The return of greyhound racing at the start of May became the springboard for a remarkable feat by Palmerston North greyhound trainer Lisa Cole.

On Friday, May 15, the Cole kennels swept the 12e race card at the Wanganui greyhound meeting, training all 12 winners, before leading in the first eleven winners at Palmerston North just four days later.

The 23 straight race victories is a feat unlikely to have been achieved anywhere in the world before.

Greyhound racing as a sport owes much to the hardy and humble hare in our country.

The Greyhound Racing NZ website tells us that the first hares were brought to New Zealand in 1868 and were released around the country as hunting quarry.

However, their prolific breeding quickly made them a pest for farmers, who began importing British greyhounds to help control them. Coursing competitions between farms was the inevitable result.

Coursing developed rapidly as a sport.

The first clubs were founded in Southland in 1876, and the New Zealand Federation of Coursing Clubs was formed in 1877.

The National Coursing Association was established in 1908, as a way of uniting and strengthening greyhound racing clubs.

When coursing was banned in 1954, the name of the organisation was changed to the New Zealand Greyhound Racing Association.

However, standing in the way of the growth of the sport was the lack of betting on the hounds.

In the early days, bookmakers were allowed to bet on greyhound racing, but the abolition of bookmakers in New Zealand in 1911 relegated the sport to small groups of enthusiasts.

During the 1950's and 1960's, greyhound racing started to grow again with sweepstake meetings for small stakes, with equalisator betting allowed to give punters a interest.

The New Zealand Greyhound Racing Association agenda became the introduction of tote betting, with politicians lobbied on a regular basis.

The 1970's brought continued pressure for tote betting, and on September 15, 1978, the first on-course only betting meeting was held at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland.

There was a now a explosion of interest in greyhound racing with greyhound racing clubs springing up through the country.

The Waikite Rugby Club in Rotorua became the centre of the sport in the Bay of Plenty, with the local greyhound racing club negotiating with the rugby club to put a track and mobile lure around the circumference of the rugby field.

While the Rotorua venue never received a on-course tote license, they survived for a number of years on a staple of trials and sweepstake meetings.

Another track that thrived under the same conditions as Rotorua, was the South Waikato Greyhound Racing Club situated in Tokoroa, which is still going strong today as a active training base.

Upper North Island venues such Kensington Park in Whangarei, Mt Smart and the Hamilton trotting grounds in Hamilton saw the sport go ahead in leaps and bounds courtesy of the on course betting dollar.

In the first few years of legalised betting on the hounds, there were a number temporary venues utilised such as straight-track race meetings down the home straight at the Tauranga Racecourse.

All the time, the GRNZA administrators were pushing for TAB betting on the sport.

In February 1981, their wishes became a reality with a Australasian series granted TAB status.

However, for the next few years the intermittent TAB permits became a real frustration for punters, as dogs switched between TAB and on-course betting only meetings, which made following form near impossible.

Today, the sport thrives on the countries seven tracks at Auckland, Cambridge, Wanganui, Palmerston North, Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill, with racing taking place six days of the week.

While on-course attendance is often meagre, greyhound racing thrives on a diet of Trackside television and TAB betting with greyhound racing now firmly entrenched alongside thoroughbred and harness racing.


Sideline Sid
Sports correspondent & historian