A Coursing Holiday in Merry Olde England

by John Parker

       The news came to most over the Internet on November 18, 2004, and even though it was expected – even dreaded — it was still like cold water in the face. The House of Commons in England had invoked the Parliament Act to override the House of Lords’ veto and pass into law the Hunting Act, banning foxhunting and coursing in England as of February 18, 2005. For years, the pessimists had been saying that coursing was living on borrowed time, while the optimists took heart and said that coursing had always managed to survive multiple attacks over the years. Now, it seemed, the borrowed time predicted by the pessimists had run out.

One of the questions foremost in the minds of coursing enthusiasts everywhere was, “Will the Waterloo Cup still be run ?” The coursing classic had traditionally been run the last week of February, but of course that would put it past the effective date of the ban. In short order, the Waterloo Cup Committee announced that the meeting would be moved forward a week and held February 14 – 16.

Upon hearing this news, my wife Laura and I had some decisions to make, and there was not a moment to spare. A February trip to England for the Waterloo Cup every year had become a treasured tradition, and we were not about to miss what some felt might well be the last one. But now the new dates for the Waterloo Cup placed it just one week after the Anglia Cup, the other 64 Greyhound stake of British coursing. If this may be the last of British coursing that we see, we thought, why not go for both and stay for two weeks ? Quick calls were made to Delta Airlines and to our British friends the Strunins to see if there might be “room at the inn” in Lincolnshire, and before we could change our minds, flights were booked, a rental car was arranged, and “reservations” were made at that inn. We were set, and now the “anticipation stage” could begin.

That anticipation built as we learned that Jane Strunin would likely have two of her dogs, Whip and Minnie, running in the Anglia Cup. A dog of her breeding named Basso Profondo, now owned by her friend Elspeth Stott, was burning up the coursing fields in his puppy season, and was likely to get a nomination for the Waterloo Cup. The most exciting news came a couple of weeks later during some e-mail correspondence with Cup Secretary Diana Brodie: an American Greyhound had been nominated – the first ever —  and would I be willing to answer her owner’s questions about the differences in American coursing and British coursing and what to expect at Altcar ? Naturally, I jumped at the chance to play a small role in this history-making entry. I made contact with Cindi Allen in Washington State, gave her a short course on the British version of the sport, and sent her some video of past Waterloo Cups. We had many subsequent phone conversations, and slowly I could tell that it was beginning to sink in on Cindi  just what she had gotten herself and her dog, Cashel’s Evening (“Evie”), into. I had a feeling it was going to be an interesting Waterloo Cup !

We arrived in Manchester on Sunday, February 6th after an overnight flight from Atlanta, picked up the rental van, and made the three hour drive to the Strunins’ home in Lincolnshire. Jet lagged, we had just enough time eat supper and meet the new Greyhounds before hitting the hay – an early departure for the Anglia Cup was planned for the next morning.

The Anglia Cup is hosted by the Swaffham Coursing Club, the world’s oldest coursing club, founded in 1776 by Lord Orford. Like all Greyhound coursing meetings in England, it has an entry limit, in this case 64 dogs. In order to run a dog in a coursing club’s meeting, one must be a “running member” of the club. In the event that the member owners of more than 64 dogs wish to enter their dogs, the names of the hopefuls are drawn, with the first 64 drawn getting the entry. Several dogs are drawn as “reserve,” which means that they are entered in the meeting if any of the first 64 are withdrawn on the morning of the first day. Because so many members were trying to get in all the coursing they could before the ban, the entry was well over-subscribed, so a secondary competition, the Hilborough Cup, was created to handle the overflow.

Greyhound coursing in England is run as brace elimination – the dogs are all run in braces, in a “knock out” competition. In the bigger meetings like the Anglia Cup and the Waterloo Cup, the dogs who lose in the first round go into the Purse consolation bracket, and the dogs who lose in the second round go into the Plate bracket.

The first day of the Anglia Cup was held on the Van Cutsem estate near Swaffham. Although it has the same entry size as the Waterloo Cup, the Anglia Cup is more of a “regular” coursing meeting – the spectator gallery is smaller, there are no vendors, and no porta-potties ! The Swaffham club prides itself on its running grounds, which have plenty of hares and wide fields with less cover, making for more work and longer courses. The field on the first day was wheat stubble, which was fairly soft and yielding. Cover consisting of  tall grass or maize was to be found on each end. Hares were first driven from the western side of the field, and after the usual slow start came through the cover fast and furious.

Jane’s dog Whip enjoyed a bit of luck when his opponent, Big Raymond, was unsighted in the run-up, and though he subsequently caught sight of the hare, could not make up the point deficit, giving the flag to Whip.  Minnie did not have such luck, and was led 6 lengths in the run-up by the ironically-named Slow Away, who made a quick kill and sealed his win.

Many of the hares eschewed the cover at the ends of the field and ran around the ends of the spectator galleries flanking the field, making for some up-close spectating opportunities but long retrievals by owners and trainers. There were in fact plenty of hares, and two rounds were completed by 3:00. ( Whip lost his second round, thereby going into the Plate competition).

The second day was run in nearby Narborough, first on a massive field of recently drilled winter wheat. The sprigs of wheat had not yet begun to spread out, so the footing was primarily a fine plough with some flint and other stones in the dirt. The weather was overcast with occasional misting rain, making the ground quite soft. That kept the flints from cutting feet, as under those soft conditions, they tended to be pushed into the ground when stepped on. The only cover was woodland at the far end of the field, which many of the hares made for straightaway, resulting in run-ups as long as 300 yards.

This Anglia Cup had the highest attendance in the history of the meeting, because, like us, the Brits wanted to see as much coursing as possible before the ban took effect. We renewed acquaintances with people we had met in previous years at the Waterloo Cup, and found that many people were curious about this American Greyhound that had come from nowhere to get a returned nomination from the Committee. John Bromiley, one of the trainers, asked us for the “skinny” on Evie, and said that everyone was hoping to draw her in the first round of the Waterloo Cup, as that would be the equivalent of a bye. He later would eat some humble pie for that remark !

To ensure that there were plenty of hares, we moved short distances twice on the second day, first to a grassed pasture across a farm road from the first field, and then to a third field just north of the first field. The hares were both strong and plentiful, making for some long courses that took the dogs and Judge Bob Burdon far from the coursing lane. On the third field, the judge was challenged to get back into position from a previous course before another hare came through and the dogs were slipped. We finished in good order about 2:00. Luck was not with the Strunins’ dogs that day, as both were beaten in their Purse and Plate rounds.

The third and final day of the Anglia Cup was run on a grassed pasture near Hilborough.  It was a few degrees colder, and a stiff wind blew most of the day, making this the coldest coursing day we experienced on this trip. The beat was deployed in an unconventional way, whereby the hares were to be driven from an adjacent field that ran parallel to the coursing field and then “bent” around by flankers onto the coursing lane. The wind shifted before the first hare was up, such that the hares would be running into the wind, something they don’t like to do. This made for some quite short run-ups, as the hares would often reverse direction at the first turn, occasionally making for the cover of an orchard beyond the parked cars. This caused a few gasps from owners and trainers as the dogs would run full tilt toward the cars after the hare, “threading the needle” between cars, but all ran smart and there were no vehicle-Greyhound collisions. After a few of these near squeaks, the coursing lane was shifted 100 yards or so, and the hares ran more conventionally after that.

Two courses on that final day were most memorable, and both involved the amazing agility of the hare. In a run for the Plate, a single Greyhound running a bye made a diving take at the end of the run-up. The hare continued to struggle, and as the Greyhound loosened her hold momentarily to get a better grip, the hare leapt free, and ran off strongly, leaving the bewildered Greyhound to wonder what had happened. In a semi-final run for the Purse, the hare apparently stumbled in a dip in the field during the  run-up and went tumbling. It looked like dogs would be upon her in short order, but she came up running and left the Greyhounds, who had slowed for a take, in the proverbial dust.

Two of the four dogs in the semi-finals for the Anglia Cup were owned by Sir Mark Prescott, the dean of the British coursing community who is credited with bringing the Waterloo Cup back from near extinction in the early 1980’s. The two dogs, Tarrytown and Judicial Smokey, were run by different trainers, Terry Richmond and Cliff Standing, as Prescott likes to spread his training business around the trainer community.

I had the good fortune to stand to watch the last runs with Waterloo Cup slipper Arron Atmore, who was there helping top trainers John and Jackie Teal with their charges. (They had a mere 10 dogs running in the Anglia Cup, as opposed to the 17 they would bring to the Waterloo Cup). Arron had been “recruited” onto one of our Greyhound discussion lists, so it was good to finally meet him in the flesh and hear his comments about the final runs and his analysis of the behavior of the hares that day. He had already been in touch with Cindi Allen, and was looking forward to meeting her and Evie at the Withins Sunday to practice Evie in double slips.

Mark Prescott was not to have luck on his side that day, as both his dogs were beaten in short courses in the semi-finals for the Cup. In the finals for the Anglia Purse, The Tinkerman beat Woolianna with a long lead in a short course of 28 seconds. In the Plate, it was Broadley Speaking over Might Be Right. The Anglia Cup was won by Fionntra Henry, who defeated Hot Gossip, trained by the Teals. This victory was met with enthusiasm  by many in the gallery, as the winner was owned and handled by Pakistani Muhammed Ramzan and his family, longtime coursing supporters who are known for bringing out good dogs but who had yet to win a “big one”.

The presentations ceremony featured a contrast of the viewpoints on the future of coursing in England held by members of the coursing community. Swaffham Coursing Club president Mike Darnell made a nostalgic speech about the people present who had made significant contributions to coursing over the years and referred a couple of times to “the last Anglia Cup.” National Coursing Club chairman Sally Merison, on the other hand, made a rousing pep talk, urging owners to leave their dogs with their trainers for the present pending the legal challenges to the ban and the work of the NCC to work out a way to continue coursing under the new law. Some in the coursing community have felt that the NCC had not been pro-active enough in the fight against the ban and was now being too mysterious about plans for the future.

The Anglia Cup had been a great three days of Greyhound coursing, and now it was time to see some Whippet coursing. Another discussion list friend, Gay Robertson, had arranged for us to go to the East Anglian Whippet Coursing Club’s Championship Meeting near Norwich, a driven meeting featuring two 16-dog stakes. We found that Whippet coursing is a slightly more participatory sport than Greyhound coursing. While there are paid beaters working under a gamekeeper, spectators and owners (all of whom handle their own dogs) are pressed into service as flankers to form the coursing lanes. We learned quickly that Whippets in British coursing have the same degree of stamina that Whippets in American lure coursing do, making for long courses as the Whippets chased the hares over hill and dale, and often pursued them into the forest bordering the plough on which the meeting was run. The Whippets are also more reluctant than the Greyhounds to give up a killed hare, and several courses ended with a Whippet eluding the handlers and pickers-up with a hare nearly its size held firmly in its mouth. Though the judges are mobile as in Greyhound coursing, the judge for this meeting was not a horseman, so he rode an ATV. Other than those few differences, we found that Whippet coursing is much like Greyhound coursing, and the people (some of whom, like Gay, are also involved with Greyhounds) are every bit as welcoming and sportsmanlike.

There was to be no rest for the weary, as the next day Jane had us set up to have a pub lunch near Cambridge with several coursing enthusiasts representing several breeds and hold a discussion about getting competitive lure coursing started in Britain if the ban sticks. Though some of the “die hards” have said they would never consider lure coursing as an alternative, many sighthound people are thinking about alternatives for the future. As one Scottish Deerhound owner said, “it’s not coursing, but it beats sitting at home with your dogs, doesn’t it ?” ( A small bit of trivia that I learned from that gentleman: in England, most Scottish Deerhounds owners who show their Deerhounds also course them, and vice versa).

It was a most interesting discussion that included talk of a possible judging system that would borrow from the current system of coursing judging and award points to the dog that was first, honestly, to each turn, staying with brace elimination (they all thought that running in trios is “daft,” which was music to my ears), and using a single slipper to release all the dogs. One participant conversant in remote control model race cars said that it is not beyond the realm of possibility that an electric motorized lure could be developed to produce a more realistic course. If a system of competitive lure coursing becomes a reality in England, it could make for a fascinating “laboratory” for alternatives that work and don’t work. Time will tell.

We couldn’t be that close to Cambridge without touring the colleges of Cambridge University. The architecture was stunning, and we felt like we were on the movie set of “Chariots of Fire.” Just to keep it Greyhound-oriented, we stopped by the Kings College Chapel (which is really more of a cathedral) to see the stone Greyhounds carved into the edifice.

The next day, Saturday, we had been invited by Paul Sagar, a friend from previous Waterloo Cups and the Grand Course, and Bill Patrick, a slipper friend from a couple of discussion lists, to come to a Saluki coursing meeting some several hours away from our Lincolnshire base. Having been on the go for a full five days straight, we were quite knackered at that point and felt the need for a day to rest and recoup before the Waterloo Cup, so we reluctantly gave Paul and Bill our regrets. The accounts of the meeting that I read later said there was some cracking coursing, and so not going was the one real regret that we had about this trip.

Sunday was “travel day” for the drive over to Southport, where most people attending the Waterloo Cup stay. We checked into our hotel and there ran into Ronnie Mills, who is something of a coursing legend in England. He had been the slipper of the Waterloo Cup, then the judge, and after his “retirement” from those two active roles had served as the Cup Secretary for a couple of years, where we had gotten to know him. He is a great source of coursing stories, and tells them in a most entertaining way.

From our hotel, we took the short walk to the Prince of Wales Hotel, venue for that night’s Call Over, where we were to meet Cindi Allen and Diana Brodie. Standing in the check-in line at the front desk we found Mike Ferris and his wife Karen Frederick, who had arrived that morning. We were surprised to find them in field clothes, and they told us they had gotten off their plane in Manchester, changed from travel clothes, and driven to an Irish Wolfhound lure coursing trial, where Mike had been pressed into service as a judge. Now that’s a love of sport ! We had a quick pub supper with them and heard all about the Wolfhound trial, then headed back to the Prince of Wales for the Call Over.

The ballroom where the Call Over was held filled up quickly. We had time to meet Ann Standing, a Greyhound breeder from Canada who was another discussion list friend and had been determined to come over and see the coursing before it was over. It was standing room only by the time Waterloo Cup Committee Chairman David Midwood called things to order. Several rousing speeches were given by a local Conservative member of Parliament, who urged everyone to vote for Conservative candidates in the upcoming elections in May, as the Conservative party was dedicated to a repeal of the Hunting Act, and by Simon Hart, head of the Countryside Alliance. There was an auction of a beautiful limited edition bronze statue of two Greyhounds coursing a hare, to raise funds for the legal challenge of the ban. The bidding was fast and furious, and the piece was ultimately knocked down for 7200 pounds sterling (about $12,600) !

Then the Call Over of the names of the 64 nominated Greyhounds got down to business. As each dog’s name was called, Charles Blanning, Keeper of the Greyhound Stud Book and Secretary of the NCC, gave a brief resume of the dog’s coursing career to date, and then the four assembled bookmakers would announce their opening odds for that Greyhound. Early favorites were the ironically-named Pick the Best at 10 to 1, Equal Status at 12 to 1, our British favorite Basso Profondo at 14 to 1, and last year’s winner, Why You Monty, at 16 to 1. The American dog, Evie, was given odds of 100 to 1, but this was upped to 200 to 1 when Cindi  teasingly challenged the bookmakers  to “make it higher!” Needless to say, no one but Cindi left the room that night thinking that Evie was much of a contender. Her first pairing was with Paddy’s Toy, last year’s Waterloo Plate winner (John Bromiley, Paddy’s trainer, had gotten his wish and drawn the American dog) and if she won that course, she would then likely face Why You Monty. Certainly, luck had not been with her in the draw !

We resolved to strike out quite early the next morning for the short drive to Altcar and the Withins in order to get a front row parking spot in the Nominators’ area. When we arrived, we found out that lots of other people had the same idea, as we were lucky to get a second-row spot. Fortunately, Jo Borrett, a friend we had met the previous year, had a front row place and offered to let us stand in  front of her car to watch. The Nominators’s area filled to capacity very quickly, and was more crowded than I had ever seen it. The same was true for other viewing areas, especially the “Public Bank,” the bank on the opposite side of the field that offers excellent sight lines, where the “lads from Liverpool” like to congregate.

We made our annual foray among the vendors, the number of which had about doubled  for this perhaps last opportunity to sell their goods to the coursing market. Collars, leads, outerwear, videos, pins, prints, and statuary were available in abundance.  We were soon joined by Mike, Karen, and Ann, along with Lynda Webster, another discussion list friend from Canada.

Also in abundance were the media outlets, who were anticipating a large demonstration by the “antis” and perhaps a strong reaction from the coursing community, who no doubt would feel that the antis were trying to rub their noses in the enactment of the ban. The media would get what they came for, as when the antis showed up at noon, a number of coursing enthusiasts, the “lads from Liverpool” among them, hurled more than verbal abuse at the demonstrators. The mounted police had a strong presence and kept the situation from getting out of hand, but several arrests were made, and of course that lead the local news that evening.

We had been “sweating” Cindi and Evie’s arrival a bit, but they did finally arrive, and on time for the 9:30 start (although it was delayed 45 minutes to let the sun bring the frost up out of the ground). Cindi, accustomed to American coursing in remote areas without traffic, had not allowed for the traffic produced by the record attendance. But she and Evie arrived in good shape with time to spare and found a good spot in the dog van park.

The stewards inspected the ground a final time and approve it for coursing, Slipper Atmore and Judge Burdon  took their places, and the first brace was in slips by 10:15. Now, we settled in for the long wait for that first hare. It came about 15 minutes later, and was a typical Withins course, with the hare making its way after a few turns to the cover at the end of the field. That was one of the few such courses that day, as the breeze blowing toward the slipper’s shy freshened into a wind sharp enough to cause the hares to begin to double back after the run up and run with the wind back toward the beat. This produced more longish courses than is typical on the first day at the Withins, and rewarded work more often than not. It was almost like being back at the Anglia Cup !

Our favorite, Basso, got lucky with a short course of 27 seconds in which he lead Cromer Moon, owned by Richard Davies, an acquaintance of our previous trips, and won the brief work as well. Soon it was time for Evie to run, and we all held our breath as she went into slips. Would this American dog do us proud, or get tripped up coming out of slips and be a total bust ?   We breathed a little easier as she came out of slips balanced and even, but our hearts grew heavy as she was left well behind in the run-up. Then, the hare took a lucky turn on her side, leaving Paddy’s Toy behind and giving Evie the opportunity to display her agility and stamina. She put turn after turn on the hare in a long course of 88 seconds, and we all went crazy when the judge pulled his red handkerchief to signal Evie’s win.

We greeted Cindi and Evie back in the dog van park with hearty congratulations, and Cindi borrowed my cell phone to wake up her husband Phil back in Washington and tell him of Evie’s win. Jane Strunin, who knows John Bromiley well, went over and innocently asked him, “How did you do against that American dog?” John took the teasing in sporting fashion and marveled to Cindi at Evie’s stamina.

Why You Monty won the next course decisively, and so would face Evie in the next round. Cindi was philosophical: “Oh, well, it was fun while it lasted.”

It was to last a bit longer, however, and in a most memorable way. Evie again lost the run-up as Why You Monty rocketed out of slips, leaving her 6 lengths behind at the turn. The defending Cup winner turned the hare several more times, amassing a 7 1/2 point lead over Evie. But then Monty began to tire, and Evie took over the work, forcing turn after turn on the strong hare, until Monty was no longer a factor. The crowd went wild as the Judge pulled the red flag, and we knew we had just witnessed the defining moment of this Waterloo Cup. Sir Mark Prescott, one not given to hyperbole, would later say that in the thousands of courses he had watched over the years, this was one of the four or five courses he would always remember. It was satisfying indeed to know that we had been there for a moment in coursing history.

Basso was not so lucky in the next round. He was led by a length in the run-up by Dilrock North, and could not do enough work in the 45 second course to make up the deficit. He would now go into the Plate, and before leaving we stopped by the van of his trainer, Terry Richmond, to wish Basso and Elspeth good luck for the next day at the Lydiate.

Learning our lesson from the first day, we arrived at the Lydiate for day two very early, and secured a front row spot. Arron Atmore was parked just down from us and had with him 2000 Waterloo Cup winner Suncrest Tina, who he now owns as a brood bitch.  She’s a very nicely-built Greyhound, and certainly has the “look of a winner.” We asked Arron about how Evie had done in slips at the Withins. He said that she had been little nervous at first, but pulled well from them. “I’ve certainly had first time puppies do much worse,” he said.

Arron had a little “bad news” for us – the shy would not be placed for the first round in its traditional place on the end of the field where we were parked, as the gamekeeper had made the judgment that there would be more hares on the other end of the field, owing to the greater cover on that side. He predicted, however, that the hares would make for our end if the wind direction held up, such that we would have more of the work done closer to us. We wished him luck for the day, and told him to give Evie and Basso “lots of verbal encouragement” while he had them  in slips waiting to run.

The PA announcer came on to announce the scratches for the day, and we were disappointed to learn that Why You Monty had come up lame that morning and been withdrawn.

The stewards called for a delay of the start again due to frost, but the coursing got under way by about 10:30. The hares must have decided that they liked the cover from which they had been driven, as very few of them ventured down to our end of the field. However, the Lydiate lived up to its name as “the graveyard of the Irish” and provided a place for Greyhounds with stamina and agility to display their talents, while the Irish speed merchants could win the run-up but lose the course in the work if they  did not have the stamina to turn the hare.

There was plenty of buzz as Evie was taken to slips, and of course everyone was wondering if this field would provide the work for Evie that had won her the two courses at the Withins. She surprised all of us by leading the run-up briefly, but then was passed by Going Rate, who won the run-up by 8 lengths. Evie again took over and did most of the work, and I thought she had won, but it turned out that the turns were only wrenches, giving her only ½ points, which were not enough to make up the deficit from the loss of the run-up and first turn. Nevertheless, she had surpassed all expectations by making it to the final 16, and received well-deserved applause from the spectators as Cindi led her back from the far end of the field.

Our other favorite Basso won both his courses at the Lydiate, each of which lasted 72 seconds. Jane fretted over his running time, as it appeared at the end of both his courses that he was running out of gas. But he had done enough to win and make it to the semi-finals of the Plate, and now he would have overnight to rest and hopefully be ready to run a third day, where he would first face early favorite Pick the Best.

The far end of the field produced enough hares to get to the semi-finals of the Cup and Plate and the quarter finals of the Purse, so the stewards decided to stop there and run the remaining courses the third day, which is a fairly typical scenario. We never got to see Arron do his work from our end of the field, but it had been a great day with a number of truly spectacular courses, so we were happy.

The stage was now set for the semi-finals of the Cup. Hardy Admiral, a dog of Elspeth Stott’s breeding and trained by 80-something Cliff Standing, would face Bella Figlia, trained by the Teals. Undergraduate, owned and trained by John Bushnell, would face Shashi, also trained by the Teals.  For the first time in years, all the Greyhounds in the Cup semi-finals were English-born and owned.

The third day of the Waterloo Cup dawned bright and sunny with little wind, a marked contrast to last year’s snowy last day. There had been a hard freeze overnight that had hardened the ground with frost. Now, with the luxury of having far fewer courses to run, the stewards waited until 11:00 to send the first brace to slips. The attendance, usually lightest on the third day, was still strong, but we had arrived early enough to secure front row spots. Cindi and Evie joined us for a day of just spectating, but soon found that they had an “adoring public,” as many of the coursing veterans stopped by to see Evie up close and congratulate Cindi. Families stopped by to ask if the kids could pet Evie and have their picture taken with her.

In the first rounds of the Purse, we cheered for Paddy’s Toy and Cromer Moon, the former opponents of our favorites. Sadly, both lost their courses. Richard Davies, who was parked next to us, retrieved Cromer Moon from his trainer to bring him over to the Nominators’ area and let him enjoy some of the tailgating comestibles with all of us. He was a handsome and well-behaved lad, and really soaked up the attention.

In the Purse finals, Liskeveen Beauty, a full sister to 2002 Waterloo Cup winner Petite Glory,  defeated Dutch Auction in a superb course that lasted 60 seconds. Both dogs were trained by the Teals.

In the semi-finals of the Plate, we held our breath as Basso defeated Pick the Best, winning the run-up by half a length and then holding on in a long third day course of  83 seconds. We wondered if that would leave him with enough in the tank to put in one more good course.

In the Cup semi-finals, Hardy Admiral defeated Bella Figlia and Shashi beat Undergraduate, both in short courses of 27 and 34 seconds respectively.

The finals on the third day is where the ceremony of the Waterloo Cup really comes into its own and the culture of good sportsmanship there is on full display. The contending Greyhounds are led by their connections – their owners and trainers – up the field in front of the spectators while the announcer introduces the dogs and the people and tells something about their careers and their performances over the last three days. As the dogs are put into slips, there are handshakes and good wishes all around, and then  the wait for that perfect hare begins.

In the Plate finals, Arron gave the dogs a long slip behind a strong hare, and Basso took the lead over Eden’s Regalo. Basso hesitated slightly toward the end of the run-up as the hare wavered a bit, but then ran clear by a length as the hare made its way to cover after the first turn. Judge Burdon pulled the red cloth, and Basso was the winner ! Jane, who is normally the epitome of British reserve, was walking on air as she accepted congratulations all around our group and went to find Elspeth and Basso’s trainer, Terry Richmond, to celebrate.

The Cup final, which went off after a long wait, was almost anti-climatic in its brevity. The hare doubled back quickly, making for a short run-up, which Shashi won by a length and then made a quick kill to end the course in 19 seconds. Shashi, owned by Mike Darnell with the breeder Ernest Smith and Albert Schackcloth, was the winner of the 2005 Waterloo Cup !

If this was to be the last Waterloo Cup in England, the Brits were determined to go out in style. As the winner was led off the field, the sound of the British anthem “Land of Hope and Glory” (which we Americans know as “Pomp and Circumstance”) came over the PA as two riders on horses wearing the Union Jack and the Irish tricolor flag were led around the field by Judge Burdon, himself waving a small Union Jack, in a “victory gallop” of sorts. A flatbed trailer was brought in as a stage for the presentations ceremony, and an elaborate trophy table was set up in short order.c

Sir Mark Prescott presided, first giving a brief history of the Waterloo Cup and recognizing some of the coursing veterans present who had played an important role in reviving it and ensuring its place in sporting history. On his way to Altcar the previous Sunday, Prescott said, he had stopped at the cemetery where William Lynn, who founded the Waterloo Cup in 1836, is buried, and laid some flowers on his grave. What would Lynn think, he wondered, about his event having been brought down by those so profoundly ignorant of the sport it celebrates ?

Prescott  then turned to the celebratory part of the ceremony, first calling to the stage the owners of the foreign dogs, Hyland Lass from Portugal, and our own Cashel’s Evening from the USA. Cindi brought Evie with her on stage, and Sir Mark proceeded to tell a couple of  humorous stories about Evie’s journey to England,  including her mid-day meal of a proper British sausage on Monday before defeating Why You Monty. Cindi and Evie got a nice round of applause and a few hearty “well done’s!” from the crowd as they left the stage.

Then the winners of the Purse and the Plate were called up, and Basso acquitted himself like a gentleman as he posed with Elspeth and Terry for pictures. Then the Cup runner-up, Hardy Admiral, was called up. Finally, Shashi was brought up, his owners were awarded the Waterloo Cup, and the famous silver chain with the links bearing the names of all the previous Waterloo Cup winners was wrapped around their shoulders.

The grand finale was a fireworks display that was launched from the slipper’s shy and gave new meaning to “going out with a bang.”

After the ceremony, we lingered, walked the field a bit to take in the historic grounds perhaps one last time, petted all the winners, and got a close look at the Waterloo Cup and the chain. Elspeth gave the actual plate that was awarded to Basso to Jane, and took the perpetual trophy commemorating the Waterloo Plate with her. No one seemed to know what will happen to the trophies if this was in fact the last Waterloo Cup.

We stayed on in Southport with the Strunins for the final night of our vacation, and had dinner at Master McGrath’s, the local pub and restaurant named for the Irish legend. We lifted a glass to Basso, Evie, and absent friends, and agreed that while this may have been the last Waterloo Cup we would attend, it was the best one.

This article was originally published in Performance Sighthound Journal.