Galgos have been traditionally used for hunting. They are the fastest breed of dogs for short lenghts.


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Home/Stories and articles/Recovery
November 2003

Galgo races exhibit:
Dogs lives

Photographer Gabriela Jara reveals a little-known reality: that of dog races, part of a strong tradition in Chile's rural areas.

By Rosario Mena

All through December, the city of Lampa will be stage for a very peculiar photography exhibition. What it will show is part of a long tradition that, for the last 15 years, has been gathering those living nearby to watch the galgo races.

In her images, Gabriela Jara documents the most relevant moments of dog races. Showing the social context in which they develop, one finds a very strong aspect of Chilean cultural identity, shared partially with the rest of Latin America.

The usual is for two dogs to compete, even though sometimes one cand find three. The tradition came from the South, way after the horse races were already established. The owners show their animals first, and then bet a fixed amount of money. The triumph might be by full body ("por cortada"), half-body ("paleta") or a head. The audience can also bet, informally if they wish.

The "maquinista" is the one that has a rope tied around his bike's wheel, with a fake rabbit showing. Usually a kid would ride this bike all through the field. The dogs run after it, and a judge dictates which one's to win. If the dog doesn't win as how it was bet upon, then there's no winner.

Old tradition
The galgo dog races in Santiago started at the beginning of the 20th Century. By then the city already had a "canodromo", with up to two races weekly. The magazine "Deportes" had a special section for dog races, called "Galgos". But, during the 50s, a long dispute with the Riding Club ended up with the closing of the canodromo, and the dog races relegated to the countryside.

Nowadays, areas like Lampa, Pudahuel, Colina, Rinconada de Maipu and Talagante hold weekly races. Some dogs will even go from race to race. Galgos begin their trainning at five months of age, up until they're three years old. The best come from North America and Argentina, and can run up to 40 miles per hour.

The raising of galgos has almost always been connected to hunting, since it's the fastest breed of dogs for short lengths. They can anticipate their victims moves. Their head and neck are long, they have short ears and a well-toned abdomen. Their legs are long and strong; their tail, fine and curved. Their hair is short and soft, and comes in a wide variety of tones.

Experts agree that the "lebrel" kind of dog is the main breed from where all dogs come. One can find their shape even in celtic vases 8,000 years-old. Egyptians mummified them, and then buried them along with their owners.

Greek and Roman gods were usually represented along with a dog. The galgo is mentioned in the Old Testament, "The Odyssey", and the Canterbury Stories. According to legend, Cleopatra used to have galgo dogs for races, the same as Frederich the Great, and Prince Albert.

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