Racing cheetahs at Romford Greyhound Stadium

Now here’s a thing. In the 1930s, Greyhound Racing was a serious threat to the popularity of football and forty stadiums across the Uk hosted meets. There were several tracks in London: Catford, Hackney Wick, Harringey, New Cross, Stamford Bridge, Walthamstow, West Ham, White City (which was the spiritual home of the sport), Wimbledon and cavernous original Wembley Stadium among them. Romford in Essex also hosted meets, as it continues to do to this day. Wimbledon is London’s only other functioning dog track.

Parklife: wot no cheetahs?

For the racing public of Essex, it appears that simply watching dogs chase a mechanized hare was not enough. Cheetahs, shipped from Kenya and given a few months to acclimatise, became in 1937 the star attraction at Romford. The Wiki for Harringay Stadium picks up the story, but frankly it poses more questions than it answers. Who made the decision? How were cheetahs persuaded to race for human edification? And did they try to eat any of the dogs? Why did racing stop so mysteriously?

I sought out the Times clipping referred to in the entry, but to be honest it just waffles on about cheetahs and how good they are at racing without providing any more facts. It also does not provide the information in the Wiki, but at least offers some valediction that the whole thing isn’t some kind of fanciful hoax.

Anyone know anything? Anything at all?

**UPDATE: This post, which appears to be from the Daily Mail, has some fascinating details on this, noting that cheetah racing at Romford did indeed happen. “Complaints from the locals and safety issues” put a stop to it. It seems the explorer Kenneth Gandar-Dower was behind it all. He was an Eton Fives ace, too.**

10 responses to “Racing cheetahs at Romford Greyhound Stadium

  1. PS: Also found this repro of an FT article from 2003 which looks quite well informed and perhaps the best source of the bunch –

    • Well what happened was they had imported 12 Kenyan Cheetahs to race against the Greyhounds but the racing didn’t last long because the track betters were cheating. They had prerace trials in which they would tire the Greyhounds out before the race increase the probability of the Cheetahs winning. [“Unlike the greyhound, a cheetah is attracted solely by the bait and cares nothing for racing glory”, before ruefully concluding that: “may be, however, that the racing spirit in the 12 cheetahs now in England has not yet been fully developed.”]

      When they raced the Greyhounds and the Cheetahs The Greyhound set a RECORD by outrunning a cheetah but suspiciously a cheetah named HELEN set a record in the NEXT race by outrunning a greyhound. The race wins were inconsistent because they ran the GREYHOUNDS, not cheetahs, in races before the races would start. However, when they averaged the SPEEDS it was reported that the Cheetah is actually slightly slower than the Greyhound. The Hounds won most of the races despite the plots against their performances to cheat G-A-M-B-L-E-R-S!

      A Greyhound won the previous race 20.75 seconds to the Cheetah’s 23.10
      [The cheetahs first raced in 1937 and would chase a hare covered in rabbit flesh. Against each other they recorded times over 265 yards of 15.86 seconds in a trial and 16.01 seconds in a public race. Against A GREYHOUND, the cheetah came SECOND over 355 yards, recording a time of 23.10 seconds against the dog’s time of 20.75 seconds.]

      The Greyhound won that 355 yard race. This is when they say that some cheetah named ‘Helen’ broke the record though a Greyhound had initially SET the record in beating A CHEETAH in the previous race. Overall, the cheetahs were a bit slower in their gallop than the Greyhound.

  2. My father W Morgan was part of this Cheetah racing “fun” he was a book-maker . There were two Cheetahs run in these events. Over a short distance the Cheetahs out ran the greyhounds but over 440+ the dogs had the edg.No problem with the Cheetahs racing, the hare moving was enough. I think they may have used a larger cover on the sled, it failed when the Cheetahs found it was more fun to take the lead then play with the dogs. Both had muzzles on

    • Hi Bob

      Thank you very much for these fascinating details. It must have been some task to muzzle a cheetah!

      Best wishes,


  3. I have a 1930s photograph given me by the National Trust Archivist at Barrington Court in Somerset. It shows Ian (later Sir Ian) Lyle who was tenant of Barrington Court, together with a keeper and a cheetah on a lead standing beside Ian’s Bentley at Hartley Whitney on the A30.
    The caption suggests they were on their way to the White City for cheetah racing trials. “The trials however were a failure – after a great start the cheetahs lost interest, started scrapping and scent marking”. I’m happy to send a copy on receipt of an email address.

  4. A very interesting article – do you know where the image of the cheetah racing the greyhound is from?

  5. Geography Police

    Romford is in London, not Essex. This has been the case for over half a century.

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