Good Track, Bad Track?

What do you think about the good or bad aspects of Australian tracks? Comments to the editor would be welcome.

Do you know that, on average, one in three TAB races (including last Saturday Perth Cup) is badly affected by interference? A dog falls in one in every twenty races. But the averages disguise a lot.

These are interim conclusions from a statistical analysis of race results from all states for the last six months. Much more data will need to be examined so as to provide sufficient samples for reliable conclusions – certainly another six months’ worth.

The main purpose of this project is to try to identify where interference occurs, and hopefully to guess at why that happens. This information could then help with the design of new tracks or the refurbishment of old ones. And lower interference levels would do wonders for the confidence of both punters and dogs.

In some cases, getting good data has been difficult because of the varying habits of different clubs and states in the presentation of results. Codes can vary from one area to another. Another limitation of the study is that reported figures by no means cover all the interference that occurs in a race – far from it. A run-of-the-mill bump can well relegate a dog a couple of places or stop it from winning. So, too, for a dog that runs into a blockage or chops and changes its course. Or a dog which has no field sense and simply keeps running into other dogs. However, the major incidents will rank tracks, or particular trips, in order of importance.

Meantime, there are some standouts.

First, the major capital city tracks quickly fall into two groups. The number of falls is at about the national average at Angle Park, Albion Park, Cannington and Wentworth Park. Poor results – up to double the average – are evident at Launceston, The Meadows and Sandown.

Elsewhere, Bathurst, Gosford, Dapto, Nowra, Richmond and The Gardens have similar problems. Others may join this list but we will talk about them when more samples are available.

At the other end of the scale, the relatively new Mandurah track in WA is delivering excellent results over its main 405m and 490m trips. Adjustments to the turn over a year ago significantly improved interference levels.

In Tasmania, Hobart is even better, as we all expected, but so is Devonport, both in contrast to the newly built Launceston track where first turn scuffles are routine. One clue there is that, like The Gardens in Newcastle, the run off between Launceston’s first turn and the pen poses questions. Dogs effectively make a small right turn after passing the post, rather than continuing on around the turn, or finishing on the lure, as they do elsewhere. It is likely that this topography is contributing to a poorly contoured turn.

A similar problem is evident on some home turns where the gradients are too flat, perhaps in consideration of nearby starting boxes (eg those used for a 500m or 600m race on a circle track). Angle Park, Albion Park and The Gardens are cases in point. In these cases, hard railers can gain an extra advantage over centre or wide runners which tend to veer off, thereby losing distance.

So much for falls. However, we are also looking at the proportion of dogs which finish 20 lengths or more from the winner. There has to be a specific reason for performances like that and the indications are that interference is at the top of the list.

Certainly, injuries will play a part but, even so, a number of those would have been caused by interference in the first place.

Generally, it is notable that the tracks with the highest number of falls are also those with most 20 length margins. Messy tracks tend to have double the proportion of long margins, compared with better tracks. In several cases, 60% to 80% of all races are involved – for example, at Bathurst 520m, Dapto 520m, The Gardens 515m, Nowra 520m and Richmond 535m.

In practice you might call these the “usual suspects”, as race observations at these tracks regularly reflect first turn disruptions.

Other factors which might bear on the subject are the class of racers, the distance to the first turn, the nature of the lure, the radius of the turn, and the positioning of boxes.

Either way, it would be good to hear what other folk have to say on this subject. Just email us, and tell your friends to do the same.