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Forget the Olympics - here are the real speedsters

It used to be called rag-racing, but once you see these dogs race you'd think they were drag racing.

It used to be called rag-racing, but once you see these dogs race you'd think they were drag racing.

Back again for the fourth consecutive year, a total of 40 sleek and speedy dogs known as whippets will be flying across the grass surface at Brennan Park, way faster than any Olympic sprinter could ever imagine to run.

The whippets and their owners will be coming from all across North America, with five of the top dogs from the North American Whippet Racing Association (NAWRA) competing. Throughout the past four year, Squamish has become one of the favorite venues for racing.

"The playing fields here are considered as probably the best in North America," said race director Penny Wilmot. "When it gets discussed on chat lines on the web, Squamish always comes up as the best place to race. The fields make for stupendous dog racing."

Whippets have a long and storied history built on speed alone.

Over 200 years ago, whippets were bred and raised for one specific reason - to catch dinner for hungry miners in Wales and Southern England. Their sleek bodies produced enough speed to be able to track down and catch rabbits in the county downs in the U.K.

Since then, Whippets have evolved into strictly racing dogs, capable of running races at ultra-fast speeds while chasing a moving lure across a grass field. This lure was once known as the "rag" that someone would wave at one end of an open field for the dogs to chase after. The races soon became known as "rag racing".

"It's evolved into what we have today - very fast whippet races," said Wilmot. "The top dog will finish a 200-metre race in under 11 seconds."

The dogs will run in grades (determined by the international organization that all whippet racing clubs belong to), and go through a series of four programs. The dogs get points for their finish in each race, and their point total determines who they'll race against for the next program. The winning dog is the one with the most cumulative points from all four races.

Saturday's races consist of a straight 200-metre sprint while the competition on Sunday will feature a 300-metre semi-oval where the dogs chase a mechanical lure, known to most people as the bunny that the dogs chase.

"I'm hoping we don't get deluged with rain," said Wilmot. "But we've got a very good entry with dogs coming from California, Oregon, Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland. We'll have a great weekend."

Because of the successful track record from hosting four years of whippet racing at Brennan Park, the International Whippet races will be held here in 2005, with dogs coming from all over North America to compete.