Frank’s curiosity got the better of him, so on the first Saturday in May, he caught the bus to Kingsbairns to attend his first whippet race. The course was a flat, rather narrow but long grassy area defined by strung rope on either side, where spectators gathered. Four men were at the start of the course, and four men with white cloths were at the end.
Frank walked up to the ropes halfway down the course and watched as the judge got ready to start four dogs. At his signal, each of the dog handlers – slippers, as he learned later – picked up their dogs by the back of the neck and their tails. When the judge dropped his hand, all the men hurled their dogs down the track towards the men with the white cloths, who were waving them frantically and calling the dogs to them. The race was over in less than a minute. Frank looked around for Mr. White.
There must have been twenty dogs competing, four at a time.
Mr. White was down behind the starting line – it appeared that he was
not in the next heat. Frank walked over to him.
“Hello, Mr. White.”
“Frank! Ah see ye cuildn’a stay away! Did ye bet on my Lady here?”
“No – I thought I would first watch. I’ve never seen whippet racing before.”
“Yer gang tae miss oot, laddie. Th’ man o’er thair wi’ the black apron is takin’ the wagers. Yer gang tae lose oot, nae placin’ a wager o’ mah Lady here.”
“Maybe next time, Mr. White.”
“Lady’s in th’ third heat. Ye watch… She’ll win.”
Frank tipped his cap and walked back to a spot along the course. The second heat was about to start. Four men with dogs stood at the start, ready to hurl on command; four men with white rags waited at the end, ready to call the dogs home. In less than a minute, three more dogs were eliminated, and a second dog had made it to the semifinals.
Frank watched Mr. White closely as he prepared to race Lady. White patted his dog’s head, left her with his slipper, and headed down to the end with his white cloth. At the judge’s command, the slipper, who was down on one knee, hurled Lady forcefully. When she landed, her front paws were already out and ready to run. The slipper nearly fell face down on the grass. Lady’s long and slender legs gave her sleek body remarkable stretch as she positively flew down the course to a very encouraging Mr. White, a good dog and a half ahead of her closest competitor. She was a remarkable dog.
After the race, Frank sought out Mr. White, who was giving Lady a treat and praising her while she rested during the last two qualifying heats.
“Your Lady is quite fast. You were right,” said Frank, patting Lady’s head. “The odds on her must be poor – she is obviously quite a contender.”
“No sae bad, Frank. Third heat, middle o’ th’ pack. Slowest in
th’ first heat – fastest in th’ fifth. Nae a big reputation yet. Wait a month, though. Then odds willn’a be sae guid.”
Frank looked intently at White and then headed off to find the man in the black apron. He bet sixpence on Lady and walked away that day winning three shillings – more than two day’s wages and enough to cover the money he needed to give Margaret for the week. He caught the bus home, smiling.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish