Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Little Greyhound That Could - Part 2

Part 1 - Click Here

These new Waterloo 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? 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 updating Evie's rabies vaccination, microchipping, and rabies titer testing. 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 (John Parker) 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 of 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.