Footy Tells The Story

Wow, the State of Origin certainly made a dent in race takings last Wednesday. Most places saw a drop of 20% to 30%. Punters returned at the end of the match but there was no way they could make up the lost ground. But what was interesting was this quote in The Australian from one of the losers.

“We were simply out-enthused at the start of the match,” said Queensland forward Sam Thaiday after the game. “NSW came out a million miles an hour and we couldn’t stick with them.”

Greyhounds are pretty much like football teams, aren’t they? Those that get an early jump on their rivals have a huge advantage. Sure, the others may be able to make up some time but they have to be very good, very strong, or else the leader has to fade – something that is usually predictable for those who watch form carefully.

All of which makes sectional times vital in assessing your race – remembering, of course, that better dogs are more predictable from race to race.

Unfortunately, we are not getting enough help on this subject from clubs and/or racing authorities. In fact, the situation has been getting worse.

Except in Victoria, a shortage of sectional times is normal at many provincial tracks. Some provide nothing, some the leader’s time only. And one-turn tracks are worse than the circles. However, recently we seem to have lost all sectionals from Gawler (400m) and Angle Park (388m), while Bulli, Maitland and the NSW Northern Rivers tracks vary from good to terrible, depending on the race distance. Tasmania says it is trying but its new system has yet to arrive, so we are stuck with leader-only times.

One curious thing in NSW is whether the authority knows more than it publishes. For example, the formguide for a recent 400m race at Richmond included a nice looking chart showing where each dog should be at the first marker. Yet a check of each of those runners’ form revealed no sectional times at all, nor did our records list any in their careers. How could GRNSW possibly have constructed a detailed map? A wet finger, perhaps?

Another oddity for fans of today’s Galaxy final at Tweed Heads is that the GRNSW results show no sectionals for the Saturday heats. If you want to check them, just go to the club’s own website. It not only has the leaders’ sectional times but tells you exactly which dogs were responsible, which is more than most NSW provincial clubs do. (Simmerly’s sectional, and its history, was pretty good but its overall time was spectacular).

Added to all this is the communication problem mentioned here previously where one state is unable to show times from another state. In some cases, particularly Queensland, they don’t even try. The RQ local formguide failed to publish any sectionals for several Victorian runners in last Thursday’s 710m Gold Cup heats. Nor does it show running numbers, whether at home or from interstate, which makes it hard to assess how dogs conduct their races.

Anyone who wants more customers, particularly fresh ones, needs to reach an acceptable level of consistency and professionalism in supplying data. We are a long way from doing that.

The subject probably goes deeper. Is this a reflection of the various authorities’ attitudes to customers in general? That same Queensland formguide guarantees only three runs per dog, which is nowhere near enough, and less than any other state except Tasmania provides. But you may get a fourth (but no more) if the dog has had recent runs on the track. If it hasn’t, you get an ancient run shown which is often not relevant to the current race (the Greyhound Recorder has a similar habit). NSW makes it hard for punters to access its official formguides because they are so long (35 pages per 10-race meeting) and you cannot readily print them out or download them – at least not without losing valuable information such as box numbers. SA and Tasmania have now joined the same camp so they inherit the problem, too.

But go deeper again. If they are making like difficult for punters in this way, what can you look for in terms of marketing and promotion in general? Pretty much all we see are occasional tie-ins with community organisations such as the recent examples of Cystic Fibrosis and Responsible Gambling. That’s all very nice but it is the sort of thing that you add to your marketing campaign. It’s not a marketing campaign in itself, it’s just good public relations.

A national campaign to push greyhound racing would be a good start. Professionally done, of course.

BUT BACK TO SANDOWN

On that subject of early positions, a survey of Thursday meetings this year at Sandown, using GRV records, reveals that 90% of all winners were in the first three at the turn, with 10% starting further back.

Early Position % Of Winners
Led 57.5
2nd 18.9
3rd 13.5
Other 10

In other words, more than half of all races might as well have been 300m jump-outs, which defeats the purpose of tough 500m racing.

The next question is whether this trend is due to the ability of the dogs or the nature of the track. Everyone wants a smart beginner so breeding, rearing and training are geared to that aim. Yet it simply is not the way some dogs like to race even though they may be good gallopers in the open. They prefer to warm up and then come thundering home, a trait which can thrill the crowd. Like Xylia Allen, perhaps? (For those who are interested, according to various websites, Xylia as a girl’s name is pronounced ZYE-lee-ah. It is of Greek origin, and the meaning of Xylia is “woodland; wood-dweller”, or “of the woodland”. It is also a genus of legume in the Fabaceae family).

Anyway, to do that, they need to be able to stay in reasonable contact with the leaders and that is often made harder by the track layout. A rough first turn, especially on a bend start, can put paid to those hopes. Clearly, on the above figures, Sandown is not helpful there.

This is one reason why I have been mentioning the number of blowout dividends for First Fours at Sandown. They are a good proxy for the measurement of interference. Too many early bumps allow bolters to get up into the placings. Typically, three or four dividends at each Sandown meeting exceed $1,000, and many are over $2,000, which is way too high.

As for second sectional times – they won’t help a bit; the deed has already been done by then. Ditto for run home times, even if you know what dog ran them, and often you won’t.