Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Little Greyhound That Could - Part 3

Part 1 - Click Here. Part 2 - Click Here.

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.

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.

Evie recently turned ten years old and lives with Cindi and her adopted greyhound brother, Flash. She can be found at this blog - Click Here.
Videos courtsey of Michael Ferris and Karen Frederick.