Oscura’s sad demise last Thursday at Sandown is just one in a long line of broken hocks incurred as dogs come out of the first turn. The enforced retirement of Knocka Norris in the same way at the same track comes to mind, too, and that was in a solo trial. Both represent major investment losses for connections in particular and the industry as a whole. This precise cause and effect has been present for donkey’s years – go back to Gun Law Osti at Wentworth Park in the early 1990s as another example.
Happily, the latter two survived the injury and went on to make major contributions to breeding.
Not that the problem is confined to Sandown by any means. It can occur anywhere and some time back prompted authorities in Perth and Adelaide to start surveying its incidence. Apparently, that effort has since been combined with studies being done out of the GRV office in Melbourne. Reports are expected in due course.
Of course, a completed study is a worthwhile objective. Meantime, surely there are interim indications of what causes these things. Is it a genetic weakness? Is it the shape of turns? Does it happen more often to high quality (ie faster) dogs? To leaders or followers? To big dogs or small ones? To railers or wide runners? Some evidence should be available now.
Genetics are a long term matter but improving turns is something that can be done fairly easily – in part or in whole. Let’s remember that the physical forces at play as a finely tuned athlete negotiates a (supposedly) banked turn at high speed are huge. But so is our knowledge of veterinary studies and engineering theory and practice. From freeways to cyclist’s velodromes we have all the numbers at our fingertips, so it is a straightforward matter to apply the principles to a greyhound track.
As an interim measure we need to know what minimum parameters should be set for turn radii and banking angles and then find out which tracks conform and which do not. Absolute precision is not the main objective; rather, to start with, we need a fair indication of what’s good and what’s bad. The details can always be refined as studies are completed.
Meanwhile, even casual observations reveal that first turns for two trips – Richmond 535m and Ipswich 520m – are as flat as a pancake. That not only increases the physical risks but also creates otherwise avoidable disruptions in races. These are just two examples of tracks where solutions can be found immediately yet they are also subjects which have been ignored or swept under the carpet. Indeed, a few years ago GRNSW spent over half a million dollars “rebuilding” the Richmond track, only to repeat the same fault. In Queensland, they have also persisted with poorly contoured turns at Albion Park while the much-lauded Gold Coast track had a flat home turn, often causing dogs to run wide and out of the SKY picture.
We need better guidance and better information. Above all, action please.
That action will have to be a lot better than what is supposedly happening to The Gardens. Apparently, local reports claim it is the subject of GRNSW’ first effort to improve track layouts following criticism from the recent parliamentary Inquiry. All that we hear (there are no official announcements) is that they are whizzing around the circuit doing something with the surfacing. But what exactly? (Googling “Newcastle Greyhounds” will not help as that takes you to Newcastle in the UK).
Whatever they are doing with the surface is the tip of the iceberg. The Gardens layout has been faulty – ie poorly designed – from the start. The move of the 413m boxes to the present 400m position, costing $50,000, came long after they had started racing there, despite advance advice to the club (then the NCA) that it would be a problem. The NCA advised everything was fine as the track had been built by “experts”, all of which demonstrates a distinct lack of knowledge amongst both club and authority staff. Indeed, the absence of any scientific studies of the art of track design in this country stops anyone from being classed as expert.
Yet, having supposedly attacked the subject, The Gardens remains with a disruptive first turn (515m), a bend start to 400m and 600m races and a flattish home turn. The topography is entire wrong.
GRNSW also “rebuilt” the Dapto track (another half a million or so) only to end up with a repeat of the old faults – a disruptive start and first turn. Inside dogs keep veering to the right at every 520m start because the boxes, indeed the whole track, should have been moved some metres to the north to avoid the inevitable squeezing. A big job, certainly, but better than throwing all that money down the drain.
GRNSW other recent effort was to hack into the wall near Bathurst’s first turn to create a new 450m start which demands runners perform a right angle turn to the left after the jump. In that same area, the 520m first turn is no bed of roses either.
Meanwhile, all the Northern Rivers tracks are crying out for layout changes and modernisation, while Bulli persists with a flat turn into the straight which routinely throws dogs off to the outside. In today’s climate, funding for these projects will be difficult yet the problems have been present for many years, only to be ignored.
It might seem a stretch to attach all these issues to the unfortunate experience of poor old Oscura (RIP) yet the fact is that was no more than a further piece of evidence in a very lengthy saga of poor management by state racing authorities. The current waffling about animal welfare is all very well yet the prime influence on in-race disruptions and injuries is badly laid out tracks, all of which are man-made and longstanding.
And it goes on. Both Queensland and WA have announced that plans for their new tracks at Cannington and Logan respectively include bend starts for middle distance races. How can that be possible?