A night at the Tucson Greyhound Park

This story was completed for my Features class

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A view of the greyhounds walking to the starting gate from the Dog Days Bar, which is no longer in use.

Eight handlers dressed in all black march their dogs down the dirt track of Tucson Greyhound Park in the post parade for the first race of the night, as the announcer boisterously welcomes crowds to another night of racing in “the fastest sport alive.”

No one is sitting in the grandstands. The clubhouse above sits in darkness. The only person outside is a man smoking a cigarette with his back to the greyhounds, watching the TVs inside the race track’s building.

On this Wednesday night, about 30 people are at the track. Nearly all of them are inside the main betting room, eyes fixed on grainy TV images coming in from greyhound race tracks thousands of miles away. Every minute or so, a bettor would see something on TV and make a dash through the dozens of neon-colored tables in the room for the tellers.

“Oh man, it used to get busy in here,” says Adella Zamorano, a two-decade veteran of the teller counters at the race track.

She and the two other tellers at the counter constantly move money — it’s a cash-only operation — and betting slips for the few dozen track visitors who call out the numbers of races and starting gate positions for dogs racing in Birmingham and Daytona Beach.

Zamorano remembers when hundreds would pack the race track each night. She started working at the track in 1994, when, she recalls, the average crowd size would be about 700 on any given night. Now, that crowd average has dwindled to about 50, she says.

The reason Zamorano gives for the decline of Tucson Greyhound Park is the opening of Indian casinos nearby.

“Maybe we should add some slot machines,” Zamorano says. “That might bring people back.”

While the race track promotes a “sunny and warm” Tucson winter, the temperature dips below 40 degrees for the night. As the greyhounds outside sprint out of the gate for each race, only a few inside will lift up their heads to silently watch.

The decline of racing in at Tucson Greyhound Park mirrors the trend around the country for the sport. Only about 19 greyhound race tracks remain open, according to GREY2K USA Worldwide, a group that advocates for an end to greyhound racing. Thirty-nine states have outlawed commercial dog racing.

At the Tucson Greyhound Park, the races seem to attract more scandals than bettors. During 2015, the Arizona Daily Star published at least four articles detailing alleged abuses at the track, ranging from a trainer drugging dogs to a failure on the part of the race track to report greyhound injuries to the state.

Citing unfair treatment by the media, the track’s general manager declined to be interviewed.

Tom Carter is one who regularly comes out to the Tucson Greyhound Park. He makes the drive down from Sun City, outside Phoenix, one or two times a week to sit at an aqua-colored table inside the main betting room and pore over the Daily Racing Form.

Carter is more familiar than most with the sport. At one time in the late ‘90s Carter owned as many as 85 greyhounds, racing them at tracks around the country.

“I’ve been here during the better days, when they had the clubhouse open,” he says about Tucson Greyhound Park. “Unfortunately, I don’t think that will ever happen here again.”

Now, the race track doesn’t bother to turn on the lights in half of the building and it walled off the clubhouse level nearly a decade ago, according to Zamorano.

Carter, now retired, also blames the casinos for taking away some business, as well as the negative coverage greyhound racing has received.

Carter says “loud-mouthed” activists perpetuate a negative perception of the treatment of greyhounds in racing, amplifying bad apples to make the rest of the sport look bad. His greyhounds, he says, were given heat in the winter, air in the summer and massages and acupuncture when needed.

“They were spoiled,” Carter says. He compares greyhound racing to other sports saying that owners want to “keep their athletes in top shape,” rather than having them abused.

Still, he hopes to see greyhound racing return to some prominence in the sporting world.

“Hopefully, the sport kicks up and gets some new blood in it,” Carter says. “That’s what they need.”

Carter walks outside through a cracked glass door to stand next to the track for a race. The muzzled greyhounds erupt from the starting gate after the bell rings, pursuing the mechanical rabbit that rounds the track.

In a blur, the eight dogs sprint past the empty grandstands, kicking up dirt under the track’s lights. Two greyhounds emerge from the pack as they near the finish line.

It’s a photo finish and Carter hurries back inside.

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