We have just seen another fine run by Black Magic Opal to take out the super-rich Melbourne Cup at Sandown. Nothing else really had a chance when it scooted out in front down the back and the rest of the field smashed themselves to bits. Anything that had a chance of running down the favourite was caught up in that mess on the first turn.
But please stop calling this dog a champion. It’s got a way to go before it justifies that title, one which is grossly over-used these days.
Champions are those that win nearly all the time, that run very fast and consistently, that are versatile, and regularly beat the best in the land. Black Magic Opal has not quite done that yet but he is on his way. As mentioned here previously, he is already the world’s fastest greyhound up to 460m. Nothing can touch his win in the Geelong Cup, although his record 24.87 at Warrnambool 450m came very close. The same goes for his record equalling 24.92 at Maitland over 450m, while his wins at The Gardens 400m and Bendigo 425m were also excellent.
Over 500m-plus, which is the prime measuring stick, the situation is different. He has had 10 starts on three circle tracks and won six of them but, relatively, not in the same times as on the one-turn tracks. Possibly the quickest would have been 29.65 at Wentworth Park. Plenty of dogs are up to that standard, which is several lengths short of the record (Punch One Out – 29.27). And it’s nowhere the same overall speed as he has clocked up at Geelong or Warrnambool.
Black Magic Opal’s just concluded heat and final wins at Sandown – in 29.41 and 29.37 – were run in much the same sort of time. Indeed, on the night another dog (Hailstorm Billy) ran faster in winning a 5th grade heat and two others were just behind him. A previous Cup winner, Dyna Tron, had also run much faster time, as did Bekim Bale when it set the current track record of 28.95.
In short, Black Magic Opal wins because he leads and hangs on pretty well, especially up to 460m.
At two and a half years of age, Black Magic Opal may well keep maturing and, with strength, record even faster times over the longer trips. Time will tell. But it has not happened yet so it is just not appropriate to give him the champion tag. Apart from anything else, it tends to downgrade past champions.
Meantime, it is worth mentioning that the dog’s early history at Maitland and Wentworth Park was notable for erratic starts. Seldom did he jump well, although he would often be in front by the first marker. These days the move to Victoria under Jason Thompson’s care seems to have smartened him up. He still does not jump in front but at least comes out with the field and then runs quickly to the lead.
Whatever, 26 wins from 33 starts is spectacular stuff.
Back to the Sandown meeting. Another promising dog, Tomac Bale, ran a very similar race to Black Magic Opal in what was really the Cup consolation. It led around the turn and ran away from them, not only because it is also a good dog but because chaos reigned behind him. That first turn has a lot to answer for. Xylia Allen, amongst others, got truly belted there. In both feature races, one or two inside dogs moved off as they passed the judge and started a chain reaction of nuclear proportions. In the Cup, one such mover was Shifty Sticka, which has generally been a very good railer.
That spot at Sandown has a mysterious but undefined effect on many inside dogs, promoting what I call the Sandown Two-Step. For no obvious reason they move suddenly to the right. It is dynamite when it occurs and it has been there since the track was re-built in 1988. After the first six months experience I pointed this out to the club CEO at the time and then more than once over the years to the GRV CEO (curiously, they were the same person). I supplied a large amount of evidence to support the need for a fix. Alas, it was ignored, but it is why the Melbourne Cup field got smashed last Thursday.
But look at some more recent evidence. In the last 116 races at Sandown on Thursdays (excluding maidens), 44 First Four dividends have exceeded $1,000, including for the Melbourne Cup, and 14 of those exceeded $2,000. There is no way that could happen if races were run in an orderly fashion.
A track, or part thereof, is not good because someone says so. Only the dogs can tell you, and they have spoken often. The whole thing needs redesign and rebuilding.
It might even help the running over 715m, where Thursday’s Bold Trease field fiddled around before finally having a committee meeting on the home turn. Half a dozen of them then decided to go over the line together – one and a half lengths covered them – with one miraculously poking its nose out in front in a moderate 42.27. It would have been seven of them were it not for the fact that Amity Flame got ankle-tapped going around the home turn. A mixed Grade 4/5 race was won earlier in the night in three lengths faster time. The Bold Trease was generally forgettable.
The upshot of all this is that the industry distributed $645k in prize money over two big races where bedlam dominated. Punters across the country bet about the same again, led in by $106k on the Win tote on the Cup in Victoria alone. Happily, a lot of those folk would have doubled their money on Black Magic Opal but very few exotic punters would have been as lucky. It’s overdue for GRV to take some action to help them
NONE SO DEAF AS …
Regrettably, it is necessary to report that Racing Tasmania and GRNSW are still telling lies. Sectional times for all Tasmanian races, published on the NSW website, are still being assigned to the winner of the race, regardless of what dog was actually responsible for them, and despite several attempts to bring the problem to the two authorities’ attention.
Those errors then go into the record books in the name of the wrong dogs, where they will mislead future punters. They will be best advised to ignore all sectional data from Tasmania, or even forget about betting on Tasmanian races entirely. The subject also poses questions about the integrity of the OzChase data system.