Sunday, February 19, 2017

When Palma Went To The Dogs

The announcement last week that the scheme for an "urban forest" in Palma will include a conversion of the former dog track may well have had some scratching their heads. There used to be greyhound racing in Palma? There did indeed, and the "canódromo" is a further relic of a sporting past on the island which is littered with abandoned arenas of some form or another, such as the El Tirador velodrome - right by the dog track and also to be part of the forest - that was opened in 1903.

The origins of the track lie with two men. One was the gentlemanly figure of the Marquis Villagragima, son of the Count of Romanones. Towards the end of the 1920s, the marquis - a regular visitor to England - came across greyhound racing and thought that it would be a splendid sport to be imported to Spain. He was therefore behind the establishment of the Club Deportivo Galguero Español ("galguero" coming from "galgo", the Spanish word for greyhound) and the first track to be built in Spain in Madrid.

The other person was Miguel Rosselló Andreu. From a wealthy Porreres family, he had sought a military career, only to be struck down by typhoid. Seeking alternative ventures and with the aid of military nobles, he got to know the marquis and, soon after the Madrid track was built, so were two more - one in Valencia and the other in Palma. Initially, and prior to obtaining the land for the track, races were staged at the trotting track. Despite greyhound racing being almost totally unknown to the paying (and betting) public, these first races were a great success, thus confirming the commercial value of there being a dedicated track.

Rosselló was to also become a breeder. There was commercial sense to this, as the first dogs to race in Palma had to be imported from Ireland and England, which at the start of the 1930s was far from a straightforward procedure. There were greyhounds but these were ones suited to coursing, which had existed prior to the dog tracks, and not to races of some thirty seconds. Obtaining dogs was just one obstacle. Another was a 1932 prohibition on betting. This, though, was to be lifted two years later. Subsequently, and despite the Civil War, greyhound racing began to flourish. Republican Spain could count on tracks in Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia, while Nationalist Spain had Tenerife, Las Palmas, Zaragoza, Seville and Palma.

At the end of the Civil War, the former sporting club became the Federación Española Galguera. By this time, greyhounds for stud had grown old, and importing dogs was impossible because of the world war. Breeding in Mallorca and the Canaries did, though, help to sustain the sport, which held the first official championship under the auspices of the new federation in 1940. Legendary studs of the era included Mallorca's Panama, the father of a dog who acquired even grander status, the bitch Costa Rica II, which was to win the first Balearic championship, also in 1940, and the Spanish championship in Barcelona the following year.

Palma was to come to be considered to be one of the finest of tracks in the country. By the mid-1970s there were sixteen tracks, but the sport was never widespread across Spain. Various tracks closed, and so the focus was on the Canaries - where there were once eight tracks - Barcelona with four, Valencia, Madrid and Palma.

The final Balearic championship was held in 1980, the same year that the national championship was also staged in Palma. Two years later, the national federation stopped subsidising the various regional championships, a decision which heralded the gradual decline of greyhound racing.

As can be seen from the fact that tracks were confined to only a few parts of the country, it was never a sport that took off in a way similar to, for example, England. This lack of popularity and an absence of funding were to bring about its end, though just as importantly, if not more, were the efforts of those opposed to the racing of greyhounds and in particular the conditions in which they were kept and the ways in which they were treated.

From the start of 1990s, the British organisation Greyhound in Need, founded by Anne Finch, helped to investigate the treatment of dogs and to bring this to wider public knowledge. One by one, the tracks disappeared. The last one to close was in Barcelona in 2006. Palma's canódromo, meanwhile, ceased to be in 1999.

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