Highway Engineers Could Help

One of my earliest memories of greyhound racing was at Harold Park, arguably then and still the finest example of a one-turn track.

A big striding dog, very often down from the Hunter Valley, would be motoring along in the centre of the track and then cut down on the hill on the back turn to run to the lead. The mob would roar, all 15,000 of them. The banking on the grass surface was superb, giving the dog the means to do what it was born to do.

Freeways do much the same thing, asking only for a light touch on the wheel to take a bend safely. Banking is of the order of 6 degrees. The radius is quite large, but the principle is the same.

“Roads are banked because of the inertia of vehicles driving on the road. A car moving at a fast speed has a large inertia, which means that it has the tendency to keep moving in the same direction at the same speed unless a force acts upon it. So when the car hits a curve, it needs a sideways force to push it around the curve, otherwise, it would just keep going straight. The bank in the road tilts the car in the direction of the curve so that its unequally distributed weight will be the force that pulls it around the curve. It is literally falling in the direction of the curve, and gravity is helping it turn”. (From Answers.com).

Road cyclists have a different challenge, often because they are negotiating flat city roads with a mixed bag of surfaces. Note how often racers pile up on a corner as first one, then two, then many crash into each other, unable to hold the bend. Of course the velodrome cyclist has no such problem; his track is engineered to allow the bike to find its own way round.

Formula One racing is on a flat surface, which also promotes turn problems, but in that case tens of millions of dollars have gone into designing and building the car to combat the massive forces at play, all permitting the driver to overcome the physical challenge. Providing the gear holds up, of course.

For dogs, their suspension is limited to four legs trying to maintain an even course while leaning in at the same time. The forces on those legs will be inversely proportional to the banking of the turn – the more banking, the smaller the forces, and vice versa. Even then, it’s not easy. Note how broken hocks nearly always appear as they exit the turn and move into the back straight.

So, whether it is a dog, a horse, a car, or any moving object, a flat turn is risky, a well banked turn a blessing.

Why, then, do we see examples of flat turns several times a week at greyhound tracks – with easily the worst being the first turns for 535m and 520m races at Richmond and Ipswich respectively? Doubly so at Richmond because it was re-built a few years ago at great expense only to see the previous faults repeated.

In both these cases, the same gremlin is lurking. Just near the faulty turns lies a set of starting boxes for 400m/431m races. Track builders have allowed those dogs a level run into the nearby turn while ignoring the impact on dogs coming around from the longer races. What’s good for the 400s is dynamite for the 500s.

That leads to suspicions that the builders first put down the boxes and only later arranged the contour of the track. Had they done the reverse – first built a mini-velodrome shape – and positioned the boxes only at the end of that process, a flat turn would not eventuate and dogs would not be thrown all over the track.

This is, incidentally, a major reason for poor winning results from outside boxes at Richmond. When inside dogs spear off, they usually take one or two prisoners on the way. And down with them go innocent punters hoping for a clean run for their money.

While those two tracks are at the extreme end of the scale the symptom is fairly widespread. The Gardens at Newcastle is one such example. Bulli’s home turn another. Both turns at Cranbourne are doubtful. Angle Park could do with a little help. And so on. Indeed, while Victoria has gone to some trouble to designate banking angles and to supervise their maintenance, it can be argued that the same banking does not continue far enough into the home straight. As a result many dogs are fanning out across the track as they come out of the turn, creating the potential for more interference, or at least a change in the running order.

Like many things in greyhound racing, a fix is available. Why not take it?

The irony of this story is that the above 400m/431m boxes are in the wrong place anyway. Smash and grab starts are the order of the day due to the sharp left turn soon after the jump. With a minimum of expense they could – and should – be moved around to allow dogs to look directly down the back straight.