Each February for almost a century and a quarter, small groups of British and Irish followers of the greyhound have gathered near Liverpool for the Waterloo Cup, one of Britain's classic sporting events and the most famous coursing competition in the world. Coursing is an ancient pleasure of dogs and men; traditionally, it was simply a form of hunting in which hounds chased game. The modern sport is really a race rather than a hunt: two greyhounds at a time compete against each other in pursuing a single hare. Points are awarded for catching up to the hare, for diverting it ("coursing" it) at an abrupt right angle, for diverting it at a lesser angle, for a kill. The event is held each year rain or shine at Altcar, the flat, bare estate of the Earl of Sefton.
Intent watcher is Jim Rimmer, the slipper. Slipper has the job of releasing each pair of greyhounds when hare is from 60 to 80 yards in front and of seeing to it that dogs start off evenly.
In close pursuit, two greyhounds begin to gain on hare. Dogs wear either red or white bands around their necks for easy identification. Average time of a course is about 60 seconds.
Owner-watchers are Mr. and Mrs. George Straughan of Northumberland. Straughan has been coursing for 40 years. His Jovial Rancher was beaten in second round of the Waterloo Cup.
Hooded head is that of Lord Rank, top man in British cinema industry, who is rabid fan, closely follows coursing action.
Capped heads, against wind and rain, include Ronald Sainsbury's (second from left) of British food store chain.
Bad Weather and Good Fun
No matter how bitter the day at Altcar, the onlookers enjoy themselves—or insist they do. They tell a joke, have a nip, make a bet. Mostly they watch the dogs. The field for the Waterloo Cup is limited to 64 entrants. The field is reduced to 32 in the first round, to 16 in the second, and so on until two dogs are left to compete in the finals for the cup and ¬£1,000. The 32 first-round losers, however, go right on coursing for the Waterloo Purse, and the 16 second-round losers compete for the Waterloo Plate. Thus in the three days of competition the spectator can see more than 100 courses.
Lordly jest is enjoyed during a lull in the coursing action by Lord Kenyon (left), who was the honorary secretary of the three-day Waterloo meeting, Gerald Thompson (center), a Liverpool solicitor, and Captain John Williams, the Earl of Sefton's agent.
Warming scoth is savored by Lady Hudson, dog owner and breeder, who came down to Altcar from Scotland.
Soothing snuff is sniffed by colorfully attired sixth Marquess of Bath, who carries favorite greyhound-head cane.
Bellowing beater Charles Stone, 69, moves toward a hare. Beaters try to drive hares from the underbrush by moving in slowly contracting semicircles.
Laughing bookmaker Stands next to his odds board. Betting is not heavy at the meeting, but England's tradition-minded bookmakers like atmosphere.
Coursing has always attracted the aristocracy, from the time greyhounds hunted deer for kings. The wealthy and the noble own many of the dogs, and they provide much of the lively background that makes the Waterloo Cup the unique affair that it is. Many of the spectators drive up to Altcar in graceful old horse-drawn carriages, some owned, some rented for the occasion from a nearby resort. The greyhounds are given luxurious care: they are fed carefully calculated diets that include milk, chopped beef and vitamins, they bask in the warmth of infra-red rays, they are frequently massaged.
Leaping Yorkshireman Don Welbourn, a hotel operator, jumps stream instead of using bridge. He explained high spirits by saying, "It's my day out."
Tethered finalists, held here by slipper, are Mrs. Basil Kerr's Jonquil (right), and Harry, owned by Noel Hardy, a Manchester brewer. Jonquil won final course from Harry in 18 seconds, making quick kill.
Disappointed owner, J. McWilliam, carries his greyhound, Alvaston Coastguard, from field. Hound broke his hock during semifinal of Waterloo Plate, one of two consolation events.
Cluster of spectators gathers for brisk conversation despite the cold and wet weather. Many used the carriages as a vantage point to watch the courses.
Elated victor, Mrs. Basil Kerr, walks proudly from the field after Jonquil's victory. She is followed by Lord Kenyon, who is holding the trophy awarded for Waterloo Plate. Jonquil was a 100-to-1 shot.