Coursing History

Amendment 13 was approved by Florida voters in the 2018 election. This amendment calls for the end of greyhound racing in Florida by 2020. With the majority of operating tracks in the US located in Florida, the amendment will deal a serious blow to the sport. Greyhound racing has a unique history and has been a part of Florida for quite some time. 

Described by some as the most exciting dogs in the world, Greyhounds have been domesticated for much of history. Some evidence suggests that the great rulers of Egypt owned Greyhounds; rulers such as Tutankhamen, Amenhotep II, and Cleopatra VII. In Medieval England, the dogs were a symbol of high status and commoners were forbidden to own greyhounds. By the sixteenth century, dog racing, or “coursing”, had become a competitive sport. Known as the “Sport of Queens”, possibly in reference to Queen Elizabeth I’s interest in the sport, coursing was considered elite and glamorous. 

Greyhounds are mentioned in books about the US as early as 1848. It is possible that they may have first been brought to help control the Midwest jackrabbit population. Calvary officers serving in the Sioux Wars used greyhounds for scouting and hunting. Major James H. “Hound Dog” Kelly, Custer’s orderly, is often credited with starting American coursing. In the early 1900s, Owen Patrick Smith started “coursing by proxy” in the US, which was considered more humane with the use of an artificial lure. This became the popular and preferred form of greyhound racing. It wouldn’t be long before coursing made its way to Florida. 

The first of the tracks in Florida was built in 1922, in what is today called Hialeah. The sport quickly gained popularity and more tracks were established throughout the state. Dog racing proponents promoted the idea of “sun and fun”, which attracted many visitors, even celebrities. Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Frank Sinatra, and others made appearances at Florida dog tracks.

By the 1990s, slot machines and lottery terminals were added at dog tracks. In recent years, coursing has lost some of its previous popularity. Despite its long history in the state, coursing will end in Florida by 2020. 

*c. 1940s postcard of greyhounds on parade at a track in Miami, Florida