There Are Better Ways To Measure Greatness

Do you know that if Destini Fireball wins the Bold Trease tonight it will become the 4th leading stakes earner in Australian greyhound history? Or that if Black Magic Opal wins the Melbourne Cup it will rise to 10th spot and it’s only two and a half years old? Shades of Brett Lee! Then this one may have sneaked under your guard – were the ever-consistent Peter Rocket to do the job it would place 2nd behind only the mighty Miata, which has earned $715k.

The money rankings have obviously got out of hand. They are becoming more and more meaningless. I doubt that Destini Fireball can win but it is not impossible. Still, it seems to be running at around 80% power these days, a far cry from its hey day from November 2012 to April 2013 when it won 14 of 16 starts, half of them over shorter trips.

Black Magic Opal can be beaten tonight but you would have to be pretty smart to do it. Only a really special dog would have any hope of running it down and I don’t think one is there tonight. Of course, if it does not lead then all bets are off.

The point of all this is that, as it stands, ranking dogs on the basis of prize money is a lost cause. Allowing for inflation alone, Rapid Journey would leap into first place with well over $1 million in today’s money, to say nothing about its wonderful consistency. Yet prize money has gone up in real terms as well with tonight’s winner’s purse of $350,000 leading the way. In 1998 when Rapid Journey won the Cup it paid only $100k. In the same year Rapid Journey picked up the Adelaide Cup for $50k (now $75k), Easter Egg for $100k ($250k), Perth Cup for $40k ($140k), National Sprint Championship for $40k ($75k) and the TopGun for $70k ($150k), as well as lesser races. No dog alive today could have done all that.

In fact, it is extraordinary that 15 years later Rapid Journey can still take 7th spot in the money list. When it finished racing it was actually ranked 1st.What a shame he could not quite manage to pass on that amazing ability in the breeding caper. Maybe the genes will skip a generation or two?

One good thing about career prize money is that it does not limit calculations to a single year. But to make the figures realistic you must first select a base year and then adjust subsequent years by the CPI changes. That’s messier but much fairer. By doing that you can then compare apples with apples.

That aside, we have got to the stage where, tonight, the winner of an individual race can amass half the prize money Miata won over her entire career. That indicates that things have got well out of proportion. Arguably, first prizes of $250k to $350k are neither economically necessary to attract a good field nor do they do justice to all the other races that are cut back as a result. It should never have happened.

Using a different method, AGRA (Australian Greyhound Racing Association), which is a select grouping of major clubs, has gone to a lot of trouble to produce rankings for current racers and also for top sires and dams. In both cases they count what has been run and won in Group races in the calendar year – 10 months so far – and allocate points for each placing from 1st to 8th.

For current competitors, this is a fair enough process, always providing that the various dogs get enough chances to impress. It also rewards consistency by giving points to placegetters as well as winners. However, the rankings really don’t lead anywhere. Nobody will ever remember them and they are overshadowed by the prize money listing.

AGRA’s sister rankings for sires and dams are also a snapshot of the last several months. This is more controversial as it rewards both luck and recent successes. Since stud life embraces several years, a short period cannot properly reflect which ones have done well and which not. Doubly so as artificial insemination and frozen straws stretch the sire’s effective life. The current ranking system is therefore not helpful. It is even biased. Top of the sire’s list at the moment is Wheres Pedro, which is responsible, amongst many good dogs, for the ever-present Destini Fireball. A close second in the dam’s list is Greys Destiny who threw, guess who, Destini Fireball again. All due to a good run early in the year against often average opposition.

More to the point would be an ongoing ranking which shows both total and relative success of the sire’s or dam’s progeny. For example, as with some thoroughbred scoring, the ratio of total wins and Group wins to total pups whelped would be more informative. That removes a flash in the pan but also properly grades a sire which had a shorter than normal life, perhaps through no fault of its own.

Not all Group races are of the same quality, regardless of the cash involved. National Championships, for example, are never that at all but a competition between three or four of the better dogs around, and therefore easier to win. Typically, the majority of smaller state representatives are never really competitive. Even the good ones may be there because of luck in the state run-offs.

I don’t have a problem with the event – it offers some variety – but it should be termed a State of Origin, not a championship. If we want a real Championship, do it properly.

Similar comments could be made about races restricted by age or sex. They are also somewhat less competitive, yet their Group status can be purchased by any club with the cash to spend.

The final important measurement of dogs’ abilities comes via state and national Greyhound of the Year awards. Although they are always subjective and sometimes debatable they at least ensure that all-year performances are recognised. Like can be compared with like, while outages for injuries need not penalise a nominee.

There are other ways of measuring the best dog of the year, but they perhaps need more hard work to develop. I initiated one – Fastest Dog of the Year – by assessing each dog’s times in its best 10 wins in TAB races over 450m and longer. It was published annually in a now-defunct magazine. The method was to reduce all times to their equivalent at a single track (I had chosen Wentworth Park).

It worked pretty well and at least concentrated on two prime attributes of the greyhound – its speed and its versatility. Importantly, because of the wide range and number of qualifying races, it virtually eliminated the impact of luck, which has a huge effect on individual races.

Meantime, we can improve on what’s done now. GOTY awards are worthwhile but prize money scores must be adjusted for inflation, as they are otherwise misleading. Breeding stock should be judged on the quality and productivity of their progeny over time, not on what they produce in a single year.

Past Discussion