A living, barking legend stepped onto the race track here Tuesday.
His name is Joe Dump. A few months earlier he had become a cult hero in Alabama when he won a record 31 greyhound races in a row. Then he was sold for a record price of $60,000. But his detractors were saying that he might be the most overpriced mutt in history.
Now Joe Dump had come to the citadel of dog racing, Holloywood Greyhound Track, to prove himself once and for all in the $125,000 World Greyhound Classic.
The dog had come a long way from his humble origins. His original owner, Joe Fallon, worked for the city dump in Key West, Fla. (where he was known to all as Joe Dump), and bred greyhounds as a hobby. He had been notably unsuccessful at this endeavor until he bred the litter that produced his namesake.
Joe Dump, the dog, showed some early promise at a low-class track in Pensacola, Fla., and then was shipped to the new Greenetrack in Eutaw, Ala. It wasn't long before he rivaled Bear Bryant as the state's most notable athletic celebrity.
Not many champion dogs call Eutaw, Ala., home, and against the moderate competition at Greenetrack Joe Dump reeled off 10 victories in a row. When he did, the track's publicity department started promoting him enthusiastically, speculating about his chances of breaking the record of 27 straight wins that had stood for more than a quarter-century.
"It started out as kind of a joke," said J. C. Stanley, Joe Dump's trainer. "This kid in the publicity department started writing about a record and built him up unreal."
Joe Dump lived up to his press notices, extending his streak to 15 races, then 20, then 25.
"The closer he got," Stanley said, "the more tense it got. You could go into any grocery store or place in town and people who'd never seen a race before were talking about Joe Dump. You could travel a hundred miles from here and still hear about him. People came from as far as Memphis to watch him."
Joe Dump smashed the record and went on to win 31 in a row.His streak finally ended when two rivals sandwiched him leaving the startng box, but that defeat did not deter three young Alabama businessmen from paying $60,000 to acquire him.
This was a bit like playing a million dollars for the star horse at Charles Town, and even Stanley conceded, "Why they bought him for $60,000 I have no idea." Joe Dump has been earning about $300 a race during his winning streak at Greenetrack.
The new owners decided to test Joe Dump in big money races in New England, but the results were inconclusive. At one track, Joe Dump was injured after winning four races in a row; at another, the stretch was too short for his liking.
But when the dog came to Hollywood for the sport's most prestigious event, Stanley felt confident.
"I think he'll take the Hollywood track," he said. "And this is the best dog I've ever seen. There are some dogs who will run fast one time and then won't try in their next three starts.The thing that makes a dog like this great is his desire to win."
Tuesday, Joe Dump was entered in a schooling race designed to familiarize him with the Hollywood track and get him ready for the qualifying rounds of the Classic, which will begin next week. When the box opened, he broke a bit tardily, rushed into contention down the straightaway and reached the turn in second place. He seemed poised to take the lead when he did something you won't see in a thousand greyhound races.
Joe Dump stopped. Stopped cold. And then, while the rest of the dogs continued to race toward the wire, he turned around and started to walk away from the track. If he could have talked, he would have been saying, "To hell with it."
When he was taken back to his kennel, a veterinarian diagnosed a torn muscle in his right rear leg. The vet said he will be out of action two or three months, but that there is a 95 percent likelihood that he can run again.
Joe Dump will have to wait to become a cult figure in the big time of dog racing.