1984 Greyhound Hall of Fame Inductee
- 1st Hollywood World Classic
- 1st Hollywood Futurity
- 1st Biscayne Irish-American
- 1st Wonderland Battle of Ages
- Set Black Hills 5/16 Record
- Winner Two Match Races with Rooster Cogburn
- Set Tauton 3/8 record
- Won $124,471, then a record
- Rural Rube Award Winner
- Captain All-America Team
From Great Names in Greyhound Pedigrees, Vol.II, The Eighties. Part of the chapter on Downing.
In the Seventies, Greyhound racing dubbed him “Greyhound Of The Decade.” In the Eighties, he ranked as one of the sport’s most influential sires.
Even today in the Nineties, Downing probably remains the most recognizable name of any Greyhound in this country, past or present, both among those in and outside of the sport. On the list of all-time Greyhound celebrities, Downing just may be No. 1.
Much of that fame was earned, but there were other factors involved–not the least being the masterful way his career was managed and how he was promoted. Downing was definitely a dog who was in the right place at the right time. For example when then-Hollywood promoter Roy Berger was able to convince the sports media that the 1977 World Classic was the Greyhound racing’s answer to the “Super Bowl” (which it was: and that a victory in it by a precocious pup was a once-in-a lifetime phenomenon (which it was), the publicity that followed was unprecedented. Millions saw the replay of Downing winning the Classic the next day on a national TV sports show, and Sport Illustrated carried an in-depth feature (one of two Downing stories it would eventually run). His owners and trainers always seemed to make the right moves that maximized attention and publicity.
Even a fan club sprouted. Downing’s short, snappy (and regal) name caught on with the public–and fit handily in a headline.
Of course, none of the promotions and the daring decisions made by his principals would have mattered had Downing no been able to deliver the goods and meet the challenge. But when called upon to do the impossible and to win the Classic with very few starts under his blanket–he delivered. When asked to repeat that performance in his next three stakes at three different tracks (the Hollywood Futurity, the Biscayne Irish-American and the Wonderland Battle Of The Ages)–he delivered. When asked to beat the one other sprint legend of his day, Rooster Cogburn, in a head- on, best-of-three match series–he delivered, closing out the series in two races. When asked to meet the track champ at a tiny track in western South Dakota–he delivered (with style demolishing the track record). When asked to go a distance in the American Derby, when everyone knew he was a pure sprinter–he delivered, showing what he was made of by setting a track record of 36.84 in the trials. When asked to demonstrate to the world the excitement of Greyhound racing and to show that it’s an honest-to-goodness sport with true superstars– Downing delivered.
There were other feats performed by Downing along the way. He was Hollywood’s track champ that memorable maiden season, going 16-0-1 in 20 starts. At Wonderland, his record was 8-0-2 in 10 starts. He set new career and single-year earnings records of $124,471.
AGTOA named him captain of their 1977 All-American team, and NGA members overwhelmingly voted him recipient of the Rural Rube Award. He even finished second on that year’s Flashy Sir ballot! Perhaps no Greyhound ever had a year to match Downing’s 1977.
Alas, injury cut him down in the prime of his career. He earned a berth in the finals of the Irish- American again in 1978 but he was just a shadow of his former self and could not repeat. Soon after he was retired.
“Beware the Ides Of March,” Shakespeare wrote–perhaps a warning not only to Julius Caesar, but also to the canine competition Downing would meet on the track. For it was on the Ides Of March (Mar. 15) in 1975 that Downing was whelped, son of Big Whizzer-Hookers Flower, owned by the White Shadows Kennel. (Interestingly, Julius Caesar*–the Greyhound–was a great- grandsire of Downing on his father’s side.) Nothing from his litter could approach him on the track, but two of his sisters, Pleading (the mother of Need To) and Vesting (the mother of Avalon and Fran’s Friend, who produced Flanagan were productive (see Big Whizzer chapter for details).
Downing was near-faultless on the track–a true racing machine. He was quick from the box, possessed great early speed, ran the turns (practically rubbing the rail) almost as fast as he did the stretches, and didn’t weaken in the run for the win (unless asked to go more than a 5/16).
When Downing squared up against Rooster Cogburn in those classic match races, fans may not have realized that they were seeing two superstars who had more in common than their on- track talents. Both were red brindles, both weighed 75 lbs. and both hailed from a common pedigree pattern that involved Tell You Why*, Kinto Nebo and My Friend Lou. Both also had three crosses of Mixed Harmony behind them–two of Downing’s through Johnny Leonard.
The linebreeding here, however, went far beyond Mixed Harmony. Well back in his pedigree the name Fawn Rita shows up four times, and Lucky Roll appears six times. Moreover, both his parents traced back to the same Sissy Roll/Ann Carder bitch line on the very bottom (see Fawn Rita, Lucky Roll and Ann Carder chapters in the first volume of Great Names).
In 1979 Downing was syndicated and stood at stud for Keith Dillon in Olathe, Ks. He appeared on the Top 10 of Sire Standings from 1982 through 1986, capturing national titles in 1983, 1984 and 1985 (overall standings or sprint). He placed third in 1982 and was third and fifth on the Distance Sire Standings in 1984 and ’85, respectively. Having met every challenge, both on the track and off, Downing–to the surprise of no one–was inducted into the Greyhound Hall Of Fame in April 1984. Tragically, he passed away the month before (on Mar. 15–the Ides Of March!); still, at that time, he was the youngest Greyhound to ever be honored with induction.
by Gary Guccione