Does travel affect a greyhound’s performance?

GREAT stuff for Geoff Scott-Smith and his talented dog Dundee Osprey after winning $145,000 Group 1 Harrison-Dawson at Sandown Park last Thursday.

“Absolutely incredible, just absolutely incredible,” said the spritely 69 year old of his first win at group level.

“He was pretty switched on tonight,” Scott-Smith told GRV.

However, the most interesting part of the interview was this:

“A couple of weeks ago he was a little bit down, he lost a little bit of weight when we took him to Brisbane for the Queensland Derby and he’s taken a while to come back. He can be a difficult dog to train sometimes – he’d make a good poker player because you’re just never sure where he’s at.”

This is a subject that has always puzzled me, and no doubt some trainers and punters as well. How can you assess the fitness of a dog after all the stress and strain of a long trip? Anecdotally, it seems that some can handle it and some can’t. Dundee Osprey was not disgraced in Brisbane but seemed to lack a little spark.

To get a better perspective on the trials of travel, I located form for thirteen sprinters that had ventured from Victoria to Cannington for the Perth Cup series last month and then checked how they performed after returning. This would have involved roughly a 10 hour trip each way, half in the plane and half fiddling around at either end as they went from kennel to kennel and in and out of cages.

Of those, Moreira had mixed fortunes while three actually improved – Unlawful Entry, Dawkins Bale, and Diego Bale. The first two of those had only a four day break before competing in the Warrnambool Cup where Unlawful Entry broke the track record. Six others also ran at Warrnambool.

Apart from the above four, the remaining nine dogs – Fantastic Roxy, Bearville Azza, Snakebite Bale, Shared Equity, Blazin Bomber, Dalgetty, Tiggerlong Await and Soda Man – showed similar form to that at Cannington so the whole comparison is a bit inconclusive. Perhaps the more experienced dogs like these ones can handle the demand more easily? Anyway, it’s a very small sample.

However, it does offer a sharp contrast to stayers attempting to repeat recent form. Many runners in the heats of the Sandown Cup did not impress and there will be further doubts about how they go in the final next Thursday.

At the very least, proper studies into the impact of travel should be part of a broader effort to establish sensible parameters about racing frequency. No doubt that may be shouted down as not necessary on the ground that “trainers know best”. But do they? We have already found conclusively that the reverse is true in respect to backing up in staying races.

Similarly, many trainers have been found wanting on matters such as live baiting or socialisation. Learning is always an ongoing process and, for example, welfare educational programs were specifically recommended to GRNSW by the Working Dog Alliance team.

The short and long of it

The fortunes of No Donuts are in dispute, seemingly for emotional reasons, particularly its staying ability in successive starts a week apart. The facts are that the dog has backed up three times since it first tried 700m racing at the beginning of the year.

On one occasion it improved (February 27), but from a very low base, and on two occasions it did worse (January 30 and March 5). Generally, it would be reasonable to claim that it has done relatively better over the middle distances (600-650m) than over longer trips. A key issue there is that its opposition would almost always have been better in the shorter races than in the staying events. It has therefore shown its class in the former group. In turn, that has allowed it to win a few long races against mostly mediocre or over-raced competitors – as in the Sandown Cup heats. It is far from the only good dog to illustrate that.

As for the Sale Cup last Christmas, two of my articles at the turn of the year extensively covered the difficult weather conditions at the time and resultant slow times. Shortly after, whether coincidentally or not, GRV produced major changes to regulations involving racing and travel to meetings during hot periods.

Which dog did what

Stewards Report (part), Race 2, The Meadows, May 21.

“Master Jackpot, Sausage Sizzle and Ultimate Magic were slow to begin. Sailaway Jackie (8) crossed to the rail soon after the start checking Sausage Sizzle (6) and Ultimate Magic (7). Master Jackpot (4), Sausage Sizzle and Sailaway Jackie collided approaching the second turn checking Master Jackpot and Sausage Sizzle”

Well, here is a repeat offence. Poor old Sailaway Jackie is once again accused of a crime it did not commit. In fact, the first sentence tells you why. If the two alleged victims began slowly (which they did), how could Sailaway Jackie interfere with them? Mind you, Ultimate Magic later showed terrific pace to make up for the slow jump and was handy to the lead by the time they got to the back straight.

The other point is that Sailaway Jackie never got near the rail in the first half of the race. One reason for that is that the third sentence above is misleading. To say three dogs “collided” is not the whole truth. In practice, Master Jackpot ran off at the turn and smashed into the other two, who were minding their own business in the centre of the track. This is important form information and should have been mentioned as such. (Note that nine of Master Jackpot’s thirteen wins have come from boxes 7 and 8).

Of course, all these events are not earth shattering in themselves. But they are relevant to the overall performance of stewards in assessing form and race running (or to track designs) and so informing the public. Consequently, on such straight forward matters as the above they should virtually never get it wrong.

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Separately, we are still awaiting a response from GRV about the attention being paid to broken hocks and other disruptions, particularly at Sandown.