A Thrill at the Dog Track

Damon Runyon

Star Tribune/August 4, 1935

Often we have been asked: 

“What was your greatest thrill in sport?”

We have never given the true answer until now.  

This is because our greatest thrill was a private thrill. 

Perhaps no one felt the same thrill at the moment. It was a passing incident of sport that meant nothing in particular to anybody but us. 

The Dempsey-Firpo thrill, the Los Angeles Olympic games thrill, the one-inch stand of Columbia’s football team, the ride of the old “Big Four” of polo—these, and a thousand and one other great thrills that we have experienced were common property. 

But our greatest thrill, the one we shall remember all our days, was largely an individual matter. It came from a dog. 

A racing dog. A fawn-colored greyhound named Damon Runyon. 

You can see the connection. 

He was a great dog, a champion if ever one lived. He was a monarch of his racing time, and looked and acted the part.  

In Frank Menke’s all sports record book, under American records in the chapter devoted to dog racing, you see this entry:

¼ mile, time, 25, Damon Runyon, Miami, 1927.  

It still stands.  

The tracks have improved, the game has improved, perhaps the dogs have improved. 

But there it is, the fawn-colored Damon Runyon’s speed mark for the distance.  

It was made at the old Hialeah dog track at Miami, if memory serves, and they have been shooting at it for eight years all over the country. 

Now Damon Runyon, the racing dog, is dead, as a telegram from Portland, Ore., informs us. He died last Monday at Beaverton, in Oregon, well on in years, leaving behind him numerous progeny to carry on his name and fame on the dog tracks of the land. 

We did not own Damon Runyon. His owner was Captain Otto Wohlauf, famous in dog racing circles. The fawn greyhound was imported to this country from England as a young dog and was named for us as a compliment that became a considerable honor among the dog racing people. 

Few faster dogs than Damon Runyon ever lived. He won a large amount of money in purses, and was valued in his racing prime at $10,000. 

He was to the dog tracks, in his heyday, what Omaha is to the horse tracks today. He was the champion. 

We never saw Damon Runyon until he was 7 or 8 years old, way past his peak. 

Captain Otto Wohlauf had him down in Miami one winter some years ago with the rest of his racing kennel, and we visited the old dog. He was a quiet, friendly creature, and very handsome. 

“He can still run a little,” said Captain Wohlauf, “but we don’t race him much any more. He’s about all through, and we’re going to use him in the stud hereafter.”

We expressed regret that we had never happened to be where we could see Damon Runyan in action when he was at his best. We said we wish could have seen him run just once, anyway.  

“Well.” Captain Wohlauf said, “I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll run him in a race at Miami Beach tomorrow night, just so you can say you saw him. He won’t get anything, but he loves to run more than any dog I ever saw, and he’ll enjoy it, anyway, and you’ll get a kick out of seeing your namesake travel.” 

So the next night we went out to the dog track built by the late George (Tex) Rickard, and found Captain Wohlauf waiting for us with a program in his hand. 

“The old fellow’s in good condition,” he said, “but I’m afraid he’s a little over his head in this race at his age, so if you bet anything, bet on this dog here.” 

He indicated an entry, but we paid no attention. We made a modest wager on Damon Runyon, and then we went out to the stewards’ stand to stand with Jack Fisher, the racing judge, to see the race. 

We got our first thrill when the first prices were posted on the approximate odds board, Damon Runyon was opened at 4 to 1, and bang! before you could say boo, he was down to 7 to 5, and the customers were clamoring for more tickets at the mutuels windows. 

“Hum!” hummed Jack Fisher. “Sentimental betting. They can’t forget what a champion the old boy was.” 

A moment later he was forgetting his judicial role to join us in a wild whooping, and the old dog, off in a tangle, trailed his field until the last few yards, then came leaping down the middle of the track, a tawny streak, to overhaul the front runners and win by two lengths. 

The roar from the crowd that followed sounded as if the ocean just beyond the backstretch fence had suddenly decided to go on a tear, and then Damon Runyon came trotting back to the judges’ stand, his tail wagging, and looking up at us as if to say: 

“Well, what do you think of me now?”

That was our greatest thrill, and it lives with us again at the mere recollection, as we read the news that Damon Runyon, the greyhound, has gone to the happy hunting ground of the great racing dogs. 


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