A couple of things stick out when you review last Thursday’s big meeting at Sandown.
The first is the stark difference between sprinters and stayers. The eight Melbourne Cup sprint heats contained plenty of talent, some of which got through to qualify for the final. However, the four Bold Trease distance heats were pretty dismal. Plenty of pluggers (sorry Tony), but not much real talent, as shown in their times.
The other issue is that we desperately need a creative genius to do something with the standard of our tracks. Sandown is characterised by constant push and shove at the first turn and regular bunching on the home turns – at either distance. We can’t seem to be able to keep our dogs apart. Stewards must be running out of paper to write down how many times A bumped B or C collided with D. The list is huge for any race. And every bump means an unpredictable change in the running order.
For slightly different reasons, The Meadows is no better and Brisbane’s Albion Park is probably worse. All three see too many dogs competing for too little space as they congregate going into that first turn, while Wentworth Park is just plain unpredictable. Distance races are similar but with the addition of bunching on the home turn as tired dogs start going up and down in the one spot, often playing havoc with the running order.
Three favourites won on the night, but only two were fair dinkum – Black Magic Opal and Amity Flame. The other was a fluke from Lucy Wires when a fighter took the running of Bell Haven as it was about to collect the prize and probably record a BON.
Reflecting passion rather than logic, favourites were often well below their correct odds. Eves Entity ($1.90), Major League ($2.90), Tomac Bale ($2.60), Dyna Nalin ($2.50), Xylia Allen ($1.40), Lucy Wires ($2.40), Gold Affair Two ($3.10) and Crump ($2.60) were all “unders”, considering their recent history, their box positions or the opposition. Yes, I know two of those have just won big races, but they are not going to get things their own way in race after race, especially when neither of them are good beginners. Nor is Crump, which apparently justified his price on the basis of a top run at its last start at Shepparton (450m) when he got room to move up around them on the way to the turn and pour on the pressure. As a moderate beginner, how was he going to do that on a circle tack from the 8 box against much smarter dogs? He tailed the field virtually all the way.
Online bookies must have been very happy with all those highly conservative odds – fixed or otherwise – while actual winners got “overs”.
Before leaving the dividend area, a peculiar thing happened in Cheetah Zorro’s race. In NSW the Quinella paid $124.70 (pool $1,741) and, wait for it, the Exacta also paid $124.70 (pool $670). How is that possible? My brain hurts trying to work out how many billion to one chances are involved there. May I suggest somebody pressed the wrong button? The Victorian TAB paid $81.70 and $161.80 respectively, which is more logical. One is never the same as the other, but they tend to roughly follow the same course.
Going back to the stayers, all four won in much the same times – from 42.17 to 42.30. That’s over 17 lengths outside Miata’s track record but quite normal for these dogs, allegedly some of the best around. They take it in turns to win. Amity Flame is probably the steadiest of them but her fortunes still depend on getting a clear run and preferably being near the rail and beginning reasonably. But she does come home well, which is more than you can say for many of them.
Unfortunately, our stewards still don’t seem to realise these facts. They called in the trainer of Sweet It Is and demanded to know why it had shown improved form after winning at 50/1. They were wrong. It had not done that at all, not really; it simply produced one of it better runs, while the others messed around. Work it out for yourself. It won in 42.28 so you can then compare that with its previous six runs, all at The Meadows and corrected here for the applicable handicap. These are the Sandown equivalents of those times.
- 28 Sep 42.45 (Handicap)
- 05 Oct 42.88 (Handicap)
- 12 Oct 42.79 (Handicap)
- 19 Oct 42.19 Sectional 6.29
- 26 Oct 42.54 Sectional 6.30
- 02 Nov 42.71 Sectional 6.29
- 14 Nov 42.28 Sectional 6.35 Bold Trease Heat
So Thursday’s run was not an improvement over its best recent run and not a lot better than a couple of the others. This time at Sandown, other runners did have somewhat better overall performances and better boxes, which is why Sweet It Is warranted a long price. But since they all take it in turns to put in a good one, how can you be critical of this win, particularly on a high interference track? It was just the way the ball bounced. The trainer’s claim that he took some weight off the bitch barely seems relevant, does it? It’s a pretty solid package anyway at 30kg.
Plainly, there are no stayers around which can consistently make their own luck and still run time. Smart Valentino would brain them all if you gave it the rails box and a good getaway. But how often will that happen? And the only other stayer to run great time in recent months – Cawbourne Looney – won’t go a yard unless it has the rail and a clear run (which it had and did at Wenty on Saturday night, although still in average time, some 7 lengths outside its best).
Improving the staying quality is not a small task. It would take years and need extensive investigation by independent experts. But the sprint situation is readily fixed by designing tracks which encourage the dogs to stay apart. If you want to know how, just buy a ticket over the Tasman to see what New Zealand has done. While the Melbourne Cup and Bold Trease heats were running, you could look across to the other screen to see how they go at Addington (or some other NZ tracks). Those first turn squashes seldom occur there, even over ultra-short trips. We pinched the finish-on lure from there (or a couple of us did) so now it’s time to go a bit further.
It will not be long before Perth and Brisbane get to spend really big dollars on brand new tracks. Neither should repeat what they have now yet already GWA says it will be installing a 600m trip with a bend start at the new site. Every proposed plan for the new SE Queensland track (all aborted so far) has included a bend start. There is no bigger blot on Australian racing than bend starts, especially at a time when anti-racing groups are highlighting abuses and injury levels. Is there no imagination amongst racing authorities?