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Hannah4181

Cheetha vs Greyhound . . .. a bit of history.

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Here is an interesting article i've just read on another forum about greyhounds vs cheetahs, thought i'd share it. :thumbs:

 

 

By Mark Barber FT.com site; Aug 05, 2003

 

It started with a Cockney one-liner. By the time I had finished chasing up leads, I had the outline of an episode that must rank among the more bizarre in 20th-century British sport. It certainly shows that sports promoters of previous generations wanted nothing for imagination in comparison with their larger-than-life counterparts of today. Some months ago, a dog-racing acquaintance told me, with a rather smug expression, that he had once won a pony (£25) betting that "a cat had won a race at Romford dogs". Surprised, I asked him how. He informed me that during the 1930s cheetahs had raced against the usual greyhounds at the track in front of a paying audience. What is more, he had seen a photograph in an old local history book.

 

Intrigued, but frankly unconvinced, I visited Romford Library to try to verify the claim. Sure enough, in a volume called Romford, Collier Row and Gidea Park, was a photograph of a man crouching beside a cheetah. The caption read: "Archer Leggett [founder of the Romford Greyhound Stadium] was always ready to bring some new attraction that would make his racegoers sit up. In December 1937 he caused a stir with cheetah racing - the first time in England. The cheetahs were described as tame and from Kenya."

 

Greyhound racing had become popular in the 1920s, but only gained public recognition with the opening of Manchester's Belle Vue Stadium in 1926. It soon became a popular pastime. Leggett, then a Romford builder, was bitten by the craze and along with others started to race whippets in a field behind his house in Collier Row, Essex. To his surprise, neighbours and their friends would turn up and have a little wager on the outcome of these unofficial races. These impromptu meetings became more popular, and in June 1929 Leggett found a site in London Road, Romford, and the stadium was founded. The track remained for only two years before the landowner, seeing its popularity, raised the rent. As a result, Leggett bought a rhubarb patch on the opposite side of London Road and moved the track to where Romford Greyhound Stadium still stands. In a short time greyhound racing became part of Romford life, but as with most new attractions, the initial interest started to wane, leaving Leggett in need of something new to spice up the evening's entertainment.

 

Enter one K. C. Gander Dower, a sportsman who - like Leggett - had an eye for an opportunity. Gander Dower had been a regular visitor to Kenya and the Indian sub-continent, and was keen to introduce the British public to the speed, grace and beauty of the cheetah - facets that could be showcased beautifully during an evening's racing at Romford. Having a Kenyan contact that owned part-domesticated wild cheetahs, Gander Dower imported 12 of the beasts into Britain in December 1936. This fuelled speculation that the cheetahs were being imported to course wild game, which in turn prompted questions in parliament. Sir John Simon, then home secretary, was requested to take steps to prohibit "new forms of cruelty". Following an RSPCA inquiry, the true nature of the venture emerged and, with public concern assuaged, the necessary permission was granted. After six months' quarantine and a further six months of training at the Staines and Harringay tracks, the cheetahs were ready to make their debut.

 

Not surprisingly, training had brought to light a number of difficulties in coercing a fleet-of-foot hunter of the African savannah to chase an electric hare. For one thing, it didn't really work to have cheetahs racing other cheetahs: once one contestant had positioned itself to make the "kill", its fellow competitors would simply stop running. It was also found to be necessary to attach a piece of rabbit flesh to the hare. Other problems included the timing of the release of the cheetah. Too late and the animal would decline to pursue its quarry, believing it was outside its kill zone; too early and it would catch the hare before the first turn.

 

Amid much publicity and local enthusiasm, the night of the cats versus the dogs arrived at Romford on Saturday December 11 1937. According to 91-year-old retired local builder George Bowler, who witnessed the event and still lives a stone's throw from the Romford track: "It was very crowded and a lot of 'big nobs' from Harringay and Walthamstow [other London dog tracks] packed the commoner's stand." The meeting boasted a full race-card, plus three events that included cheetahs. Officially, no betting was permitted on these three races. According to Bowler, however, illegal punting was rife, although the odds on the big cats were ridiculously short at 8/1 on. The bookies' instincts turned out to be well founded.

 

In the first race involving a cheetah, a female called Helen was instantly proclaimed "Queen of the Track". As one reporter put it: "Helen raced against two greyhounds but did not appear to like their company a great deal, for she left them far behind and made them look slow. She covered the 355 yards in 15.86 seconds, easily a track record, and at a speed of 55mph." Mr Bowler recalls the crowd's astonishment. "Most people had never seen a cheetah," he said. "At first people were apprehensive, but the moment the trap opened they were amazed by the flash of the cat. They were just so fast and, if you looked round all the mouths were open." In the second of the cheetah races, two males, James and Gussie, went head-to-head over hurdles. Unfortunately Gussie decided to ignore the track obstacles and instead leapt the inner barrier to cut the corner in pursuit of the electric hare.

 

Afterwards the cheetahs' trainer, Ruby Henderson (described by the Daily Mail as an auburn-haired Australian) said she had been rather anxious before the racing began but was perfectly satisfied with the way it had turned out. The following Saturday - the last time that cheetahs strutted their stuff around a British greyhound track - even more people ventured out to the then Essex countryside to watch the amazing spectacle. And to make the racing more even, a handicap of between 20 and 40 yards, in favour of the greyhounds, was introduced. It was to no avail: the cheetahs still defeated their canine rivals.

 

I have been unable to ascertain exactly why cheetah-racing ceased at Romford, although Bowler believes that complaints from local residents and pressure generated by other track owners had some bearing on the decision. The safety of the spectators with big cats on the loose does not appear to have been an issue. Not even Leggett's daughter, Carolyn Baker, could shed any light on the reasoning. "My father never discussed the stadium in the house," she said. "He felt that it was not the sort of environment that we women should be attending." But for Leggett, the purpose of the spectacular had more than been achieved. As a Romford Times columnist put it: "Mr Leggett is in a happy mood, for has not Romford Stadium received one of the most gigantic advertisements in recent years? In more ways than one Mr Leggett and his colleagues have placed Romford on the map." In the process, he (briefly) turned an unglamorous dog track into the place to be seen.

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Fascinating and very interesting to read about the things that used to be allowed and enjoyed in years gone by. I enjoyed reading that :thumbs:

 

 

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Thanks for that Hannah. Really enjoyed reading that.

 

55mph? f**k the saluki crosses, I'm gonna get myself a cheetah! Lol.

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Amazing what use to go on u can't belive it now the state of play were in This country from that to just being able. To hunt rats n rabbits and that's with permission

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I'd love to see some photos! On a distant and wealthy side of my family, my mother's great uncle brought 2 cheetahs back to the UK in the 1920s. Apparently they behaved, and were treated just like dogs, and would go out with their owner beside his horse for exercise. After seeing that amazing video of a cheetah catching and retrieving a hare in the desert, I guess keeping cheetahs around like dogs might be possible.

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Amazing!

 

Funny though, the RSPCA were having a moan even then.

 

Saw a programme a while back with a guy from a UK wildlife park trying to get a cheater to catch rabbits. . . .

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I see from the article that the cheetas were trained at Staines track, I remember years ago being told just that.

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