Science is ready to help

SCIENCE is on the march again. The use of GPS markers is not new in racing as Tasmanian gallops have been using them for some time to keep track of runners for timing purposes. Similarly, ARL and AFL teams have used them to allow trainers and medicos to follow players around the ground.

We have several times put forward this technique as a potential aid to track designers. It would enable them to follow greyhounds around the track and suggest how better layouts could be built.

But the technology is moving to a new level. The Australian reports that GPSports, a Canberra company now owned by an American group, is working with the South Sydney rugby league club to “provide instantaneous reports on players, including longitudinal training history”.

Already, GPS systems provide “heart rate, speed, distance, impact and the post-event we provide metrics such as running symmetry or what is called metabolic power”, according to a company spokesman. Now, I am not sure precisely what all those words mean, but what will emerge from the new devices is a reading of how the player’s body is coping, summarised live. For example, “if you have a player who has just come back from injury and you start training them hard, then our system will start to make alerts.”

Now, transferring that technology to greyhound racing would be far from simple, mostly because the gear is expensive. It is a big step from a wealthy football club to the average owner or trainer. However, that does not mean that the industry should not be following developments closely. There is an obvious application for both welfare and fitness issues for the greyhound racer, quite apart from designing better tracks.

Typically, the industry has relied too much on wet finger or “she’ll be right” methods, yet the current upheavals are telling us that is no longer good enough. And we live in an era when many better alternatives are available. If we don’t make use of them, we lose.

Over time, prices for stuff like this always come down dramatically, just as TV sets once cost a bomb but now practically come with a cornflakes packet. Meantime, trials or selective use of GPS systems could readily be mounted to establish the principles or to evaluate new policies – on how the body caters for 700m races, for example, or what kind of dogs are suited to short or long races, or whether a dog is still favouring a hidden injury. The possibilities are endless.

Overall, it would mean we learn much more about the canine athlete, a decided asset in these troublesome days.

Ideally, technical and scientific subjects like this should be regularly and routinely addressed by an expert national unit dedicated to that task. Innovation is, of course, the secret to success.

Alas, that toothless tiger, Greyhounds Australasia, is poorly motivated to do that job even though it is national in nature. It is run by yet another committee made up of often jealous member states which appear reluctant to take statesmanlike or long term views. That’s hardly surprising as they play exactly the same game when they go home. Perhaps they need to have some live bait dangled in front of their noses.

It still goes on

It may not be the biggest item on the agenda but the almost constant stream of blitheringly inaccurate reporting by stewards has to pose more questions about their competence.

Race 4, The Meadows, 14 March.

“Cotton Bud Joe (6) crossed to the rail soon after the start checking Dewana Lass (2), Lazoras (3), Adam Handler (4) and No Diggity (5).”

This is absolute rubbish. Cotton Bud Joe never went close to these dogs, never looked like touching them, and never influenced their running. How stewards could possibly create stories like this is extraordinary. Please check the video yourself to see what really happened.

Each to its own

The other day a reader queried our reasoning about allowing dogs to back up quickly, instancing the career of Country Wal, which now has 10 wins from 18 starts. Included in those were some which involved quick turnarounds.

First, this is a short course dog and has never run further than 400m. Second, it has backed up inside seven days on seven occasions. Those breaks varied from three to five days. It won three of those and lost in the other four. Would longer breaks have boosted the win rate even further? Third, four of its career wins have been in NSW C Class races or at a country track (Temora).

So this is quite a smart dog but hardly top class and not really one on which you could base national racing policy. That said, I agree with the reader than no two dogs are the same and some are hardier than others. But hardiness is not the greyhound’s biggest asset, and it is unlikely to improve while the industry increases its emphasis on short races, all the while ignoring the real challenge – better breeding.