From Country Roads To Three Lane Highways

Whoops – readers pointed out an important error in Monday’s comment about Xylia Allen. She did not lead in her heat of the state Distance Championship at The Meadows but came from behind, much as happened in the final.

Even so, the main point of that article was that we are asking too many dogs to do too much, particularly when stayers have to back-up after a seven day break. That practice reduced the integrity of Xylia Allen’s race, not just for her but for all runners and the thousands of punters who wanted to cheer them home.

Readers also commented on the effect of interference in those races. There are two main variables there – what dogs do and what tracks force them to do. Ideally, all races would be run without any one dog clashing with another, meaning that speed and strength would decide the winner.

Well, there are no perfect races, of course, but a few get close. We do know that most 461m races at Hobart run with a minimum of interference, especially (and unusually) in the first 100m, so there is an example to study. The WA tracks of Mandurah and Northam are not bad either.

Three things generate interference:

1. Clumsy or inexperienced dogs.
2. Poor track layouts.
3. Dogs boxed upside down or those tiring.

There is not a huge amount we can do about the first group, although early education may well play a big part. Perhaps that’s worth more study as there are many different approaches in play. Some dogs also learn from experience, as when a wide runner progressively turns into a centre runner after it realises it can get closer to the bunny that way, and probably avoid getting smashed as well.

However, experience shows that, by and large, dogs which suffer interference in this way are prone to do it again and again. Why else would they keep running into the backside of the dog in front? Neatness does count.

The boxing question is problematical but could be helped a little by earlier suggestions like the one about building boxes with more space between each runner. However, a runner’s preferred course is also affected by the immediate layout of the track – ie the dog’s position relative to the rail, the lure, the banking and the interaction between all of those. And finally, there is the great unknown – how will the field attack the upcoming turn? It’s a tricky issue and one that can be fully explained only by detailed study of all the variables. Opinions don’t count for much there, although we do know a fair bit about what does not work.

One example is available from the old Wollongong track in NSW where an outside lure demanded some experience at the track. Newcomers usually started chasing the lure directly, thereby losing ground, while the local dogs knew they would be better off staying near the rail because they would eventually get closer that way.

Then there is always the option of taking the English path, where dogs are boxed according to their (claimed) running habits, and they also have outside lures. This is nice in theory but it may produce as many problems as it solves, especially with eight-dog fields rather than six.

Considering all that, it is a reasonable contention that far more than half of all interference is a function of the way the track is laid out and the equipment in use.

We already know that race falls and greater displacements occur more often over certain trips, primarily those where the start is poorly located on a bend, or too close to the rail, or where the first turn is too flat. We have Australia-wide stats and videos to show that. And I believe the great Paul Ambrosoli first coined his signature phrase – “a band of wild indians” – at the bend start for the old 608m trip at Bulli.

Currently, every major circle track in the country sees some dogs running off at the first turn. Yet that does not happen at Mandurah or Northam. Why so? It also seldom happens at Hobart which is a one-turn track, yet a turn is still a turn is a turn. At other one-turn tracks – Maitland, Bulli, Geelong, Shepparton, etc – some dogs commonly lose the turn into the home straight yet that does not happen at Hobart. Why? The camber is an obvious suspect. (At Maitland it’s been suspect for 50 years – on grass, loam and re-built loam).

Going back to the race at The Meadows, Xylia Allen was disappointed for a run on the first turn because Dyna Willow (7) had already cut to the rail in front of her. Xylia Allen had the option of holding up a bit but chose to continue on the rails perhaps hoping that the other bitch would disappear. It didn’t and a check occurred.

Yet a major characteristic of The Meadows is that on the first turn (both main distances) dogs see the bunny disappearing around the corner quite early and quite quickly and it is normal for an outside runner to try to cut across and make up some ground. This is due to the extent of that turn, and its radius. Seldom will they succeed which is why very low numbers of dogs win from wide boxes at that track. Even when they jump with the field, they are progressively pushed further and further back in the running order. It’s all in the geometry.

In any event, the track excessively favours railers and is far less suited to wide runners. So, too, are Albion Park and Angle Park, for example. Sandown, while it has its own problems, does not do that which is why powerful champions like Whisky Assassin and Awesome Assassin did much better there than at The Meadows. = At Wentworth Park, it is all smash and grab – always has been. So some dogs like one, some the other, but it is all due to how the track is shaped – ie most problems are man-made, and therefore man-fixable

A LANGUAGE PROBLEM

GRNSW is currently asking people to complete an online survey to help it better design its website. It is titled CUSTOMER SERVICE VISION. So far, so good.

It is directed to Owners, Trainers, Punters and Others (tick the box) yet the survey is totally concentrated on clerical work that is relevant only to someone nominating a dog for a race. Why would you ask Punters and Others about that?

As indicated in an earlier column here, classifying Trainers as customers is a nonsense, although it does tell you where the focus of racing authorities lies. Trainers are industry participants, not customers. To say otherwise is to mis-use the English language.

Genuine customers – ie members of the public who patronise greyhound racing and bet on races – would no doubt have lots of points to make were they asked about the website. Bad luck, GRNSW is not interested in you.

By way of illustration, meeting results in Victoria can be downloaded in data-ready files or printed out simply in one or two pages, depending on how much detail you want. By comparison, the same information for NSW races (and now for four other states as well, including Queensland) takes up six pages, reducible to five if you spend lots of time editing out some of the repetitive bumpf. No data download is available.

Essentially, the NSW information is for lookers, not real users. Not much “VISION” in that, is there?

Past Discussion