Greyhound racing ends in Birmingham

‘Perfect storm of circumstances’ spells the end

By Gary Lloyd

BIRMINGHAM — Live greyhound racing has ended at the Birmingham Race Course.

Birmingham Racing Commission Executive Director Kip Keefer confirmed the news Wednesday night, saying that he “had no involvement or input on the decision to discontinue live racing.”

Keefer, who served as the race course’s general manager from 1994 to 1998, said that greyhound racing “sadly is disappearing rapidly.”

The race course opened in 1987 as a horse racing track. Greyhound racing started there in 1992 when the facility was purchased by Milton McGregor.

“From a high point of 56 tracks around the country into the 1990s, few remain,” Keefer said. “There are a number of factors involved. The industry never embraced technology properly. The best example of that is right up to the end here, a customer is offered the opportunity to purchase a printed program with past performance information in the exact same format it was presented in programs in the 1950s. Pen and paper is not the way the world solves problems in this day and age.”

Keefer said the move was “basically a financial decision.” Of course, the coronavirus pandemic was a factor. Keefer said that while he was not privy to the discussions that were conducted amongst the Birmingham Race Course owners, “obviously analysis took place in the indefensible case of lack of profitability and quality finally worn [sic] out over the emotional desire to continue.”

“It’s just unfortunate,” Keefer said. “A perfect storm of circumstances is bringing it to an end.”

Live greyhound racing is done at the Birmingham Race Course. (photo via Pixabay)

He did say that in a recent conversation with Birmingham Race Course COO Lewis Benefield, “he emphasized his hope that this discontinuance is only temporary. He would very much like to offer a diverse mix that would include live racing, both horse and greyhound.”

With the discontinuance, live greyhound racing is done in Alabama, which was one of five states left participating in the sport. I wrote about that here, focusing on the group Grey2K USA’s efforts to end the sport nationwide.

Keefer said the “extreme animal rights crowd has long campaigned to shut down the sport.”

“The intricacies of that three-decade struggle are extremely involved,” he said. “The quick summation is, the American greyhound racing industry did not do a good job of telling their side of the story. The prevarication and sensationalism of cruelty to the dogs resonated much more effectively than what was perceived as greedy track owners. The allegation that greyhounds are mistreated is absurd. These are well conditioned, extraordinary athletes. If they are being abused in any way, they could not possibly perform at the remarkable levels exhibited day in and day out. And perhaps the biggest factor, the considerable following of racing fans developed in the mid part of the previous century have dwindled down to just a handful of regular enthusiasts. In October 1992 the opening night crowd for the first-ever race in Birmingham totaled 14,000 fans. In recent months, live greyhound performances have been conducted on some evenings with crowds less than 300.”

The Alabama Greyhound Adoption Center, located at the Birmingham Race Course, posted on its Facebook page Monday that it is currently assuring each greyhound is accounted for and placed.

“We will be spending the next 20 days cataloging every hound, making sure vaccines are up to date, and tending to any medical needs,” the post states. “This allows our racing kennels to move their racers to other tracks or farms. After the 20 days, we will be back to delivering Greyhounds across the U.S. as our great country opens back up slowly from the pandemic.”

The local adoptions from the center will also continue.

“Please have patience with us as our phones are ringing off the hook, emails are overloading, and we just can’t keep up,” the post states.

That’s the best news to come from this.

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