Too Much Of A Good Thing?

Last Saturday night’s racing – at Wentworth Park, The Meadows, Richmond, The Gardens and Bendigo – highlighted an interesting trend. 104 dogs, or just on 25% of all starters, were backing up after racing during the previous 5 days. The actual periods were spread fairly evenly between 5, 4 and 3 days.

The proportions were much higher at the two Victorian tracks (34%) than at the three NSW tracks (17%).

Those 104 quick turnarounds had mixed fortunes. 12 of them won but all but two of those were in Victoria where there were more in each race to pick from, thereby giving Lady Luck a better chance. Both the NSW wins were in 400m maiden races. Still, it can be pointed out that dogs with plenty of time between runs did only a little better. However, at least we knew that they did not have one strike against them before the start, nor would they be subject to greater stress next time out.

Anyway, here are their overall finishing positions:

  • Won – 12
  • 2nd – 13
  • 3rd – 9
  • 4th – 14
  • 5th – 13
  • 6th – 18
  • 7th – 17
  • 8th – 7
  • Total – 104

So, is this good or bad, or doesn’t it matter?

Well, it might in Victoria. It has long been putting the squeeze on trainers to get more nominations. Often two or three meetings each week will be held open, hoping for more starters. But that does not always work. For example, over the last three-day weekend 19 Victorian races, or 27% of the total, started with a short field (Geelong 4, Traralgon 5, Bendigo 2, Meadows 3, Sale 2 and Sandown 3). That’s pretty normal these days.

The progressive introduction of 12-race meetings has helped thin out the supply of starters – the latest being the two Melbourne city clubs. Since they have more money at the moment (not their own work; it came from a bigger cut of betting commissions) they are looking for ways of getting rid of it, including by putting up half a million dollars for a single series – far more than is necessary to attract good dogs.

But none of that has led to improved field quality, rather the reverse. Better dogs tend to get sucked away from the main provincial meetings, which are then weaker as a result. Even so, Novice dogs are becoming a common sight in town now, including tonight at Sandown which is running a Novice final where half the dogs are still maidens and will likely remain so after this race. A couple more are lining up in later 5th grade races and one of those is having its 71st start, still with only one win under its belt.

But there is no end to that tidal flow. It would be a significant factor in the increasing proportion of short distance races at the provincials – in both the 300m and 400m brackets (and, horror of horrors, the NSW GBOTA is rumoured to be about to do the same thing by running 280m jump-outs at Wentworth Park, while Albion Park has added 331m races only in recent times). It is also why some low standard Tier 3 races are infiltrating what used to be stronger provincial programs. Neither trend is any help to punters as these races are less predictable than longer ones or graded races.

The shortage of starters is a national issue, of course, as more and more low class dogs are being pushed into the TAB ranks because more races are being made available. Authorities are chasing turnover at any cost. At the same time there is no increase in the dog population – in total or in number actually racing. In fact it has dropped a little over the last decade,

Back to the start, it is reasonable to assume that all the above pressure points are leading trainers to run their dogs more often, perhaps even when they are not quite ready, or as a substitute for more trialling.

All of which leaves punters in a risky situation. Should they take these quick backups at face value or penalise them in their assessments? After all, a long string of veterinarians has pointed out that dogs normally need a good seven days to replenish the juices, something that has been endorsed by leading trainers from time to time and is evident in the way they schedule their top dogs. The champs rarely ever back up inside a week, and often take longer breaks. But the lesser lights do not seem to be so lucky.

Mind you, mug gamblers don’t know and don’t care. More’s the pity.

Backing up quickly is always open to question. Footballer hate 5-day turnarounds, cricketers hotly debate rotation policies, while French Open champion Rafael Nadal has just crashed out in the first round at Wimbledon. However, greyhound racing does have an option; it can ban the practice.

STRANGE INDEED

What is going on? Last Friday, Wentworth Park’s secondary meeting attracted more interest from Victorian punters than those in NSW. The take on the Win tote averaged 33% higher down south ($25,342 v $19,096).

More than that, the first race of the night led the way in NSW with $28,380 but pulled in a whopping $39,183 in Victoria. The exotic pools were also way higher than normal in both states. Why is a mystery as it was a pretty average 5th grade event with the two favourites battling it out for the Quinella, as expected, but paying minimal $2.00 and $2.10 dividends respectively.

As we have asked previously, “who are those guys”? Are authorities keeping track of these wild variations? And are there more potential customers hiding out there? Have we struck the mother lode?