and the lure begins its journey behind them along the rail. As the lure moves ahead of the boxes it is traditional for the announcer to herald its arrival, and a moment later the hounds are released in pursuit.
A couple of tracks, Apache and Phoenix, both in Arizona, chose a rather formal approach to their lures, announcing simply “The lure is in motion”.
Ebro Greyhound Park in Florida is a close second with the slightly less deadpan “Here comes the Bunny”, and the now closed Sodrac Greyhound Park in Sioux City, South Dakota, which had a double lure, announced “Here come the Bunnies”.
Most lures have names that reflect recurring themes – local culture or geography, prominent current or historical figures, the appearance or speed of a rabbit, popular names for pet rabbits, and names from contests that may fit into any category.
Local Culture / Geography
Perhaps the most serendipitous of the lure names in this category is Gusher at the now closed Interstate Kennel Club near Byers, Colorado. Near the end of the facility’s construction in 1970, work began on the tote board. As the crew drilled holes for the support pillars they struck oil – so much oil in fact that a functioning oil rig was a prominent feature at the back of the parking lot.
Rocky was the lure at the Post Time Greyhound Track in Colorado Springs, named for the beautiful mountains just to the west.
Rocky is also the name of the bone-shaped lure at Melbourne Greyhound Park in Florida. The track is located close to the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The county is referred to as the “Space Coast”, and the lure was named in honor of the rockets lifting off nearby.
Breeze was the lure at the Corpus Christi Greyhound Track in Texas. It started out as a rabbit but was changed to a bone shape. Breeze, as far as we know, was named for the light winds blowing in from the nearby Gulf of Mexico.
Foxy seems like an ironic name for a rabbit, however, this was the name of the lure at the Fox Valley Greyhound Park near Kaukauna, Wisconsin. Kaukauna is one of the “Fox Cities” along the Fox River in north-eastern Wisconsin. We believe the lure and the track were both named for the nearby Fox Cities and for the river that runs through the area.
There are two theories about how Bucky at the Geneva Lakes Greyhound Track in Delavan, Wisconsin got his name. One, he was named after the mascot for the University of Wisconsin Badgers, the other, that he was named after the Indian mascot for the Lake Lawn Lodge which was located next to the track, and at one time was owned by the same company.
Whether or not he started out this way we don’t know, but Bucky was shaped like a bone.
Lincoln Greyhound Park, later renamed Twin River, is located in Rhode Island. Rhody was named for the State.
Although many people refer to Seabrook Greyhound Park, the official name was Yankee Greyhound Park. Sometimes the two were blended into Seabrook’s Yankee Greyhound Park. The park was built and owned by Yankee Greyhound Racing Inc.
It seems likely that Yankee, the lure, was named for the park and its owner. The term Yankee is popular in New England in reflection of its heritage, and Yankee references abound. The famous Yankee Flyer built during the Great Depression, or the power plant near the greyhound park run by New Hampshire Yankee are but two examples.
The plant and the greyhound park were connected by an event in 1988. A chemical plant fire in the area caused the evacuation of nearby trailer park residents to the greyhound park. The fire had nothing to do with the power plant, which was under construction at the time, but it prompted questions about how quickly residents could be evacuated in the event of an accident at the power plant.
The lure at the Shoreline Star Greyhound Park near Bridgeport, Connecticut was charmingly named Zephyr. Derived from Zephyrus, Greek god of the west wind, a zephyr is a gentle breeze, or more metaphorically, something light and airy. We speculate that Zephyr was named for the breezes coming from Long Island Sound (although technically those would be easterly breezes) or for the beauty of the racing greyhounds in full flight.
The lure at Tucson Greyhound Park in Tucson, Arizona is El Tusón, reflecting the Spanish pronunciation of the city’s name. El Tusón began life as an artificial rabbit, but was changed in the 1980’s to a bone, and then later back to a rabbit shape. In more recent times he was definitely the “bad hair” lure – pun intended – as a mop-head was attached to the lure arm. From the hounds’ point of view this was completely appealing, but some observers with a sense of humor thought the usual here comes “that rascally rabbit El Tusón ”or “that boundin’ bunny El Tusón” would benefit from a little tweaking to – “that jolly janitorial item El Tusón” or “that marvellous mop El Tusón”.
Harley was the lure at Valley Greyhound Park in Harlingen, Texas. Harlingen was named after a town in the Netherlands, and Harley was named for his home town.
See also Harley under contests.
The town of Topsfield in Essex County, Massachusetts holds a fair every year – claimed to be the oldest fair in the US. When nearby Wonderland Greyhound Park was operating, the fair would hold a 10 day race meet right after the Park closed for the season. The rabbit-shaped lure at the Topsfield Fair was Topsy, named for the town and the fair.
“Here comes Woody” was the announcer’s call at The Woodlands greyhound park in Kansas City, Kansas. Woody started out as a mechanical rabbit, was changed to a bone, and eventually changed back to a rabbit before the track closed in 2008. “Woody’s Walk”, a fun and fundraising event in support of greyhound adoption was held annually beginning in 1991.
The Woodlands itself was named for the beautiful oak, hickory and sycamore woodlands found in Wyandotte County where the track is located.
The Lodge at Belmont (Belmont Greyhound Park) was located in New Hampshire very close to Lake Winnipesaukee. Winnie the “wabbitt” was named after the lake.
Gulf Greyhound Park is located in LaMarque, Texas. Marky is named in tribute to his home town. Unrelated but charming fact: when it opened in 1992 Gulf required semi-formal attire, a dress code that has since been relaxed.
Hollywood Greyhound Park in Florida originally called their lure Hollywood, but later renamed it to Dixie. We aren’t sure why, perhaps because the track is located just off the Dixie Highway.
Sparky was the lure at Pueblo Greyhound Park in Colorado. When the Park opened in 1949 the principal local employers were steel and iron manufacturing, which generate plenty of sparks!
Ozzie, in honor of the Wizard of Oz, was the lure at Wichita Greyhound Park in Kansas. As far as we know Ozzie did not wear red shoes, if for no other reason than Ozzie was shaped like a bone.
Current / Historical Figures
The rabbit lure at the long closed Coeur d’Alene Greyhound Park in Post Falls, Idaho, was named after Hilde Kellogg, a long-serving and very well respected legislator in North Idaho.
The bone-shaped lure at Dubuque Greyhound Park in Iowa was given a name for the first time in 2011. In keeping with local history, the lure was named Julien in honor of Julien Dubuque who founded the town. Feedback from the community on this choice has been very positive making it likely Julien is there to stay!
Dubuque lure trivia: In 1985 the lure machinery malfunctioned during a race and a hound by the name of Honored Roman caught the lure. According to a newspaper report at the time “Honored Roman . . . was one happy guy . . . ”.
Casey, the lure at Mobile Greyhound Park in Alabama was named in honor of Maurice “Casey” Downing (1917 – 1985), a war veteran, philanthropist, lawyer and legislator who worked hard to bring greyhound racing to Mobile. Following is a news clipping about the new-and-improved Casey:
Buddy is the lure at the National Greyhound Association (NGA) track in Abilene, Kansas. He is named after Bud Rosch, a long-time NGA board member and greyhound enthusiast, who at 90 has the distinction of being the oldest NGA member. According to Gary Guccione, NGA Executive Director, Buddy was given his name by Bill Janecek, a veteran announcer known as the “Voice of the NGA”.
There was a pub in Plainfield, Connecticut that was so popular the lure at Plainfield Greyhound Park was named for its owner Ikey. One can imagine that winners went to Ikey’s following the races for a celebratory beverage and lively discussion of the greyhounds’ performances that day.
Ikey was also the star of very amusing advertising cartoons for the track:
The Chief at Raynham Park in Massachusetts is a name with long historical roots. The park was operated by the Massasoit Greyhound Association, and located near the Hockamock Swamp. The Wampanoag Indians lived along the swamp years before and called it “The place where spirits dwell”. Their Chief Massasoit was an important friend to the pilgrims and without him the Plymouth Colony might not have survived. The Chief was named in honor of Massasoit and the 7/16th course was called the “Hockamock Course”.
Raynham bought out the nearby Taunton track in 1981. Taunton’s lure was called Rusty, and going forward at the Raynham-Taunton Greyhound Park the lure was called The Chief from January through June, and Rusty the rest of the year.
See The Colonel under Contests.
Quincy / Wishbone / Richie
The lure at Victoryland, near Shorter in Alabama began its career as Richie though we don’t know why that name was chosen. In 1992 Richie became Wishbone as a result of a contest, and assumed a bone shape. On New Year’s Eve 2010, a ceremony was held at trackside to retire Wishbone and introduce Quincy. Quincy is one of the nicknames for Victoryland owner Milton McGregor.
Napoleon reigned in recent times as the lure at Waterloo Greyhound Park in Iowa. His name was chosen in recognition of the last battle fought by Napoleon Bonaparte at Waterloo against a coalition of forces lead by the Duke of Wellington. We imagine that Napoleon was not a bunny to be trifled with.
Rabbit Appearance / References
Rusty seems to be a favorite rabbit name – probably a reference to the color of bunnies many of us see in the backyard. Ironically, in literature Rusty has been a fox and a coyote, both rabbit predators.
It has also been suggested that the squeaking sound made by the lure as it travels resembles the sound something rusty would make. In Australia Rusty is referred to as the “tin hare”.
Miami Beach Kennel Club in Florida had, hands-down, the most distinguished Rusty. He was the star of edgy, popular advertising cartoons drawn by Florida artist Crawford Parker (1894–1947), each of which concluded with a predicted winner. Only one or two originals of these cartoons are known to have been preserved and they are not available to view online.
It is possible to view some of these cartoons in the Miami Daily News online archives. Here are three of many examples:
According to his family Rusty liked to travel, and his wanderings led him to San Mateo, California, where the following cartoon appeared in a local paper:
Although not lure-related, Crawford Parker did other artwork for the greyhound parks, including this 1938 program cover image for Jacksonville:
Rusty / BB
The lure at now closed Biscayne Kennel Club near Miami, Florida was at one time called Rusty, and at another BB, presumably the first letters of Biscayne Bay. We don’t know when the lure had which name.
Other Rusty lures travel the rail at:
- Multnomah Greyhound Park, in Portland, Oregon, where Rusty was initially shaped like a rabbit with red plastic beads for eyes, as was common on stuffed toys in the 1950s. His approach would be announced with the words “Rusty is ready”. Rusty was changed to a bone shaped lure in the mid-eighties.
Until 1987 Rusty was carried along an outside rail at Multnomah, instead of the more usual inside rail.
- Jefferson County Kennel Club near Monticello, Florida where a single Rusty endures the entire season, shored up by duct tape first-aid.
- Mile High Kennel Club, located near Denver, Colorado, where Rusty started out as a rabbit but was transformed into a bone in 1984. Rusty the rabbit was featured in advertising cartoons for Mile High printed in the Racing Record, such as the two below:
- Orange Park Kennel Club (Jacksonville Greyhound Racing) in Florida where, instead of the usual “Here comes Rusty” the announcer says “There goes Rusty”.
- Palm Beach Kennel Club in Florida until 1983 when Rusty’s shape was changed to a bone. Coincident with this change a contest was held to name the new lure, and Wishbone was chosen from among the submissions. According to reports at the time, the new name never really sounded right, and the track quietly returned to the name Rusty.
- Tampa Greyhound Track in Florida, and Southland Greyhound Park in Arkansas.
- Taunton Greyhound Park until 1981 when the track was bought out by nearby Raynham Park. See The Chief under Current / Historical Figures.
Smitty is the bone shaped lure at the Birmingham Race Course in Birmingham, Alabama, but we don’t know how Smitty got his name.
The Bonita Springs / Naples Fort Myers Greyhound Park calls their lure Sparky. This is a common name for pet rabbits, though we aren’t sure when or why it was chosen at this track.
Other incarnations include Sparky in Local Culture / Geography.
Whizmo was the lure at the Cloverleaf Greyhound Park near Loveland, Colorado. Perhaps Whizmo was a made-up word meaning “fast gizmo”.
Sparky and Spunky
The twin lures at Tri-State Greyhound Park (Mardi Gras) are rabbits called Sparky and Spunky. We don’t know why twin lures are used, or how they got their names.
In earlier days the lure at Flagler Greyhound Park (Magic City) near Miami, Florida, was known as Rusty. However, at some later date he was rechristened Speedy, both for keeping ahead of the hounds, and reflecting what every watching enthusiast wishes their favourite hound to be.
The Green Mountain Race Track near Pownal, Vermont has been closed for some time, but we speculate the name Frosty was chosen for the lure in part because it was a white cloth (meant to look like a rabbit) and perhaps because of the cold frosty winters in that part of the US (although the hounds did not race from November through April).
We haven’t found any history for Swifty’s name at the Sanford-Orlando track in Florida, but one can imagine that speed has something to do with it.
Swifty is also the bone-shaped lure at the Pensacola Greyhound Track in Florida, and at the now closed Wonderland Greyhound Park in Massachusetts. We have an image from Wonderland showing Swifty in the upper right hand corner. The text, which is hard to read, says “Pat Dalton comes up with another Irish superstar”.
Harvey aka Catchum aka Hambone
The lure at now-closed Seminole Greyhound Park in Casselberry, Florida could be forgiven for having an identity crisis. When the track opened in 1980 Harvey was the artificial rabbit the hounds chased.
Harvey was “muzzled to death” by competing greyhounds in June of 1985, and his replacement, also a rabbit, was named Catchum, presumably what the hounds were meant to do.
Although we have not been able to verify this, we are told that subsequently Catchum became Hambone, and at the same time assumed the shape of a bone.
In 1986 a contest was held at the Bluffs Run Greyhound Park in Iowa to name the rabbit lure. The winning name was Lucky for any hound fortunate enough to catch it, and for attendees with winning bets.
We don’t know how Lucky at the Daytona Beach Track was named. We do know Daytona’s Lucky started out as a rabbit shaped lure. There is a 1988 newspaper article describing how, during a power outage, the racing hounds caught up with the lure and tore it to shreds. Apparently the track foresaw this possibility and had Lucky understudies in the wings.
We don’t know when, but some time later the lure form was changed to one or more bone shapes.
Lucky was also the lure at the Volusia County Kennel Club in Florida and was shaped like a rabbit. Here is a photo from 1952:
Harley was the name of the lure driver at the Calida Greyhound Track in Alberta, Canada. A rabbit dressed in biker gear and riding a motorcycle, Harley was named in a contest whose proceeds were donated to the local Lions Club.
Although Harley has mellowed in appearance over the years, it is easy to understand how the contestant came up with the name. Following is a photo of biker Harley, driving the lure:
When it opened, Dairyland Greyhound Park near Kenosha, Wisconsin had a nameless lure. About 6 months later a new manager held a children’s contest to name the lure. The winner was Barney, in honor of the agricultural heritage of the state, and in particular, the Dairyland building which was built to resemble a barn, including silos.
Barney started out as a bone-shaped lure but may have subsequently been changed to a bunny.
The lure at the Dells Greyhound Park in Wisconsin was named Hare-ington via a contest held in the Wisconsin State Journal. The Dells track was the first to open in Wisconsin – there was a great deal of public interest and the winner of the contest received a lifetime pass to the track.
The Derby Lane Track near St Petersburg, Florida held a “name that lure” contest in conjunction with its 75th anniversary celebrations, and the committee of judges chose Harrison Hare, who has been chased by greyhounds ever since.
The Colonel at Hinsdale Greyhound Park in Hinsdale, New Hampshire, was named after Colonel Ebenezer Hinsdale who built a fort and a gristmill on Ash Swamp Brook in 1742. Approximately 11 years later, the town was named Hinsdale. The track changed over from harness racing to greyhound racing in 1973, and held a contest to name the lure.
Wishbone at the St. Croix Meadows greyhound park near Hudson, Wisconsin was named in time for the track’s opening night, when the hounds were paraded by lead-outs dressed in tuxedos.
The name, one of over 4,000 contest entries, was submitted by a retired carpenter who, according to an article in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, chose it because “I figured everybody wished at one time or another that their dog would catch the bone . . . Then I thought a little more and realized that the first three letters, w-i-s, are the first three letters in Wisconsin, too”.
He admitted to not submitting his wife’s entry, Meadow Lark, as he did not want the competition. Apparently it was safe to make this confession after winning, perhaps during the sumptuous dinner provided by the track for the couple and their friends, who also received a lifetime pass to the track. His wife’s reaction to this disclosure was not recorded.
“And Spunky’s in motion” goes back to 1976 when Wheeling Downs Greyhound Park in West Virginia sponsored a contest and Spunky was the winning name. The track held a special event at which the winning name was announced and an award presented to the winner.
Spunky was a rabbit until the late eighties when he assumed a bone shape. However, as was the case at several other tracks, the bone lure lacked a certain something, and reverted to rabbit form in about the mid-nineties. In fact, on the premise that more is better, Spunky became a double rabbit lure toward the end of that decade and remains so to this day.
Spunky trivia: In 1984 consideration was given to changing the lure name to Harvey after a local restaurant called Harvey’s 1818 with which the track had an advertising agreement. In the end Spunky prevailed, and Harvey, who appeared as a caricature on a bicycle on the back of the racing program, did not replace Spunky as the lure. It might have been an interesting lure – here is a photo of Harvey on a high-wheeler:
The Mists of Time
We don’t know what the lure at Hialeah Park was called and wish we did as the track has such a colorful history. It was the first commercially successful track to install Owen Patrick Smith’s mechanized lure, and the first to offer night racing. It was located in an area of Florida historically called Humbuggus, and due to its proximity to the Everglades, required a full time snake catcher on staff (the snakes particularly favored a lake on the infield). Hialeah was also a place that in its glory days was said to have a Gatsby sort of elegance.
The initial lure was purportedly the size of an antelope and weighed 1,700 pounds!
Odds and Ends
100 kph Bunny
According to a 1981 article from a Sydney, Australia newspaper, when an electronic rabbit shaped lure was introduced at Gunnedah, a 92 year old nun by the name of Sister Mary Baptist test-drove the lure. She is reported to have been “amazed that at the touch of a finger she could make an oversized rabbit bound along”.
What Color is your Rabbit
In New Zealand and Australia, in addition to white lures, bunnies have appeared in red, orange, brown, blue and any other color fancied by the track.
What are the Odds
A 1953 Palm Beach Post article reports that Rusty the rabbit lure at Havana Greyhound Park in Cuba was damaged when “an air force fighter crashed into the infield of the greyhound track, tearing up a large section of the rail and the mechanism which operates the lure”.
The Accidental Lure
During a July 2010 race in Australia a live hare wandered onto the track during a race – and hastily left with a quick-witted and very enthusiastic Ginny Lou in pursuit. All other hounds in the race continued to chase the artificial lure. The hare was never found and is presumed to have left the property for good.
Several Youtube videos of the scene are available. Viewers will note the artificial lure is red in color.
This article was made possible by racing enthusiasts who generously shared their knowledge, anecdotes, and memorabilia. Thank you for your gifts of time, information and patience when I departed on interesting tangents.
Much of the lure history goes back decades and there are gaps. If any reader has additional information to share, please include it in the Comments section and we will incorporate it.
Please let us know about any updates or corrections.