When it hots up, greyhound racing gets wobbly

LAST Sunday, with bushfires everywhere, Sale went within a whisker of breaking a 52 years old record for its hottest day ever – 40.8 degrees. Yet that night they ran the four heats of the Sale Cup over the testing 650m course.

Seven starters had won over the trip before – Chrichton Bale, Texas Titan, It’s A Plane, Star Recall, Bells Are Ringin, Alexis Kelton, and Full On Bling – but, of those, only Chrichton Bale ran anywhere near its previous performance. It recorded a modest 37.84. Other winners ran 37.61, 37.69, and 37.93. No favourites won.

On the same night over the shorter trip, only one runner broke the 25 sec mark (Captivating, just barely) while other smart dogs like To the Galo’s, Shared Bonus, Danyos Slappy and Aston Bolero ran moderate 25.20-plus times although they mostly had clear runs. To The Galo’s had previously run 24.73 at the track, Danyos Slappy 24.57. The other two dogs were having their first look at Sale but were coming off smart last start wins at Warrnambool and Warragul.

All this is why my usual comparative checks suggested that times were at least three lengths slower than might be expected – perhaps more. (My system compares times on the night with each dog’s career records).

Given it was the club’s feature night of the year, it is highly unlikely that the track was slow for any reason. Typically, clubs make sure the surface is conducive to fast times. Consequently, any slow or erratic performances must be due to the various dogs’ fitness on the night.

Excuses might always be made but most of these dogs were in good form and were expected to run well. The missing element is that we don’t know how the heat (whatever it was at the time of the race) or the stress of the journey to the track would have affected them. Some dogs would have had to contend with a 200km-300km journey to the track, mostly without air-conditioning. And the 12 hours before the race are probably more important than conditions at race time.

Suffice to say that the times were poor for this class and that many Cup runners faded significantly over the last 50m or so. Not all, but most. 37.50 is a time any good 5th grader would run, while top dogs might get down closer to 37.00. The long term average for all races is 35.77, but only two of the Cup heats bettered that.

The great unknown is how much the conditions affected the individual dogs. No doubt some can handle it better than others but how would you know? High temperatures are always a major risk in greyhound racing, which is why all states have rules about them. However, those rules address only what is likely to occur during the meeting, not so much what goes on earlier in the day.

Anyway, whatever the fine detail, the available evidence suggests that the meeting should have been postponed for, say, 24 hours after which the temperature had dropped 20 degrees. That did not happen.

Of course, a delay would have caused no end of problems but surely none that could not have been handled reasonably. That would have provided much fairer racing.

The next hurdle is that finalists will have to back up in six days’ time. Which ones will have recovered fully by then? The technical answer to that is probably none but some will have done better than others.

Unfortunately, punters will be none the wiser nor, I suspect, will the trainers. Better to sit back and just watch.

(Note: The writer had no financial interest in the meeting).

Of interest

Greyhound Racing Victoria welfare policies include the following:

“Extreme Weather Policy allowing Trainers to scratch without penalty if the weather is predicted to be above 32 degrees, and cancelling race meetings where the temperature is predicted to be 40 degrees or more – removing the need for trainers to transport their greyhounds in a hot weather rather than having a set ‘on-track temperature’ that sees races postponed or called-off after arrival (and hence transporting) of greyhounds.”

This policy is fine as far as it goes, particularly as it recognises in part the weather conditions on the day of the race. However, it tends to leave important decisions in the hands of the trainers rather than the controlling authority when the likely temperature at meeting time is above 32 degrees. Yet what period constitutes the biggest demand on the dogs – the 30 seconds of a race or the 12 hours that preceded it?

There are other general recognitions about the risks involved in high temperature racing. Coursing, for example, which requires repeat efforts from dogs working their way to finals, operates only during the cooler months. Northam, at a hotter inland location than Perth, usually takes a big holiday over the summer. Overall, our surveys show that fewer dogs are racing during the summer quarter than at other times of the year.

All these examples suggest the need to allot equal importance to general conditions on the day of the race as well as race time weather. Both directly affect a dog’s ability to compete. And substantial road trips to the track, often in non-air-conditioned trailers, are mandatory for most dogs racing these days, sometimes to and from interstate points.