THERE is movement at the station. For the first time in recent memory Victorian stewards have started querying trainers about improved performance of their dogs. Two or three examples were noted in the last couple of weeks, including on Saturday night at The Meadows.
It will not be a very productive exercise but at least it lets trainers know they are being watched. Of course, dogs are not machines and some variations must be accepted. However, unless they were carrying drugs, not much will happen.
Dogs which perform well below expectations are a different matter. In that event stewards are more than entitled to take action, including suspensions. Again, some examples in that regard have been noted by stewards in recent weeks – but seldom were penalties were applied. Readers might remember I commented on two glaring cases last year when both Allen Deed and Xylia Allen put in shockers but attracted no comment at all. Perhaps the penny has dropped?
(As a matter of interest, Allen Deed fared poorly at The Meadows on Saturday night but was brought undone by a slow start and did actually chase hard).
More interesting is a report from stewards for Race 8 at Geelong last Friday:
“Stewards spoke to Mr. B. Shillington, the handler of Dyna Malaise with regards (sic) to the number of starts the greyhound has had recently. Mr. Shillington stated that it was the intention of the kennel to give Dyna Malaise a short break with the view to nominate (sic) the greyhound in the next 7 to 10 days. Mr. Shillington added that this practice is something the kennel has done on previous occassions (sic). Stewards noted his comments and took no further action”.
Now, what action they could take is problematical as there is no specific rule about over-racing. Perhaps there should be?
The trainer in this case was not Shillington but Jenny Hunt who herself is under the gun following some suspect swabs. That’s not a new event for the wider Hunt/Bate group as Graeme Bate is serving a three year suspension for repeated drug offenses, and Hunt is now the trainer on record for many Wheeler-owned dogs.
But let’s leave that for the moment. The more important aspect is that, so far as I am aware, stewards have not been known to query this sort of thing previously – racing frequency, that is. Dyna Malaise’s last five starts were on February 15, 20, 22, 24, and the above race on the 27th. Five runs in a 12 day period is surely ridiculous and must be considered as tantamount to not allowing the dog to race on its merits. Nevertheless, there was a win and a 2nd in that group, both at Sale, but the last two runs were very poor efforts.
Typically, vets consider that the average dog needs a seven day break between runs to replenish its juices. That knowledge has not really made its way into Racing Rules, although there are some bans elsewhere on racing on successive days.
While Dyna Malaise’s races were all over sub-500m distances, the problem is more acute over longer distances which are outside the natural capability of the vast majority of dogs. Yet quick backups still happen. For example, Lites and Sirens, a pretty hardy warrior, was asked to race over 715m at Sandown on February 26, only four days after a 595m run at Sandown with a very tough win over 699m at Cranbourne four days prior to that. Needless to say, that last effort was a dismal one. By comparison the winner, Tears Siam, not the most consistent dog, was coming off a 12 day break and won handsomely.
More than half the runners in Saturday’s heats of the Superstayers series were backing up within 7 or 8 days, including record breaker Space Star but it had a two week break prior to that. However, another starter (Feikuai Polly) had raced only 3 days before over 699m at Cranbourne (but poorly). Additionally, all those races were characterised by dogs fading on the home turn, if not before.
In summary, stewards seem to be more active at the moment yet there is a case that Racing Rules need attention to cater for excessive racing frequency. Welfare must be an important factor here.
Towards better track layouts
A lowly Maiden final illustrates this point but you could pick out hundreds of examples at other tracks.
Here is what the stewards said after Race 2 at Ballarat on 25 February:
“Kentucky Toy (5) crossed to the rail soon after the start checking Midnight Outlaw (4), Barellen Romance (3), How Bizarre (2) and Wai Nui Lea (1) causing Midnight Outlaw to contact the running rail”.
The expression “…crossed to the rail soon after the start checking …” has become something of a mantra for Victoria stewards. It is often incorrect or an exaggeration as the alleged offender is frequently clear of other runners when it crosses and the listed dogs are involved in other clashes that impact on their progress. Several viewings of the race video suggest that was the case here. But let’s leave that point aside for the moment.
The fundamental reason for such “checking” is not so much the dog crossing but the general crowding of the field. That is, soon after the start many runners tend to veer towards the rail. Only a few stay out in the middle. Instead of a broad approach to the turn, the field forms itself into an arrow shape. Since there is not enough room for all of them, some interference is inevitable. The problem is more acute on bend starts and in races where there is a shorter distance to the first turn.
Naturally, these disruptions will upset punters as well as cause risks for the dogs involved. They are primary factors in allowing bolters to gain placings they don’t deserve.
(Note: as a further illustration of this syndrome, go to Geelong and check the winning box data. In 400m races the 8 dog does best, yet in 460m races the opposite is true, with the rails box being easily the best. The inside dogs are better able to motor up from the 460m start, given the longer distance to the turn. For 400m races the almost instant squeeze tends to make life more difficult for middle and even inside runners).
The solution is easy to nominate but perhaps not simple to achieve. Track designs must encourage dogs to stay apart from each other. So, to those who say that you can’t tell dogs what to do, I say go to Hobart and watch a few races. Generally, the field runs straight ahead after the start. Find out why that is happening and take the lessons back to your own track. (Note: I suspect the outcome at Hobart was an accident but don’t let that put you off. It works).
A note: a recent suggested approach to designing lures for trial tracks showed a picture of dogs chasing a newly created lure style. But the lure was coloured bright red. Numerous scientific studies have shown that greyhounds, or most dogs, are colour blind to red. Back to the drawing board?