Shorter And Shorter

Bookkeeper’s recent record run over 600m at The Meadows was meritorious, particularly from the awkward box 8, but it was out of kilter with national trends. The same was true when Wheres Keroma shaved its own 618m record at Richmond on Saturday night – at a speed rate only a tiny fraction below that of Bookkeeper.

Since Punch One Out ran her brilliant times at Richmond (535m) and Wentworth Park (520m) six months ago there have been 35 track records listed. I ignore 11 of those which were at re-built tracks where things have yet to settle down.

Of the remaining 24 times, 19 occurred over distances less than 450m. More than half of those were for less than 400m. Then two of the remaining five were at country tracks where competition has not always been stiff. This is telling us that nearly 9 out of 10 fast runs are the work of dogs which are unable to run out a long trip. Like 500m, for example.

Even the brilliant Black Magic Opal is busy collecting records for 450m/460m at the moment, although it has performed quite well over the 500s.

Times aside, there is an increasing trend to offer shorter races. The 390m/410m group in Victoria, involving seven tracks, is proving very popular, despite their disruptive bend starts. So, too, are the new trips over 388m at Angle Park and 400m at Gawler. Grafton has introduced a 305m trip. Albion Park added a 331m trip to the existing 395m. Oldies like Traralgon 298m, Cranbourne 311m and Dapto 297m sometimes occupy half the weekly effort. 302m trips are prominent on the Mandurah card. And, sadly, Wentworth Park has brought back 280m jump-outs which we thought had disappeared some years ago. At least the MGRA had the good sense to let Olympic Park’s horrible 301m fade away when it moved to The Meadows.

Much of this action has occurred during the last four years or so and it shows no sign of abating. Where will it finish?

Already, there is a shortage of dogs which can handle 700m races, once very popular with punters. Oddly, two of the most prominent competitors came from a Wheeler background – Miata (grandsire Lansley Bale), which must have been a breeding accident, and Irma Bale, which could not really run out a strong 700m anyway but still captured big prize money. The Wheelers make no attempt to breed staying types, obviously reckoning that there are greater rewards to be had in sprints.

Efforts in four states to stimulate interest in longer trips, mostly by subsidising provincial prize money, are simply not working as they tend to attract ordinary dogs and run with short fields.

The inevitable conclusion is that the breed is fading. The industry has now got a tiger by the tail. Every possible indicator says that the public prefer longer races but we have not got the dogs to fill them. Actually, we don’t even have enough dogs in total, which is why so many of today’s races start with short fields.

Another contributor is the recent introduction of more TAB races for low class dogs. By definition, these are unsuited to longer races and so bolster the demand for short races. And they tend to flow through into the wider system.

So what do we do now?

It is reasonable to suggest that the rising importance of squibs is not in the interests of the breed or the industry. Solutions must then revolve around the need to add stamina to racing stock. Just throwing away cash in hope of a miracle is not working. The funds must be targeted to encourage the development of breeding strains which have some hope of producing a decent proportion of strong dogs.

To add details to such a proposal needs expert analysis and advice which is beyond this column. But it is something that fits into the Greyhounds Australasia charter. It should start the ball rolling by commissioning a study to determine how, what and where. Failure to address the trend does not bear thinking about.

Not enough cash to do that? Yes, there is. Just re-direct all the unproductive money going into distance subsidies and state breeding incentives.

Incidentally, it is little consolation that thoroughbreds are in much the same pickle, hence the increasing prominence of overseas staying types in big races. Major owner-trainer groups are routinely scanning Europe for potential targets these days. Check what happens tomorrow at Flemington.

MADNESS, SHEER MADNESS

Despite several requests, Tasmanian racing authorities continue to mislead the public by assigning sectional times at its three tracks to dogs which never ran them.

Every race report assigns the sectional time to the winner of the race, never mind whether it was responsible for it or not. Consequently, individual dog records end up with the wrong information, which is repeated later on. No running order is shown so the times cannot be cross-checked. Videos are usually absent but they would be argumentative anyway because you can’t be sure where the marker is located.

GRNSW is an accessory to the crime by publishing this faulty information. In fact, they appeared in the heats and semi finals of the last two Vic Peters meetings at Wentworth Park.  For example, Buckle Up Wes has a bucketful of Hobart and Launceston times against its name but we have no idea if they belonged to it or not. (In practice it began well enough in the semi but was taken out by the customary scrimmage at Wenty’s first turn).

This is disgraceful. Absolutely disgraceful.

However, this is still only the tip of the iceberg. In their local formguides, authorities in Queensland, NSW and Victoria are still omitting sectional times run and published in other states. Or probably more correctly, they cannot be bothered collecting them. At the same time, sectionals at Queensland coastal tracks are rare while Wentworth Park meetings lack times run by dogs at Bulli and Maitland, the state’s major one-turn tracks, as well as many from Canberra and the Northern Rivers. Substantial gaps were evident not only in the Vic Peters heats and semi finals, but also in the Adelaide Cup series a few weeks ago, in the National Championships at The Meadows, in the TOPGUN and in many others. This is unacceptable.

The word “crime” is used here in a colloquial sense yet a comparison is in order. If you are a public company responsible to investors you are required to publish any information which might be material to the share price, and also to ensure that any information you do provide is correct. Breaches would have you up before the judge in a flash. Big fines, bans on directors or even jail sentences would be likely. Yet that’s essentially what racing authorities are doing in respect to formguides and punters. The underlying principle is the same.

State racing authorities have chosen to take over the responsibilities of almost all formguide producers so it is incumbent on them to do it right. If they can’t do that then they should let others take over.  There are at least two organisations which are capable of that right now (not including Daily Form Service, which is a horse mob at heart).

Better still, get rid of the antiquated system which allows each state to do its own thing, based on whims and irrelevant tradition. A single national form database, of high quality and accessible to all, should be run by an independent body, responsible only to the public.

This is a case where one size does fit all, or should do.