Updated: May 4
Over the past year, we've thrown ourselves into amateur racing. At first, it was very much supposed to be an occasional past time, but we've ended up doing more racing than anything else recently because my dogs absolutely adore it. This post is going to focus on Large Gazehound Racing Association (LGRA) which is straight racing, National Oval Track Racing Association (NOTRA) which is oval track, and AOK9's Racing and Lure Coursing Program which offers straight, oval, and lure coursing options for all breeds. I am not going to be talking about Whippet Racing Association or Continental Whippet Association because I just have very limited experience with them.
I feel I would be remiss in not starting with: No money is involved in this. No betting. The only time money even comes up is for the entry fees I pay for my dogs to have the time of their lives. That's right. We don't win money. Contrary to popular opinion even most dog shows don't give money as prizes. This is all beside the fact of my own personal feelings about professional Greyhound Racing (which I support).
I take my dogs out to race or course or run agility because they love it. Anubi would happily race every single day. It's about finding something for my dog to do, giving them an outlet. If my dogs aren't having fun, I'm going to pull them. End of story.
Early on in our racing experience, there was a race where Ash just loped the entire first race instead of sprinting. I'm not sure if he was tired, I'm not sure if he was uncertain about being released by someone new, I'm not sure if it just seemed like a very long ways and he was mentally uncertain. Regardless, I pulled him from the other two races and to this day, I don't feel bad about it. Ash does less racing than he does lure coursing, because he just doesn't enjoy it quite as much. You can't make a dog run quickly, perform well, if they're unhappy. They do it for the joy of it and the instincts that have existed in them for thousands of years.
Now let's look at the various different racing organizations. I've talked about coursing, fast CAT, and CAT before, so if you want to learn more about those check my other post here.
Large Gazehound Racing Association (LGRA)
*This section talks about some universal facts about racing, so even if you're running AOK9 or NOTRA I suggest reading through it for the boxing explanation and point breakdown*
Rule Book: https://www.lgra.org/node/4050
LGRA allows the following sighthound breeds: Afghan Hounds, Azawakh, Basenji, Borzoi, Chart Polski, Cirneco dell’Etna, Greyhounds, Ibizan Hounds, Irish Wolfhounds, Italian Greyhounds, Magyar Agar, Pharaoh Hounds, Portuguese Podengo Medio/Grande, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Salukis, Scottish Deerhounds, Silken Windhounds, and Sloughi. As Whippets have their own straight racing organizations, they are not included in LGRA.
A race meet consists of three programs of 200 yards each. Each program consists of 2-4 dogs all of the same breed. If a breed has more than 4 dogs entered the are split into varying races according to ability (high-point, mid-point, low-point) and dogs move up and down in the races depending on how they do. Every dog runs blanketed in blankets numbered from 1-4 and muzzled. Ideally, there will be no interference in racing but the muzzles are to keep the dogs safe both from each other and from biting the line and cutting up their mouth. Dogs must certify that they can run cleanly with competition before being allowed to run with competition, this is done via a certification run where the person with the green dog must arrange for their own bye dog for their dog to race against. Meets can be either hand slipped (a person physically lets the dogs go) or boxed where they are put in racing boxes and when the lure starts the boxes are opened. In LGRA, the lure has a high value squawker attached to it which will often encourage hesitant dogs to run, even when they wouldn't if it was just plastic bags attached. If a dog is injured or tired or just not enjoying themselves they can be scratched in between programs.
Unlike in lure coursing, dogs must wear a collar with all of the racing organizations. Racing is generally a drag lure (reset via an ATV or similar) as opposed to continuous, so there is less concern about dogs getting hung up on the line. And it is very important with four other dogs at the lure that you catch your dog quickly.
The big hurdles to getting your dog into racing, in my opinion, are having your dog run with competition in close proximity, wearing a muzzle, and boxing.
Regarding the running with other dogs, lure coursing is easier in some respects because the dogs are more spread out and don't have to get in each others way. Amalu has struggled to run cleanly with her housemates in racing because she wants to play with them.
I am a strong proponent of muzzle training normally so in theory your dog should already be set to go, but sometimes the dogs get distracted by the muzzles. Having your dog practice running and playing in their muzzle is a great way to help them understand how to wear their muzzle while active.
Most, though not all, LGRA meets utilize race boxes. These are boxes where you load each dog into their own box from the back, check to make sure they are all facing forward, then when the lure starts moving the box operator opens the box and the dogs break out of it. This can feel quite unnatural to the dogs. For dogs that are comfortable in their crate, it seems to be slightly easier, but if you can, I highly recommend a dog practice boxing before being entered. It can be dangerous if a dog turns themselves around in the box or doesn't understand the game.
The above video is actually a NOTRA meet but the boxing process is the same. #2 is Ash who is experienced in boxing. Note he is down low and digging in to start as quickly as possible. #1 is a Saluki who is lovely but inexperienced in boxing (only boxed in one meet before), notice she's more hesitant and more hunched. She's a great runner but doesn't know the game yet.
The point system for racing is quite unique to most other point systems I've seen in other sports. It took awhile to get the hang of it, but now that I know it, I absolutely love how it works. To earn a Gazehound Racing Champion or Oval Racing Champion (NOTRA) title a dog needs to earn 12 Champion Points. In order to become a Supreme Gazehound Racing Champion or Supreme Oval Racing Champion dogs must earn 30 National Points. For each additional 30 National Points a number is added behind their supreme title suffix. Example: SGRC3
Dogs are eligible to earn Champion Points, if they are not already a GRC (or ORC). That means when I first started racing my Azawakh, whoever won the race took home a Champion Point toward their GRC. National Points are earned in parallel to Champion Points. So if you have a race where you have no GRC dogs the dogs that earn points with earn both Champion and National Points.
How many Champion or National points dogs earn depend on how many dogs of a breed are entered. Depending on how many dogs are entered, more than one dog can add points. I've attached the breakdown for both points below.
Why the super complicated points breakdown? That's a really good question and there's a really good answer. Racing sports operate under the assumption that while there will always be good days and bad days for a particular dogs, a fast dog is always going to be fast and a slow dog is always going to be slow. That means that your medium fast dog who is consistently beating other dogs but not fast enough to win a race would never end up with points. So racing does something really cool to encourage the slower dogs to keep playing.
Once a dog has completed their GRC or ORC (NOTRA) they are no longer eligible to continue earning Champion Points. They will continue to earn National Points but any Champion Points will roll down hill to the next fast dog (that isn't a GRC/ORC). This means that your fast dogs who aren't quite fast enough to win races will be able to become GRC. I love the concept that as long as your dog is beating competition, they may still be able to finish their champion title.
A quick example because this concept took a moment to understand for me. When I started racing, Anubi is always my fastest dog. That meant since there were 3 total Azawakh entered, he would earn one Champion Point and one National Point. Whichever girl earned second would accumulate .5 Champion and National Points. When Anubi finished his GRC he continued to accrue National Points (he's at 16 National Points total thus far) but Amidi and Amalu, who switch off winning races often, started to earn Champion Points.
In addition to GRC and SGRC titles, LGRA also has Junior Straight Racer and Senior Straight Racer titles. For a JSR title a dog must finish 4 meets cleanly (this means running in all 3 programs each meet). For an SSR title a dog must complete 6 meets and finish in the top half of competition.
One of my absolute favorite things about racing is how encouraging everyone is, even if your dog is the slowest in attendance. There is a celebration of the Turtle, because after all, the race couldn't be run without them. Ash is almost always the Turtle and sometimes clubs will offer fun Turtle awards to encourage everyone to continue to participate.
Ash and Amalu were Turtles at this meet and look how cute the Turtle Award was! The Best of Opposite Sex ribbon belonged to Amidi who took second place to Anubi that day.
Registration is so very easy, which is one of the things I love about LGRA. Only $2 and you fill out your LGRA Racing Number application. https://www.lgra.org/sites/default/files/2016-03/LRNApp.doc
You can mail it, you $2, and your dog's registration in to the instructions on the application or you can email your completed application to firstname.lastname@example.org and Paypal Terri.Treasurer.LGRA@gmail.com. Be sure to include your PayPal reciept in your email along with your application and dog's registration.
You can always look up your dog's registration number and points using LGRA's grading guide which can be found at the link below:
One final word on how to read a race board during the meet. Races will be drawn and assigned at the beginning of the day. Those races will be posted on the board. The race your dogs are in can change throughout the day so make sure you check the board with each program. If you are running dogs in multiple races they will try to space out your entries. If you're concerned that your races are back to back, kindly talk to you race meet secretary about changing this. The race board will not only tell you what races your dogs are running it. It will tell you what blanket colors they will be wearing (this does change throughout the day). In the picture below, note the blanket colors on the side. So the Azawakh were in race 3 in the below example and Anubi was in #1 and Amidi was in #2.
The rest of the race board can be a bit confusing, but people will always be willing to talk you through it. If you enlarge the below picture you will see in the first column the dog's name and something called their WAVE. In a meet each of the programs earns a certain number of points. These points are not for titling - they are for sorting dogs into races appropriate to their speed. On the top row the program and race numbers are listed. On the bottom row of the dog's card their WAVE points for the meet are written in as dogs complete programs. If a dog wins the first program they get 8 points. If they win the second program they earn 6 points. If they win the third program they get 8 points again. If they place in each of those programs they get a smaller amount of points (looker at the sharpied numbers on Amidi's bottom row). These points are how who won the overall race is decided. They are weighted differently for each program to minimize ties. The top row of the last four columns detail the dog's place for the day, their GRC and NRC points earned that day, and their registration number. The bottom row and last four columns detail the dog's total earned GRC and NRC points and the owner's last name.
National Oval Track Racing (NOTRA):
Rule Book: https://www.notra.org/downloads/rulebk1.pdf
The following breeds are allowed to play in NOTRA: Afghan Hounds, Azawakh (provisional for 2021), Basenji, Borzoi, Cirneco dell’Etna, Greyhounds, Ibizan Hounds, Irish Wolfhounds, Italian Greyhounds, Magyar Agar, Pharaoh Hounds, Portuguese Podengo, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Salukis, Scottish Deerhounds, Silken Windhounds, Sloughis, and Whippets
I'm much newer to NOTRA, considering Azawakh were only just provisionally recognized this year. However, since I pursued that recognition for 8 months, I feel I'm quite well versed about what is expected at a NOTRA meet. NOTRA is broken down into two categories: Whippets and Other Breeds. Whippets have other rules that I won't get into heavily because I know less about them, but I do know they need a minimum of 15 starters (Other Breeds only need 2 starters), they often run 4 instead of 3 programs, they can run either 4 or 5 dogs in individual races, and they have a different point breakdown. Like LGRA, dogs must have certified that they run cleanly with another dog - certification runs must be a minimum of 200 yards with a turn.
Like LGRA, NOTRA for Other Breeds is 3 programs and consists of 2-4 dogs per race that must be blanketed and muzzled. The track can be an oval or uval and can be anywhere from 300-400+ yards. Most NOTRA meets are boxed.
Points work as detailed above in the LGRA system (except for Whippets). The point breakdown for ORC and SORC tittles is below.
In order to earn an ORC for other breeds a dog needs 12 Champion Points. For whippets they need 15 points. In order to earn a SORC for an other breed or a whippet bitch a dog needs 30 National Points. Whippet dogs (males) need 50 National Points.
Having watched and volunteered at the NOTRA meet I attended and having spoken to people who run their dogs in NOTRA regularly - oval track requires more strategy than straight racing. A smaller, slower dog that routinely gets on the rails (the fence) is running a shorter distance and can win meets. Similarly, if a dog is slower than their competition and loses the lure around the corner, it can be easy to shake their confidence. Good lure operation is always key, but it's extra important in oval racing compared to straight racing.
The race board is as described above in the LGRA section.
Registering is simple, just fill out the NOTRA Racing Number application and mail it and your $2 registration fee in. https://www.notra.org/downloads/forms/NRN-application.pdf
Like with LGRA, your dog's points and rankings can be found in a grading guide.
Other Breeders: http://notraracing.org/grading-guides/OBGrad.pdf
AOK9 Racing and Coursing Program (All Breed Racing):
AOK9 is a program first started in California by Audrey Hsia and her sister Olivia. It was created to allow non-sighthound breeds a chance to join in all the fun of racing. When there are not enough entries for Whippet racing, there are times Whippets will race in AOK9 instead.
Like the above racing organizations, races consist of 3 programs with 2-4 dogs. Dogs must certify that they run cleanly with another dog before being allowed to enter. They must all be blanketed and muzzled. If there are start boxes that fit a wide variety of breed, meets can be boxed, but at least in the Pacific Northwest they are hand-slipped. Meets can either be straight (200 yards like NOTRA) or oval (300+ yards like NOTRA). AOK9 also offers a lure coursing program, which I won't speak to because I'm not familiar with it.
Unlike the above organizations, the only titles that you are working towards are Champion titles. That being said, how cool is it that there are Champion titles for all breed racing? AOK9 has a total of 8 different champion titles that can be earned. To understand these, you first have to understand that points are accumulated in two different paths. You can accumulate them through Breed Racing - which is solely against other dogs of the breed. Or you can accumulate them through Mixed Racing - which is against other dogs of varying breed but of similar speeds.
Aside from that, points are accumulated similarly to the above organizations. 12 points in straight Breed Racing gets your dog their Breed Racing Champion title. Whereas 12 points in straight Mixed Racing earns your dog their Mixed Racing Champion title. 12 points in oval Breed Racing and your dog earns their Breed Oval Champion title and 12 points in oval Mixed Racing and your dog earns their Mixed Oval Champion title.
Beyond those four champion titles, there are also National Breed Racing Champion, National Mixed Racing Champion, National Breed Oval Champion, and National Mixed Oval Champion. In order to earn these titles your dog needs 30 points toward each title.
Champion and National points can be earn concurrently like in LGRA and NOTRA and below is the point breakdown.
Let me tell you, there is really nothing cooler than seeing a wide variety of breeds racing cleanly and having fun. Cascadia Sighthound Association was the first club in the Pacific Northwest to offer AOK9 and it is starting to be quite widely spread with more and more clubs offering it. I absolutely love seeing our sighthound community being welcoming and inclusive of all breeds. And I also love that people who own breeds other than sighthounds can bring out their other dogs and let them play along too.
Figuring out the grouping for Mixed racing can be tricky and the first couple meets in our area has mismatches. When clubs are first starting out encourage And you competitors to be patient while bugs are worked out. You can also get things that look like my mismatches but aren't- we plan to run a beagle with my client's Newfie. But it was super fun to see a Koolie, Dalmatian, a Malinois, and a Lab mix run together. Breed racing is equally fun seeing Kai Ken run together or Teddy Roosevelt Terriers. I've been really impressed with how the dogs have raced against each other too, largely very clean. This is the type of sport flyball dogs can excel in size they already race against other dogs.
A couple more things to note, AOK9 has a lurcher/sighthound class. This is perfect for intact sport mixes, sighthounds that aren't recognized by kennel clubs (Taigans, etc), and great for Whippets when they're aren't enough entries for Whippet racing.
Registering is easy, just follow the instructions here. Registration is only $2, which is true of all the racing organizations and you can use AKC paperwork or simply submit two pictures if you don't have registration to submit. This is fantastic for those people with intact mixes, as well as those with breeds that aren't recognized by kennel clubs here in the United States like Koolies, Taigan, Thai Bangkew, and many more.
You can track your dog's progress similarly to other organizations by checking out AOK9's grading guides here.
Straight Grading Guide:
Oval Grading Guide:
If clubs are interested in offering AOK9 meets in the future, here is the contact for clubs interested in becoming approved to offer it: https://aok9racing.weebly.com/contact.html
A couple final notes - the all breed racing community is one of the nicest I've ever met. They want your dogs to succeed and thus they often hold practices to encourage dogs to work through any problems they're having. That being said, race meets are a lot of work. Please volunteer to help out. All race meets need two finish line judges, various foul judges, and a box operator (if one is being used). All of these positions are easy to learn and I can tell you, everyone will appreciate the help! If those positions are filled or you just are new enough you're not comfortable volunteering in an official capacity, offer to help box or catch people's dogs. Offer to help hold dogs for those people with dogs in multiple races. There are lots of moving pieces so there's pretty much always something to do.
Most racing events tend to be much less expensive than other events (especially Fast CAT and CAT), plus your dogs get to run three times each day. Many clubs do a "kennel rate" for four or more dogs, which means those of us who want to run all our dogs (I have five entered next weekend) don't have to break the bank to let all their dogs play.