WHEN asked to nominate the most important feature in any new track, South Australian trainers have just voted overwhelmingly in favour of “no bend starts”. Yet we keep on doing it.
WA is doing it now at the replacement for Cannington’s old track. Queensland is planning to do it (again) if it ever builds a track at Logan. Meantime, it refuses to fix horrors at Ipswich, Albion Park and Townsville. Victoria had an informal ‘no bend starts” policy but immediately repeated the error when it re-built the Sale track and has just compounded the error by doing it two or three times at the brand new Traralgon circuit. NSW, which regularly demonstrates it has not got a clue about good track design, does it everywhere, most recently for the 450m trip at Bathurst which has virtually a right angle bend right after the jump.
These are some of the reasons that we have often called for a special Track Design Panel to be set up to go with the sister review of The State of the Breed. Their twin objectives would be to achieve the scientific excellence so vital to the industry’s progress.
Here’s the perspective for track design. Currently, punters pay out 14% to 30% for the privilege of investing on a greyhound race. Add to that an approximately equal amount to cater for form variability, overbetting on favourites and disruptions in a race and you end up, on average, with a mathematically impossible challenge. Only the most discerning and selective punter could sort out the wheat from the chaff in that lot.
These are penalties which no other gambling option would dare offer its customers. That includes poker machines which typically take out only 10% or so (often limited by legislation).
Some of that burden is created by tax-hungry state governments but a lot is in the control of the industry itself, most notably the layout of the tracks themselves.
Here are some of the starting points.
Immediately after the jump, dogs are inclined to go left and right, thereby affecting their own chances as well as those of their neighbours. The location of the boxes and their detailed design need review. Should there be more space between each box, etc, etc?
On the Way to the Turn
The interaction between the rail, the lure and the distance to the turn need study to determine how best to encourage runners to stay apart. Runners are far too inclined to bunch up now. Too hard a job? No, it isn’t – just go down to Hobart and measure everything up because it is not a problem there. Devonport is not bad, either.
On the Turn
Dogs are prone to change course suddenly as they negotiate the turn, thereby causing more damage. Banking, turn radius and the lure can all combine to generate more interference. We need to study the interaction between various dogs’ galloping habits and the territory they are asked to cover. A casual review of New Zealand tracks suggests they are much more sympathetic in this area than most Australian tracks. Check it out. Also compare the worth of the high and wide Follow-On-Lure versus other options. Meantime, the use of a cutaway section immediately prior to the turn proper can be guaranteed to produce bias and more interference (See Wentworth Park, Maitland, Bulli, Launceston and (old) Cannington. Get rid of this ridiculous feature. Dogs do not like a turn on top of a turn – they have got better things to do.
Into the Straight
Flat turns into the home straight cause some dogs to veer out while others are able to maintain an even course – the clash between the two generates more interference and affects the running order. Study of a thousand videos will pinpoint the problem and the solution.
Let’s not kid ourselves. A proper study of this subject is a massive and costly exercise. There are engineering tasks, motion analyses and veterinary issues. Think of a million dollar budget to start with. But that is peanuts compared to the money spent every year on new and re-built tracks which work badly because the industry relies solely on guesswork and personal opinions.
Equally, the difference between a good and bad track can also be worth many millions in retaining the confidence of both dogs and punters, as well as reducing falls and injury levels.
In other words, a cost-benefit study would suggest the potential for a hugely positive outcome.
How much is a good thing?
We don’t know what the outcome will be of the tragic death of experienced racer Coulta Rock in the catching pen at The Meadows on Saturday night. Its collapse is the subject of an autopsy.
Even so, it is notable that, like many others, Coulta Rock has been consistently racing over long trips for months now, usually at weekly intervals, even though it has never been a genuine stayer. It invariably ran out of puff in the home straight in 700m-plus races and it did so on this occasion.
More often than not, it ran what vet Dr John Kohnke termed a gut-buster – ie leading most of the way and chasing hard – thereby warranting a decent spell in order to replenish its juices. It is far from alone. For example, former top competitor Xylia Allen could pull out all the stops for a good win over 700m or so but could never repeat the effort seven days later.
These experiences should be part of our suggested study of The State of the Breed. What are greyhounds capable of and how should we expect them to perform?
And not just stayers. I noted again the other day that sprinter Dyna Malaise, previously mentioned in steward’s reports, has been racing every 4.3 days over the past two and a half months. In those 17 runs it has managed only two placings. What is the point in continuing the high frequency caper if it is still not returning a dividend? It makes no sense.