75 years and innumerable dog races later, the time has come for the Sarasota Kennel Club to close its track.
A 75-year tradition in Sarasota has reached the finish line. The Sarasota Kennel Club, which opened in 1929, hosted its final day of live greyhound racing May 4 — nearly a year before it was legally required to stop, as per new state law.
In November, about 69% of Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment designed to “phase out commercial dog racing in connection with wagering by 2020.” In response, the Collins family — which has been operating the track since 1944 — announced earlier this year that the now-over 74th season of greyhound racing would be its final.
According to Kennel Club spokesperson Cole Collins, the reason for the early end date was to not “push off the inevitable.”
“Obviously it’s going to be bittersweet,” he said. “It’s unfortunate because many dogs do like to run and there are many jobs on the line … But it will happen regardless, and we can’t just wait till the last second and then figure out what we’re doing.”
As a result, attendees of the final event came out in force, in part to place bids at Sarasota’s largest Kentucky Derby party, though also to bid farewell to the greyhounds, whom many had come to regard with affection over years of watching the races.
“I’m going to miss the dogs,” said Francine Guy, who has been in the area for over 30 years. “I’m an animal lover … It’s just sad. Just very, very sad, especially for the dogs.”
Others regarded the event with a tinge of nostalgia, sitting in the sun and indulging in memories that seemed to whisk them away with every greyhound that flew past.
“It hasn’t changed a bit,” recalled Ronnie Deans, who was attending the race that day with a longtime friend. “We came out here to rekindle old times. We started coming out here when we were 18 years old and now we’re 60. So, we just had to come out here today.”
And Bud Dailey, who continued to linger near the track as the evening drew on, reflected on how, when he first started coming to the Kennel Club in 1975, the remnants of segregation had still stood in the form of gates and fences on the far side of the stands.
“We used to go over there to bet because the beer was cheaper and the lines were shorter,” he recalled. “The track kind of reflected society back then.”
But by the afternoon of May 4, diversity was one of the most notable traits of the large throng of people. In fact, one of the shared qualities among attendees was not something wholly visible: sadness.
“We feel terrible,” said Charlotte Tyler, who has been coming to the Kennel Club since 1980. “I think they’re taking away the joy of a lot of people.”
Many of the dogs are bound for other tracks around Florida and, of the 750 dogs on-site at the Kennel Club, about 100 have been adopted. Others already have homes and are not available for adoption. The track owners are hoping to move to another site in the area and continue operating its popular card room. If and when sports gambling comes to Florida, that's another possibility, too.
Otherwise, about 6,000 workers statewide will likely lose their jobs by the time the last track closes.
And as the last round of dogs swept across the track later that evening, it was hard to believe that the final race had truly been run.
The 18th and ultimate race of the day closed without any particular pomp and circumstance. Attendees dispersed to grab another round of beer. Others congregated to watch the slow-motion replay on nearby televisions, their eyes scanning their programs to double check if they had placed their bets on the winning dog.
Regardless as to whether the races went out with a bang or a whimper, it was just business as usual, it seemed.
75 years later, it was just another day at the Kennel Club.