The Little Greyhound That Could

Cashel’s Evening Runs Into Coursing History as the First American Greyhound in the Waterloo Cup

by John Parker

It is a story right out of the movies, with pieces of Seabiscuit, National Velvet, and The Natural all rolled into one. A smallish racing Greyhound who washed out before her first official race. The owner who adopted her, whose combination of naivete and chutzpah put her in the right place at the right time to get her dog a coveted nomination to run in the Waterloo Cup, the Blue Riband of coursing.

The story begins at the ASFA International Invitational in Falcon, Colorado in June 2003.Cindi Allen, recently graduated from law school, and her husband Phil were attending the I.I. and were introduced to Anne Sheridan, a racing Greyhound breeder in Colorado. In the course of their conversations, Anne told the Allens about “Evie,” an October 2000 Greyhound who had washed out of official schooling and whom Anne wanted to place in a good home. The Allens were looking for a companion for their Greyhound Newell, so they agreed to have a look at Evie the next day. They liked the look of her, and told Anne they would like to have her. Since they were in the middle of a move, they arranged to pick up Evie and take her home on July 4th.

The Allens started Evie on a dual athletic career in the autumn of 2003, entering her in lure coursing in Colorado and open field coursing in Wyoming. Evie ran in the 2004 ASFA I.I. in Iowa, placing third in the Open stake both days. She earned her Field Champion title in June 2004.

Phil took Evie open field coursing in Wyoming 10 weekends in the 2003 – 2004 season.  Her open field coursing career was not without a bump in the road – she dislocated an outside toe on a rear foot in the early part of 2004, and the damage to the ligament was so extensive that the decision was made to amputate the toe.

Evie’s road to the Waterloo Cup begins in January 2004, when Cindi, a self-described “Internet freak,” was “surfing” and found a reference to the Waterloo Cup on the National Coursing Club’s Web site. She knew nothing of British coursing, and in fact had misgivings about whether the hares were released artificially. More Internet research revealed that the hares live naturally on the coursing lands in England, and are driven to the coursing field by beaters.

Cindi decided it might be fun to look into entering Evie in the Waterloo Cup. She had no idea that Greyhounds run for the Cup only after being nominated, that there are only 64 nominations to be had, and that no American Greyhound had ever run in the Waterloo Cup. She posted a question to the

GreyTalk discussion list: “Anybody ever heard of this Waterloo Cup ?”  Pam Davis, who had attended several Waterloo Cups, responded and told Cindi about several hurdles she would have to get over to even get Evie considered for nomination.

In March 2004, Cindi sent an e-mail to Charles Blanning, Secretary of the NCC and Keeper of the Greyhound Stud Book, to ask him how to get Evie considered for the Waterloo Cup. He told Cindi how to get Evie registered with the NCC and gave her the  addresses of Waterloo Cup Secretary Diana Brodie. Cindi then sent a letter to Ms. Brodie, enclosing a photo of Evie and telling her about Evie’s American coursing career.

Time passed without a reply, but finally a month later, Cindi received an e-mail from Ms. Brodie, acknowledging her letter and telling her that it was uncertain whether there would be a Waterloo Cup in 2005 because of the pending ban legislation. She suggested that Cindi stay in touch and keep abreast of the situation in England.

Stay in touch she did, sending Diana Brodie e-mails throughout the rest of 2004. “I was afraid I was being a pest, but I figured I needed to take Diana at her word and keep reminding her of our interests” said Cindi. In September, Cindi registered Evie with the NCC and let Ms. Brodie know she had been registered. “I figured that would let her know I was serious.”

Evie encountered another bump in the road while open field coursing in Wyoming over the 2004 Thanksgiving weekend. She dislocated another toe on the same rear foot, although this dislocation was not as severe as the previous one. A trip to the vet resulted in some good news – the joint capsule was intact, surgery was not indicated, and three months of rest was the prescription.

Despite the good news on the medical front, Cindi had decided that Evie’s chances of running in the Waterloo Cup were between slim and none. The ban on coursing had become the law of England with the invocation of the Parliament Act, and the Waterloo Cup was now in jeopardy of cancellation.

Nevertheless, she e-mailed Diana Brodie again to say she was still interested. Ms. Brodie e-mailed back: “We’ll let you know.”

Then it came in January, the long awaited e-mail from Diana Brodie : “Congratulations. The Committee has given a returned nomination to Cashel’s Evening. She will be the first American Greyhound ever to run in the Waterloo Cup.” It would be run a week earlier than usual, February 14 – 16, to come just before the effective date of the ban, February 19.

These new Cup dates were one week before Cindi was to take the Washington State Bar exam. Could she study for the exam while taking care of all the myriad details of getting herself and a dog to England, much less get Evie ready for the rigors of the three-day Waterloo Cup ? (Phil would not be able to go because of business commitments). Was Evie’s toe injury from Thanksgiving healed sufficiently to put her into training ?

A return trip to the vet and new x-rays revealed solid healing of the toe. It was decided that training would be a swimming regimen to get Evie in good fitness while keeping stress on the healing toe to a minimum. She was taken to the All Dogs Spa for swimming in an indoor pool, 30 minute sessions twice weekly for 3 weeks. Then, the last week before departure, Evie was run on straights of 300 – 400 yards with a lure machine 2 or 3 times during that week.

Travel arrangements were not so simple. Evie would be admitted into England under the new Pet Passport system that eliminated the 6 month quarantine requirement. The Pet Passport protocol involved getting Evie new rabies vaccinations, microchipped, and rabies titred. She must fly only from and into certain designated “gateway” airports that were set up to receive animals under the Pet Passport system. Add to this the fact that Cindi wanted to fly on Northwest Airlines to take advantage of frequent flyer miles, and the travel arrangements were such as could keep a travel agent busy full time.

Next, it was time for a crash course in British coursing. Diana Brodie put Cindi in touch with this writer as an American who had come over frequently for the Waterloo Cup in the last several years. I gave Cindi a short course on the methods, customs and traditions of the Waterloo Cup, and sent her video of a recent Cup. It was my impression that she initially thought of the Waterloo Cup as just another “hunt,” in the American lingo, but as time and more conversation progressed, the magnitude of what she had gotten Evie and herself into sunk in.

The big question mark was how Evie would do in the double slips used by the professional slippers in British coursing. Would she acclimate to being “barreled up” alongside another Greyhound, who was likely to be much bigger than her ? Would she know how to pull ahead and come cleanly out of the slips when she was sighted on the hare ? Some practice seemed to be in order, so I put her in touch with Waterloo Cup slipper Arron Atmore, who would be at the field the day before the Cup began and graciously agreed to practice Evie in his slips to acclimate her to this new method of release.

When the plans were finalized, Cindi and Evie would first fly to Paris, a “gateway” city to which Northwest flew, on the Thursday before the Monday start of the Waterloo Cup. They just had time for a little sightseeing, including Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower, where Evie enjoyed a ham and cheese baguette.  Cindi and Evie then took a train to Calais, where she rented a van and took the ferry across the English Channel to Dover. Due to some delays in the ferry’s departure, they arrived in Dover about 11:30 pm, so Cindi set out in the dark for a 5 hour overnight drive to Chorley, where she had found a hotel that accepted dogs and was relatively close to Altcar, home of the Waterloo Cup. Nothing was to be easy about this trip !

On Saturday, after a few hours’sleep, Cindi found her way to the Withins, the Altcar field on which the first and third days of the Waterloo Cup are run, there to meet Arron Atmore and practice Evie in slips. She waited, but did not see Arron, so after giving Evie a look at the historic grounds, Cindi returned to her hotel to get ready for the Call Over in Southport and to feed Evie a dinner of lamb tips, which she had purchased at a local farmer’s stand.  As it turned out, Arron arrived  at the Withins at the appointed hour, but Cindi was going by the clock in her rental van, which was on Paris time. She was an hour early, and so Evie’s first experience in slips would be her first run in the Waterloo Cup !

The Call Over at the Prince of Wales Hotel in Southport was standing room only. Cindi arrived early and got a front and center seat. Cards showing the drawn pairings of the 64 nominated Greyhounds were distributed, and the news was not good for Evie. Her first run would be against Paddy’s Toy, winner of the Waterloo Plate the previous year. IF she won that course, she would then run against last year’s Waterloo Cup winner, Why You Monty.

The buzzing crowd grew silent as Waterloo Cup Committee chairman David Midwood called for “a bit of hush.”  As the name of each dog was “called over,” Charles Blanning recited a brief resume of the Greyhound’s coursing career. When “Cashel’s Evening” was announced, Blanning said, “This is the American bitch who has coursed jackrabbits in Wyoming.” The first bookmaker gave her opening odds of 100 to 1. Cindi quipped, “C’mon – make it higher !”  Sir Mark Prescott, the dean of the British coursing community who was presiding, asked Cindi how much Evie weighs. “50 pounds” came the reply. The next bookmaker put Evie at 200 to 1, and that became the consensus opening odds for her.

When Cindi arrived at the Withins with Evie for the opening day, she was amazed at the size of the crowds and the amount of media present. Before long, she was being interviewed by one of the regional television networks. She got a kick out of the country clothes of the coursing community – the tweeds, woolens and wellies, and went to shop the vendors before things got busy.

Evie’s run was at the top of the second half of the card, so Cindi had time to watch some of the coursing before reporting with Evie to the slip steward with her identification papers. Needless to say, this young woman with her American dog was quite the novelty. “Everyone was so nice and helpful to me,” Cindi said.

Finally, it was time to run. Cindi made her way with Evie to the “hide,” the screened area that serves as the paddock for the “on deck” dogs. She waited there with John Bromiley, the droll, diminutive trainer of Paddy’s Toy. “He joked with me and really put me at ease,” she said.

The course was called up, and into the slipper’s shy they went. Evie, in the red collar, was on Arron Atmore’s left and Paddy’s Toy, in the white collar, was on his right. A hare to the slipper’s liking came up the coursing lane, and they were off. Evie came out of slips well, but Paddy’s Toy was off like a shot and won the run-up by 8 lengths. But then, the hare took a lucky turn for Evie, and the work began, with Evie in control, turning the hare again and again as it made its way back from the cover at the end of the field and toward the beat. The hare escaped into cover, and Judge Bob Burdon pulled his red handkerchief to signal Evie as the victor ! It had been a  course of 88 seconds, longish for the first day at the Withins.

Cindi ran to retrieve Evie, who comes back to a whistle. “Everyone was congratulating me,” said Cindi. Even opponent John Bromiley, who teased her, “Your dog is possessed – that wasn’t natural !” Cindi walked out Evie and was relieved to see that her rear foot and problem toe were okay.

After accepting more congratulations from trainers and owners in the dog van park and getting Evie settled in for a rest, Cindi looked ahead to the daunting challenge of Evie’s running against 2004 Waterloo Cup winner Why You Monty, trained by the no-nonsense Irishman, Michael O’Donovan, who has several Waterloo Cups to his credit.

As they made their way to the hide, O’Donovan was polite but all business. When she turned Evie over to the slipper, Cindi bent down and kissed her Greyhound on the head. Arron Atmore said to O’Donovan, “Michael, aren’t you going to kiss your dog ?”, to which O’Donovan replied, “I’ve never kissed an effin’ dog in me effin’ life, and I’m not about to start now.” (This story, the accuracy of which Cindi confirmed, was told and re-told the second and third days of the Cup, to the great amusement of all).

The course started with Evie in the red collar  coming out of slips well, but again losing the run-up by a wide margin, this time 6 lengths. Monty turned the hare several times, and at one time was 7 ½ points clear of Evie. Suddenly, Evie drove forward to take possession of the course as Monty flagged and fell back, and it was “nothing but Evie” thereafter for a marathon course of 122 seconds that once again went back to the beat. As the Judge pulled his red cloth and the red flag went up, a great cheer arose from the crowd. “I could hear the crowd cheering all the way at the end of the field,” said Cindi. “A BBC reporter came up to me and asked, ‘Do you know what your dog just did?’”

As Cindi made her way back up the field with Evie, everyone in the gallery was clapping and shouting “well done !” John Bromiley took Cindi aside and told her that Michael O’Donovan had said, “I’ve never been beaten like that.” Cindi and Evie were greeted back at the vans by our American contingent, all of whom wanted to see how Evie had fared. She was none the worse for wear, and it was clear that the reason for all the hubbub was lost on her. She got a drink of water and hopped into the backseat of the van for a snooze. Later, back at the hotel, Evie enjoyed a supper of steak and kidney pie.

Evie’s victory over Monty galvanized the crowd. This little American Greyhound who had not been given a snowball’s chance was now a contender and had made it to the final 16. One bookmaker put her at 12 to 1 at day’s end. Over dinner that evening, our American group was now emboldened to speculate about what would actually happen if it was an American Greyhound who won what may be the last Waterloo Cup. Comparisons to Master McGrath, the first Irish Greyhound to win the Waterloo Cup (and to whom Evie actually bears some resemblance) were irresistible.

The buzz and excitement carried over to the second day at the field known as the Lydiate, a larger, more wide open field that has come to be called “the graveyard of the Irish” because it tends to favor work over the speed that the Irish dogs are famous for. Would this be where Evie’s stamina and agility could pay off and advance her a step further toward the Cup ? Everyone stopped by to see how she looked, and she seemed bright and ready to run. The bookmakers had come down to earth somewhat, and now had her at 16 to 1. Cindi reported that some of them had asked what Evie had for supper the night before; perhaps that entered into their calculations.

Evie, this day in the white collar, was now paired against Going Rate, a brindle dog in his second season. By now, everyone was keen to watch the American dog, and Cindi could hear people in the crowd pointing out Evie as she made her way to wait at the slip steward’s station. The PA announcer made a special point of introducing Evie as “the American Greyhound” as Cindi made her way to the slipper’s shy, and he told those who had not been present the first day that they “were in for a treat.”

As Evie and Going Rate were slipped, it became clear that Evie was a quick study and knew how to pull out of slips effectively. She initially led in the run-up by several lengths, but Going Rate, who some thought was initially unsighted, came up quickly and passed Evie to win the run up and force the first turn of the hare and thus lead by four points. Evie then came up to work the hare and seemed to be in control, but the hare was executing wrenches (turns of less than 90 degrees), which earns only ½ point. Evie still had plenty left in the tank and continued coursing the hare, but the half points just were not enough to make up the deficit, and at the end of the course, Judge Burdon pulled his red handkerchief to signal that Going Rate had won the course of 45 seconds. The crowd seemed almost to deflate somewhat, and even the announcer sounded disappointed as he announced that Going Rate had gone through.

However, no one had told Evie that the course was over. Though by now it was a tail chase as the dogs had tired, Evie still had the hare in sight and was determined to soldier on. The hare jumped one of the drainage ditches bordering the field, and Evie went after her, landing in the stagnant water at the bottom and coming up on the other side to be caught by one of the beaters and held there for Cindi.

As Cindi led the dripping wet Evie past the gallery on the way to the dog van area, the spectators began clapping, and some even shouted to Cindi their disagreement with the judge’s call of Evie’s course.

As this was the “coffin round” of the Cup, from which there is no consolation round, Evie’s run for the Waterloo Cup was over. But her celebrity was just beginning. On the third day, back at the Withins, Cindi and Evie returned as spectators, but became the focus of attention during lulls in the action. Parents approached Cindi and asked her if their children could pet Evie and have their picture taken with her. An old man who had been attending the Waterloo Cup since 1947 told Cindi, “Your bitch made me remember why I love coursing.” Another old veteran told Cindi that Evie’s success reminded him of Waterloo Cup days of old, when owners rather than trainers brought most of the Greyhounds to Altcar, and speed was not so heavily emphasized over stamina and agility. “The attention to Evie and me was just overwhelming,” Cindi said. “People would come up and say the nicest things.” Offers to buy Evie were forthcoming, and inquiries about breeding her were made. (No such luck; she’s spayed).

At the presentations ceremony, Sir Mark Prescott called Cindi and Evie forward for special recognition, and made a remarkable statement. Of the thousands and thousands of courses he has witnessed over the years, he said, Evie’s run against Why You Monty will be one of the four or five he will always remember. That is high praise indeed.

Though Cindi vows that Evie is now officially retired, she says that she will come back to England again if coursing survives, for the people, whose outstanding sportsmanship and graciousness toward her and Evie will be one of her foremost memories of this experience of a lifetime.

If this was to have been the last Waterloo Cup, it will be one that lives on in the memories of those who remember the little American Greyhound with the big heart. Not a bad way to go out; not bad at all.

This article was originally published in Performance Sighthound Journal.