Sectionals are Just the Start in Timely Discussions

This story was prompted by a reader’s comment expressing concern about my recent description of Sisco Rage as a “good beginner”. While its 5.02 at Sandown was right at the top of its range, it was not especially out of place, and not when you consider dogs normally run faster sectionals from the rails box. (Surveys reveal by a good length on average).

Sisco Rage has been essentially a middle-distance racer and has a history of jumping out first or second in at least half its races. Notably, it recently ran 8.94 at the Meadows 600m (few can do that) and 5.05 in a Sandown 515m race in December, so it obviously has the basic ability. Other times have been presentable, given it has had to contend with many middle boxes and bend starts. There were no flash beginners in the subject race so it was perfectly reasonable to expect Sisco Rage to lead them around the corner, which it did. Besides, galloping-wise, it was ”in form”, which makes a big difference.

Sectional times can never be taken as gold-plated. Even really smart beginners will record variations of one or two lengths from race to race. The trick is to set your odds on what is most likely to happen, given the circumstances of the races and the habits of other runners. Personally, I prefer to take an average over the latest 10 runs but perhaps adjust my expectations in a particular set of circumstances.

While on the subject of sectional times, it is instructive to add two more comments.

First, the universal practice of nominating 2nd sectional times in greyhound races might look nice but it is of no help whatever in selecting winners. The race is essentially set up by what happens in the first 100m or so – i.e., the 1st sectional area. Extensive testing of the use of 2nd sectionals in race analyses has shown they do not improve predictions at all. The first sectional and the overall time tell the story. This is emphasised by the fact the vast majority of winners come from the first three around the corner.

Second, the equally universal practice of quoting “run home” times not only provides useless information but it is also misleading in that you can’t be sure what dog was responsible. Doubly so if you were not watching the race. The published time is usable only if, (a) you can be sure the same dog was in front at the final marker as well as at the finish; and, (b) you also know where that marker is. Even if you know those things, a good run-home time (whatever that may be) is no great indication of the dog’s capability. It may well have finished its run by the time the post comes up and so its ability to race over a longer trip will still be guesswork.

In both cases, these times are affected by any interference, or the lack of it, a dog met earlier in the race. For example, history is littered with cases of normally slow beginners but strong finishers which miraculously jump well and lead, only to fade in the run home. They rarely repeat any of those times. As mentioned in earlier articles, a dog’s petrol tank is limited in size. It can use only what’s left in there.

Anyway, the above points – all backed up by statistical testing – suggest the industry has wasted probably hundreds of thousands of dollars in buying more complex computer and semaphore board programs to display the extra times. They are no more than pretty pictures, which then clog up formguides.

Some may dispute these claims but, if so, I would want to see thousands of pieces of data to support their claims. Opinions do not count.

Feelgood Factor is Not Enough

Speaking of investments by state authorities, for years we have been waiting for them to account for cash diverted from prizemoney, or needed track improvements, into bonuses offered to local breeders and to prizemoney boosts for provincial distance racing (which they define as 600m-plus).

There are two possible reasons for these investments; either to make the authorities feel good, or to improve the state’s breeding performances and/or stimulate the breed’s stamina. So far, only the former fits the outcomes.

There is no evidence whatever that breeding incentives produce any significant results. Indeed, since they are present in all states the potential for competitive advantage is virtually zero.

They arrived in NSW after the authority canvassed the state’s breeders, asking them to vote yes or no on the question – “Would bonuses be helpful to breeders?” – or some such wording. Amazingly, they all said yes and so the practice got started.

In its last annual report GRNSW reported a decline in breeding numbers. (Other states failed to report at all).

Bonuses for longer races have done no better. Such races are frequently short of starters and tend to attract dogs which are simply not capable of winning over shorter trips. The aim is fine but the method is unproductive. Since we are breeding fewer and weaker dogs, surely the way to address that shortcoming would be to directly encourage breeding from dogs with proven or potential capability over the longer journeys. The methodology might be devised by breeding experts.

In all states, the practice has actually been the reverse of the above. Everywhere, clubs and authorities are adding shorter trips to programs, thereby encouraging the continued breeding of squibs. That’s a conundrum.

In all these cases – sectional timers, breeding incentives, distance incentives – the underlying theme is authorities believe “it would be a good idea if” … we did so and so. Serious research and the monitoring of results are absent. Consequently, it should be no surprise the respective investments have failed to produce dividends. They are just bad investments.

You will not see such a conclusion in annual reports and the like, as they concentrate on good news alone. Invariably, authorities like to tell us how wonderful they have been in spending money but never report on the outcomes. By and large, racing authorities are not held accountable for what they achieve. Auditors check the arithmetic but not the worth of the spending.

This is a subject that demands consideration in the current review of the Greyhound Racing Act in NSW.

Past Discussion

  1. So Bruce prefers to assess the average (sectional time) over the latest 10 runs… Sisco Rage has had 10 starts over the 515m at Sandown for an average 1st section time of 5.23. Pedestrian at best. In only three of those ten starts has it bettered 5.20 to the first mark, 5.02, 5.05 and 5.19.
    At The Meadows over 525m Sisco Rage has had 9 starts with an average first section time of 5.27 and a fastest of 5.20 from box 1. Statistics suggest that Sisco Rage is certainly not a good beginner over the shorter trips at Sandown and The Meadows. The two recent quick first section times at Sandown (5.02 & 5.05) were out of the ordinary, and any decent form student couldn’t honestly have expected it to run close to those times.

  2. So Bruce prefers to assess the average (sectional time) over the latest 10 runs… Sisco Rage has had 10 starts over the 515m at Sandown for an average 1st section time of 5.23. Pedestrian at best. In only three of those ten starts has it bettered 5.20 to the first mark, 5.02, 5.05 and 5.19.At The Meadows over 525m Sisco Rage has had 9 starts with an average first section time of 5.27 and a fastest of 5.20 from box 1. Statistics suggest that Sisco Rage is certainly not a good beginner over the shorter trips at Sandown and The Meadows. The two recent quick first section times at Sandown (5.02 & 5.05) were out of the ordinary, and any decent form student couldn’t honestly have expected it to run close to those times.

  3. ‘Opinions do not count’ . . . Unless you’re Bruce lol. Of course you are right Brian, and the most recent of those times, the 5.02 was from the Red box, a draw which routinely sees plenty of dogs begin better than what they’ve shown they’ve been capable of from other draws in the past.

  4. ‘Opinions do not count’ . . . Unless you’re Bruce lol. Of course you are right Brian, and the most recent of those times, the 5.02 was from the Red box, a draw which routinely sees plenty of dogs begin better than what they’ve shown they’ve been capable of from other draws in the past.