Great Minds Think Alike

Queensland greyhounds, about to host the National Championships, face a difficult 12 months bedding down new tracks at a time when the shortage of good dogs continues to be a worry throughout the state.

As our editor reported last week, Racing Queensland Ltd has released site plans for the new Deagon project, to the north of Brisbane airport, to house harness and greyhound racing by mid 2012. Thoroughbred trainers who are using the area for training will have to move. They are not happy and are getting support from opposition politicians who also want to see Queensland revert to separate authorities for each code.

The once-favoured Logan site, southwest of Brisbane, where the former QGRA spent a lot of money on plans and consultants, is no more. Neither is the $10 million the government promised QGRA after the closure of the Gold Coast track. That’s gone into what you might call “consolidated revenue”.

The change assumes the shutdown of the real estate-rich Albion Park complex, together with its condemned grandstand, although the harness people are fighting a rearguard action. Harness and greyhound codes jointly own the site – or they did prior to the tri-code amalgamation.

Only broad brush plans for Deagon have emerged but the detail that is available shows that greyhound people will see virtually a straight copy of the recently opened Geelong dual track complex. Deagon’s outside one-turn track has three identical distances – 400m, 460m and 680m – while the inside circle track will offer 529m and 605m trips, which is close enough. (All a coincidence, apparently).

Sadly, the 605m start sits half way round the turn, making it likely that heavy interference will be the order of the day.

RQL offers no further explanations but more detail must be in the back office somewhere. They may tell us how the plans were developed.

Contour Consulting Engineers, based on the Sunshine Coast, produced the sketches and presumably did the project design. They have previous experience working on galloping tracks but none on greyhounds – indeed, since few such jobs ever come up, how could they?

It brings back memories of the Gosford reconstruction, where a Tamworth engineering firm did a neat-looking design job for the NSW GBOTA but failed to appreciate the nuances of greyhound racing and how dogs interact with the track. In that case, originally purported to be a clone of Angle Park (which it isn’t), a nasty 400m bend start appeared on the plans. I saw these long before contracts were issued and wrote to the GBOTA pointing out the need to move the 400m boxes into a kinder position. They rejected that suggestion. In practice, dogs got smashed and six months after the opening the boxes were moved out a bit! Unfortunately, they had only 1m to work with on the concrete slab. It made barely any difference and dogs still get smashed today.

It seems that the alternative concept of using a small chute, slightly off the track proper, is foreign to the greyhound code, although they are in routine use at the gallops to overcome exactly the same problem.

In addition, Gosford’s 515m first turn always has been a difficult one – some dogs get around well, many don’t. However, Gosford has one excellent feature in the contour of the home turn. It’s about the best in the business because the gradients allow faster dogs to overtake on the outside of the leader.

I offer that story mainly because engineers or others will hear plenty of opinions on design features yet there is nowhere to turn to locate good, hard information about what dogs need to get around the track in one piece. Or, equally important, how to build tracks where punters can bet with confidence.

No broad-based track studies have ever been conducted, here or overseas, despite much urging to GALtd and state authorities. You will see a bit on turn-related injuries and a bit on surface materials, but that’s about it. Consequently, best guesses from local chiefs dominate track building in Australia. Occasionally it works – as at Hobart’s new Elwick course – but mostly it doesn’t.

Given that SE Queensland’s two existing tracks at Albion Park and Ipswich have their own layout problems you have to wonder how Deagon’s builders will handle the fine points. Putting the 605m boxes smack on a bend is hardly a good start.

The Deagon job is not an isolated one. You can add a Cannington replacement, a rebuilt Casino and (probably) a new track at Murwillumbah to the list of multi-million dollar projects in the offing. All that expense surely warrants a bit spent on how to do the job properly?

Incidentally, it interesting that the longest trip shown on the Deagon plan is over 680m, despite room being available to offer a longer trip. No doubt designers were instructed to go that way. That suggests that Queensland has recognised that very few dogs can handle the traditional 720m or so staying trips which are in use at all other capital city tracks.

Paradoxically, the Brisbane club is shortly to run another energy-sapping “marathon” race at Albion Park, presumably over 831m, which is a bit odd considering the majority of 710m starters can’t get that trip either, running out of everything you are not supposed to run out of. A quiet word with some vets might help there, lest the RSPCA takes a greater interest now that it has almost killed off steeplechasing.