SANDOWN’S big Thursday night last week produced a Group 1, a Group 3 and a Listed event.
It also produced highs and lows.
Fernando Bale, first nominated for GOTY here back on April 27, continued his merry way with yet another great run (29.23). But the next best performance of the night came from the second runner, the ever-consistent Lamia Bale which ran 29.32 getting beaten. That would have won 99 out of 100 sprints at the track. She took considerable ground off the winner in the run home.
But what a disappointment for odds-on favourite Space Star in the Sandown Cup, about to whiz past the early leader when it went amiss – a torn monkey muscle, according to the vet.
Sweet It Is then took care of tiring runners to record a strong 41.49 victory. The bitch has an amazing habit of popping up when the big money is on, helped this time by the absence of interference en route.
It may be a coincidence, but Space Star suffered the injury as it came out of the second turn (third turn in steward-speak). That’s where the vast majority of broken hocks appear during sprint races. It’s also where Dyna Quirk tangled up its legs back in late March and got pinged for failing to chase in one of the most extraordinary steward’s decisions ever seen.
Whatever the exact cause of these problems it must put the heat on the shape of the track, particularly on this turn, due to the extra pressure it places on a dog’s driving mechanism.
Two other distance races were run. The Cup Night Stayers finished in betting order with no surprises when Dzeko swamped them late in 41.87.
The third long race is probably best forgotten, but it must gain a mention as it continues the recent practice of staging country to city events, this time from Sale’s 650-metres trip to Sandown’s 715-metres. Uncle Ant’s winning time was terrible (42.80). It came from last to undercut tiring leaders on the home turn, much in the style of Sweet It Is, but 20 lengths slower. It was its third win from 39 starts, following two other slow wins at Cranbourne earlier in its career.
For the life of me I cannot see the benefit in running country-to-city races over the long distance. They are a dead loss, mainly because it is very rare to see provincial middle-distance dogs cope with the 700-metres in town. The Meadows’ tight circuit is also a vastly different proposition to Sale’s long straights. When you see the winner pay $31.50 on the tote ($41.70 in NSW) and a jackpot for the First Four it kinda proves the point.
This country-city stuff proves nothing; it degrades high quality meetings and gives punters a headache. But good luck to Uncle Ant’s connections – the dog just tripled its lifetime earnings. Can you believe it?
Here’s a good test. If you were asked to write up an interesting story about each race, how would you promote Uncle Ant and company to the public?
How we got here
The above story has bigger ramifications. In truth, it tells us where the industry is going.
That night at Sandown was about as good as it gets. Yet it presented a curious racing mix, some races containing quality runners, some without much to speak of. It shows how the industry has evolved into three parts; good, medium and very ordinary.
Once upon a time, those divisions were plain but today the picture is cloudy. Through the actions of state authorities and raceclubs, the emphasis has changed from clearly discernible standards to a catch-as-catch-can mixture which is now defined by two parameters – the 12 boxes on a TAB ticket and a concerted effort to cater for poor dogs and (possibly) poor trainers.
The development of 12-race meetings is a relatively new thing, itself prompted not so much by demand as by the perceived need to attract betting turnover. Yet it has never really done that. After correcting for inflation, there has been little or no growth in betting for the last twenty years, and many like-for-like comparisons are negative.
On the way, grading has become hopelessly complicated as industry bosses try to balance what they see as competing interests. Easily the most extreme has been Victoria, where dogs are encouraged to wander around its dozen tracks collecting 5th grade wins as they like. It comes out in the wash at major city meetings, too.
At The Meadows last Saturday the five 5th grade 515-metres races offered dogs which had already picked up 310 wins, or an average of 7.7 each. Yet the original idea was to allow a dog to win a couple of 5th grades before moving on up to compete with other good performers.
Even those figures disguise the numerous exceptions, particularly the Victorian speciality – the Non Penalty event. What on earth is their purpose? Why pluck out some races and make them exceptions? All it does is make the system more artificial. It also requires additional expense to create more complex computer programs to sort them out, and more highly paid people to handle them.
Comparable policies are present in other states. Queensland, for example, divides up meetings at a given track into different Classes before applying grading distinctions. The allows the dog, and its owner and trainer, to win a 5th Grade, a 5th Grade, a 5th Grade, etc, etc, almost endlessly.
The outcome is that there are fewer and fewer better standard races as time goes on. Quite logically, trainers quickly cotton on to the system and make sure they take advantage of each low grade possibility as it comes up.
Yet WA, for one, is now so worried about the shortage of runners in higher grade races that it has changed the eligibility rules to encourage more imports from the east. One artificiality creates another, and so on.
Do we really need all this complexity? What is it achieving by comparison with a simpler system? The answer appears to be nothing much. Certainly, genuine customers are not impressed (although there are other reasons for that, too), but gamblers don’t know or care.
In the final analysis, authorities are administering (not managing) the industry in the interests of trainers. Customers, who should be the prime determinant of any commercial enterprise, run a distant second.
That’s why there are now fewer of both. And why the industry is not growing and becoming more profitable.
Ironically, if it were doing that, trainers would be earning more.