It seemed only fitting that an Irish import should win the Challenge Cup prize last week, since Ireland remains the world's premier coursing center, with more than 110 parks. When a group of American dog speculators journeyed to the Irish Coursing Derby in Limerick last February, Walter Ewalt of Augusta, Kans. instructed his brother Bill to "pick up a dog with speed so I can cross him with some of mine."
Ewalt liked Country Support, a 2-year-old that finished fourth out of 64 in the coveted Irish stakes. And, as luck would have it, the widow of Ireland's former minister of education was willing to let all of her late husband's dogs go. Country Support was purchased for �500 and shipped to the States. "If she hadn't wanted to get rid of the dogs, Ewalt couldn't have got him at any price," says NCA President Clyde Lemon.
Country Support did not miss stride on his ocean crossing. He settled down on Walt Ewalt's 160-acre spread in Augusta, and Walt began schooling the dog for eventual delivery to his brother at Hialeah. This partnership has been operating since 1920, Walt training and Bill racing. Walt figured Country Support was a winner and, adhering to his theory that a top coursing dog will eventually make a top racing dog, brought him to Abilene, where he promptly sped past four opponents and into the Challenge Cup finals.
Now the biggest chase of all was just an hour away, and in a dimly lit barn a quarter mile from the track Walt was giving Country Support a last-minute going-over. The dog was plainly nervous. A muscular, well-proportioned animal that looked bigger than his 67 pounds, he was anxious to get into the open field, where his trim white-and-brindled coat would become a mere blur of speed, a 40-mph wisp of muscle.
When the call for the finals came, Ewalt, in faded blue coveralls, led Country Support, wearing the red collar, out of the paddock and toward the starting gate, where the import and a fawn-colored dog named Isotta were meshed into a black harness. Dick Helvey took his stick and nudged the rabbit toward the front of a pen. Out it sprinted, a prisoner of destiny.
The dogs followed, churning the turf. Country Support moved one length ahead, then two, gaining a point for each length. By forcing the rabbit into a pair of turns he earned two more points. When the rabbit finally slid beneath the fence, 30 seconds after release, Country Support was a 4-0 winner. Not for nothing had Commissioner Norman McAsey praised the dog for "the smoothest leg action I've ever seen on a coursing track."
Walt Ewalt rested by the paddock savoring success. "He broke good this time," Ewalt said. "He showed a little speed a time or two. Guess my brother will be wantin' him on the first truck out to Florida next week."
Ewalt's winnings, all of which will go back into his dog operation, came to $3,000 in stakes money, $675 more on a Calcutta pool and "a couple side bets, too." He grinned, and glanced at the fence, where the Coors cans still popped, the oldtimers still tucked their hands in their overalls and there was lots of talk about winning with the red.