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In the pasture behind the White Shadows Kennels, four Australian emus share a few acres with a pair of South American rheas. They are there to add panache, a quality woefully lacking in most kennels. Rheas and emus are built along the same lines as ostriches, with balding heads and nubbins for wings, and they lay large, hard eggs. Willis Lawson, a retired circus concessionaire and co-owner of White Shadows Kennels, collects and sells the eggs to artists, who paint and sell them as art objects.
In another pasture, adding still more panache, is a pygmy stallion, smaller in height than the greyhounds that White Shadows Kennels breeds and trains as its main business. The pygmy stallion is bred to other miniature horses, and their offspring roam the grounds diminutively, where they are admired by the children and short people of Sarasota, Fla.
There's more. In the driveway, there are some 50 mallards. When Jim Frey, the other owner of White Shadows Kennels, arrives in the morning, the ducks waddle around him, quacking foolishly for the eggplant that Lawson feeds them daily. They sound like crabby old women. "Eggplant! Eggplant!" Frey, who has kept greyhounds for pets and for sport since he was six, knows nothing about mallards, nor about the breeding of emus or pygmy stallions. On the other hand, Willis Lawson knows nothing about the breeding of greyhounds. It makes for an excellent partnership.
Nowhere in this menagerie are there live hares for the young greyhounds to devour while training, a practice the SPCA is not wild about. This humane touch is another of the kennel's oddities. Frey drags a raccoon skin around his training track to get the young greyhounds to chase the mechanical rabbit. This, plus a dog's natural affinity for chasing things, is incentive enough.
During the morning one of the mallards quacks loudly at a delivery truck bringing horsemeat for the dogs. The duck is hoping for eggplant; instead, it is run over by the truck. It is time to get the ducks out of the driveway. "Bring out Handy," Lawson says.
Handy is asleep on the floor of the kennel office. Frey opens the door and calls to him. Handy looks up alertly, and then stretches, arching his back like a bow. He is big as greyhounds go, about 80 pounds, most of the weight being spread through his chest and back. Greyhounds tend to look emaciated on the racetrack—where they are viewed from a distance—but Handy is a powerful dog. Frey calls him "the big dog" when he is not speaking to him directly, much as a fight trainer refers to his boxer as "the champ," if he is the champ.
Handy stands erect and his posture is perfect. His eyes are the color of good mustard, and no white shows around the irises. Frey can tell a lot by a dog's eyes. Greyhounds are coursing dogs, which means they hunt by sight and not smell, and there is a quality in a good greyhound's eyes that indicates intelligence. Handy's coat is what greyhound people call red brindle. A horseman would call it dun-colored, and a city boy might describe it as "rat," but neither rats nor horses have the lovely black marbling through their coats that is common in greyhounds and which is called brindle. Red brindle is a beautiful color.
Handy will not go outside until Frey goes first. The ducks are quacking their way toward the door. "All right, Handyman, I'm leaving," Frey says. He is a tall, lean, 43-year-old Texan with a pleasant manner. Handy likes him a great deal. Now the greyhound trots out ahead of Frey, sending the ducks in the driveway into a scramble for safety—once they are sure he is not an eggplant. They tumble over one another and don't stop until they are a quarter of a mile away, in the pasture next to the emus and rheas. "Handy's terrific at getting the ducks out of the driveway," Frey says proudly.
Handy's registered name is Downing. The man who raised him nicknamed him Handyman because as a pup he was always getting in the way, always handy just when you didn't want him. Today, in addition to being excellent at chasing mallards out of the driveway with great panache, Downing is the most valuable sporting dog in the world. He is being syndicated for $150,000.
No greyhound in history has ever been syndicated, but no greyhound in history ever had a year like the one Downing had in 1977, at two his only full year of racing. Downing raced 42 times and finished out of the money only once. He had 36 wins, including five consecutive wins in stakes races, and collected a record $124,471 in purses, bringing his career total to $128,397. Most greyhounds proceed from their maiden race through the D, C, B and A class levels, being required to win a race in one level before advancing to the next. Downing won his maiden and D class races so convincingly—by a total of 17� lengths—that Frey entered him in the Hollywood World Classic in Miami, a stakes race open to any owner willing to put up the entry fee. "Everyone said that only an idiot would throw a pup to the wolves like that. It was unheard-of," Frey says. But no one mentioned this to Downing, and he won seven out of eight heats on his way to the finals. Once there, he sprinted to a 5�-length win over the 5/16ths-of-a-mile course and earned $30,000.