Connect with us

Headlines

Virus outbreak shuts door permanently at dog track

“This is the final race at SOKC. Thank you, everyone, for being here.”

There was supposed to be ceremony. The last of the dogs would trickle out to happily live out new lives with adoption agencies and new owners.

There was supposed to be tears. Owners would sweep the dust and dirt from empty kennels and turn off the lights. For the very last time.

Those who worked at Sanford Orlando Kennel Club knew the end was coming — Floridians voted overwhelmingly in 2018 to ban the sport of greyhound racing, and all 11 of the state’s tracks were on a path to closure. For years, dog trainers, handlers and owners had battled anti-racing activists. They lost. And they made plans for how they would leave the only life they had ever known.

But now a new enemy appeared, and it would make that inevitable end come more swiftly. And most of all, without ceremony.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the state to prohibit crowds and gatherings of any kind. That meant gamblers could no longer congregate at the track’s restaurant for cheeseburgers, fries or cheesesteaks. The word got out last Thursday — by Saturday, the track would have to close.

Sanford Orlando Kennel Club had planned to stay open until June. But now, in two short days, everything would be over.

When Saturday came, it didn’t seem like the end. The sun was high, and the sky was blue. The conditions were good — a perfect day for a race. The dogs ran like the wind, sprinting around the track at up to 45 mph with clouds of dust and sand trailing behind them.

Some of the track’s employees had been there for decades, and they would follow the routines that had become like breathing to them.

One of them, Kathi Lacasse, has been raising greyhounds for three decades. In the lobby of the clubhouse, she knelt with a hound’s head against her chest, tears in her eyes. He was the last dog she would ever weigh in.

Through bustling chaos of the weigh-in, where some trainers lead herds of five dogs, the murmurs carried. “The last day.” “One last time.”

This was the end of an institution in Florida. For years, dog racing had been as much a part of the state’s soul as the sand and surf along its coasts. Dog racing had been good to the state, a lucrative business in its heyday decades ago. But times had changed and so had public attitudes.

A.J. Grant, a kennel owner at the track, plucked dog tags from the clubhouse as souvenirs. No one would need them anymore.

The careers of racing greyhounds end routinely with injury or retirement. But never had the kennel club’s staff seen something like this. Almost every dog on the track was giving it one last shot.

Maybe there was something wonderful in the fact that the dogs didn’t know. That they pounded that sand with the same ferocity they always had. Greyhounds are known for their hearts, after all.

At 5 p.m., track announcer Bob Thacker’s voice crackled over the loudspeaker.

“This is the final race at SOKC. Thank you, everyone, for being here.”

Thacker wished there could have been more pomp and circumstance.

“Eighty-five years of racing, and it comes to a close,” she said.

On this day, there were no gamblers distantly hollering for their favorite to win. Just silence.

___

Republished with permission of Fresh Take Florida.

Written By

Sign up for Sunburn

Receive our team's agenda-setting morning read of what's hot in Florida politics. Delivered straight to your inbox Monday through Friday.

Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Renzo Downey, Rick Flagg, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Bob Sparks, Andrew Wilson.
Email: Peter@FloridaPolitics.com
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

Connect
Sign up for Sunburn

Receive our team's agenda-setting morning read of what's hot in Florida politics. Delivered straight to your inbox Monday through Friday.