Greyhound Racing : Sport of Kings? No, but It's Doggone Profitable

Times Staff Writer

During the next several months, Linda Bryan's four "kids" will run in nearly 20 races around the country. They will travel to racecourses from Portland, Ore., and Yuma, Ariz., to West Memphis, Ark., and Hollywood, Fla. Bryan thinks that all of them will be winners.

Bryan's "kids" are not sons and daughters, and the races are not big-time marathons. Bryan races greyhounds, a $2-billion-a-year industry that enthusiasts tout as the racing sport for common folk.

Bryan, a medical secretary, has been in the business just three years but has already set her sights on the top, where the best breeding and training kennels can reap nearly $200,000 in a five-month season while running as few as 10 dogs.

Her interest in the sport started about three years ago when her husband showed her an article in Money magazine about the lucrative side of dog racing.

"I spent a year and a half just researching the industry and realized there was a pretty good reward for your effort," Bryan said. "But you have to find the right people in the business . . . the trainers and breeders you can trust. You have to know about bloodlines and where the best kennels are."

Bryan has been raising and breeding animals--show dogs, cats, chinchillas--for about 15 years. She believes she can make more money in the greyhound-breeding business.

About a year ago, Bryan helped establish the Southern California Greyhound Assn., an organization of greyhound owners and breeders in San Diego County, Orange County and the Los Angeles area. The group has instituted an adopt-a-greyhound program, to find homes for greyhounds who have retired from the track, most of them from Agua Caliente, across the Mexican border. Two or three dogs a week come off the Caliente track, and if they are not adopted or used for breeding they are killed.

A more important goal of the organization is to raise money to build a training track so that owners do not have to ship their dogs out of the state. The tracks nearest California are in Oregon and Arizona, and Bryan has dogs training as far away as Kansas. A track in Southern California would mean more control for owners over the training and care of their dogs, Bryan said.

"I want to be able to make sure that the dogs are getting the best treatment, being fed properly and being handled, which is important," Bryan said. "Some trainers have more than 100 pups and it's not possible that all of them are receiving the same care and conditioning."

William Karow, president of the Southern California Greyhound Assn. and a Vista resident, estimates that it would cost $100,000 to build a proper training track in the area.

The track would have to be of regulation size (a 400- to 550-yard oval) and include equipment for a mechanical lure, holding pens, equipment for timing and filming races, night lights and a small grandstand.

The dogs are trained to race after a lure, to break swiftly out of the box and to run with the pack. A typical race of five-sixteenths of a mile will take less then a minute, the dogs averaging 40 m.p.h. and hitting top speeds of 60 m.p.h.

"We would like to think that within one to two years we will have the training track in operation," Karow said. "I think then it would be much easier to expose the industry to people and have them become more involved. People will find that even with no experience, this is a poor man's way to invest in a racing sport."

Bryan said that even a mediocre dog can earn about $10,000 a season. In some stakes races, the first-place prize can be $40,000 to $60,000. In Florida, which has 19 tracks, dog racing is one of the most popular spectator sports, she said.

The long-range goal that most greyhound racing enthusiasts in California talk about is legalized betting on dog racing in the state. An attempt was made in 1978, when enough support was gained to place an initiative on the ballot. But it failed overwhelmingly, in part, Karow said, because of strong opposition by the powerful horse-racing lobby.

Bryan said that greyhound owners are primed to attempt another initiative in the near future.

But any new attempt to legalize greyhound racing would also come under scrutiny from animal-rights groups, which have charged that dogs are mistreated during training. In some states the use of live lures--usually rabbits--is allowed in training, although not in races.

Fred Lee, executive director of the San Diego Humane Society, said his organization opposes legalized dog racing.

"We are concerned with cruelty to animals," Lee said. "One major objection would be to the methods used in training dogs . . . and the use of live lures. Of course, as long as a group conforms to California laws, then even if we don't like a situation there is not much we can do about it. We would hope that we would be able to work with them to see that animals are not mistreated."

Karow said that the days when racing dogs may have been mistreated are long over.

"There are always bad apples in everything, but it is not common," he said. "The racing environment does not add to mistreatment but probably subtracts from it because trainers and owners are most interested in what is good for the dog, and what is best for the dog makes him a winner."

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