HOW did Sweet It Is get through to 3rd place in last Friday’s Cup final? The answer to that question tells the story of the layout of the Sale track – or part of the story, anyway.
The best part of that race was the meritorious win by Star Recall, jumping out well and leading all the way. This is a very professional dog with a large bunch of wins over 500m-650m in both WA and Victoria. The 37.15 time was identical to its heat time. It beat probably the best collection of middle distance dogs seen in a long while.
The strangest thing was that punters in both NSW and Victoria sent out Sweet It Is as a $2.60 favourite against five dogs which had run faster time in their heats and were better suited to the trip. How often have we seen Sweet It Is reach the front at the 650m mark in long distance races? There may be others but the only one I can recall is four starts ago at Wentworth Park in a short field against moderate dogs – ie not top class middle distance racers.
Even its 3rd placing was fortuitous and brings up a major point about the Sale track. The 650m has a long clear run down the home straight, then a tight first turn, usually accompanied by interference. The back straight sorts out men from boys until they hit the main turn – or at least the second part of it – when strange things can happen, and did in this case. Behind the leader, four dogs were battling for the places, only for it to turn into a mad scramble as different dogs tended to find different ways of going forward. Some got through, some didn’t. That is not unusual but common at this point, irrespective of the distance of the trip.
In the Cup, Allen Deed, which was looking a certainty for a place, got into trouble while Sweet It Is got a saloon passage along the rail. That’s the answer to the first question above.
Why is this so? Remember the Sale track was re-built fairly recently, but it is hard to see what changes occurred, save for the 511m distance changing to 520m, but still with a nasty bend start. The home turn poses just the same problems as it did before.
My theory is that Sale is one of several Australian tracks where the topography is all wrong. It is compromised by the placement of the 650m boxes on level ground while the turn leading up to that area is cambered and at a higher level. Dogs moving from the turn into the straight therefore meet a kind of corkscrew effect – a change of gauge – which some handle differently to others. Hence the uncertain bunching that occurs regularly.
Other tracks which have similar design issues to that are The Gardens, Angle Park, the former Singleton, the old Gold Coast (which once had 732m boxes) and the old Geelong. All have, or had, boxes located abeam of the home turn and those fields got preferential treatment from the track builder – ie runners from other starts ended up hitting flat areas as they came out of the turn. Some dogs can hold those turns, some can’t, but which ones will they be?
Contrast that with the new Gosford track, which has an excellent home turn, despite the presence of a nearby 600m start. Its levels are correctly balanced in that area, although its 520m first turn is a horror.
Digressing a bit from the Sale issue, many other home turns are affected by poor (flat) cambers, notably all the newish one-turn tracks in Victoria as well as Maitland and Bulli in NSW. Both those NSW tracks have had the same problem for 50 years to my knowledge, whether grass or loam, whether re-built or not. The outcome is that many dogs fan out across the track, thereby changing the running order and the placings. Interference is also more likely at this point. This is essentially a man-made problem which could be readily fixed. The design flaw is that the steeper lateral camber on the turn does not continue far enough into the home straight.
The underlying principle here is that dogs can handle an even turn but when you make that turn more complex it is all too much for an animal hell-bent on chasing a lure at high speed and dodging competitors on the way.
Aside from home turns, a similar flaw appears at tracks with cutaway first turns such as Wentworth Park, Bulli, Launceston, Cannington and more recently Maitland. These have the “turn before the turn”. The change at Maitland was accompanied by a media release from GRNSW claiming that such a turn had proven “successful elsewhere”. It did not nominate the tracks but all the evidence shows that to be a completely false statement – ie box bias and interference levels were always increased. At Maitland, for example, more winners started coming from boxes 1, 2 and 8 while middle boxes suffered. You will not find that information on GRNSW files because they did not re-start their winning box data after making the change. Oranges are mixed in with apples. (I counted them up manually from mid-2010).
Hopefully, the penny will drop before too long and racing authorities will commission a genuine scientific study of cause and effect in track design. Facts are always better than opinions.
Working in the Dark
The Australian Racing Board, publisher of the very valuable Fact Book, has put out its 2013/14 edition but it is incomplete. It may have the GA disease as it has not been able to locate all the betting data it needs. Its wagering data covers all three codes. It is now six months since the end of the financial year (three years for GA data) so this is a pretty poor state of affairs for the industry. All sorts of upheavals are occurring in the wagering area so both managements and governments are short of vital information. I can’t see that happening in other industries where submitting performance numbers is usually compulsory. To have a voluntary system in place in a multi-billion dollar industry makes no sense at all.