The loss is popping up in all sorts of places but particularly in the three eastern states, where some 20% or more of all races start with a short field.
However, I am nonplussed by the weak interest from owners and trainers in the Bendigo Cup – heats last Wednesday, final tonight.
Certainly, it straddled the lucrative Golden Easter Egg series over 520m at Wentworth Park but the Bendigo final is worth over $60k and the five heats $7,250 each. Far more dogs are suited to its shorter trip than they are over the big city distances.
Even so, five heats are considerably fewer than is customary on the Victorian Cups circuit, which are always a good crowd puller. Worse again, none of the heats started with a full field. They averaged 6.2 so, given the presence of a handful of top racers, the betting potential was minimal. The winners, all predictable, paid an average of $1.32 in NSW and the biggest First Four only $29.
Why the lack of support? Bad timing? Wrong day? Distance too short? Fear of the handful of brilliant one-turn dogs like Paw Licking and Black Magic Opal (all of which drew great boxes, as it happened)? Who knows?
The final has been consigned to the graveyard slot on Sunday twilight when many folk are at home with their families. It is apparently an involuntary habit for GRV to stage these provincial events at oddball times. Bendigo’s standard major weekly meeting is on Fridays at twilight when it usually does quite well. This year the Easter holidays would have been a factor.
Of course you could not see a game of football in Victoria on Good Friday, let alone any races. Does anyone remember when games were banned on Sundays, too? NSW has no such qualms and staged three very successful NRL games on this day.
I see that Patrick Smith of The Australian considers that the “intrusion” of Good Friday football “will deeply offend a vocal and influential portion of … the community in general”. Yet more than one in five of Australians claim to have no religion or are atheists, Muslims make Friday their main prayer day, Jewish folk often refuse to play on Saturdays – their Sabbath, and old time Methodists are horrified by any games at all on Sunday. In a secular society the message should be respect, yes, blind obedience, no.
Anyway, speaking of shortages, the annual pilgrimage to Warrnambool is well under way with the staging of its unique Classic series. Owners put their dog’s name down at whelping and pay progressively more nomination fees as time goes on, ending up with over $300 each invested for a potential $50,000 gain.
However, year after year it is a dud to bet on, perhaps except for the final. Of the 15 heats, all had short fields and 12 favourites were at odds-on (but four of them lost). Two fields were down to three and four starters by the time they jumped.
Obviously quite a few owners like the idea, and it is largely self-financing, but is it helping the industry to go forward, or is there some better way of creating attractive competitions for youngsters?
They certainly have not found it in the Auction series at Dapto and Ipswich, where you also buy your way into the event. Fields can be small and races are either unpredictable or dominated by the odd classy dog. It does not help that both these events are run on disruptive tracks.
Back to tonight’s Bendigo Cup final. In its wisdom, Tabcorp Fixed Odds people rate Black Magic Opal (2) an odds-on bet, which is pretty amazing considering some highly talented opposition. Four of those have brilliant career records, including over this trip, and three are very quick beginners.
The GRV Watchdog agrees with Tabcorp, or one may well have copied the other, as usually happens with F/O prices.
It seems everyone is paying homage to the fact that Black Magic Opal (2) equalled the track record in its heat yet how often do dogs repeat such performances in successive races? More likely that will not happen tonight due to the intensive competition. Assuming all goes well, Paw Licking (1) will come out first, or equal first, and the winner will have to go around it. Black Magic Opal was unable to do that in the Hobart Thousand over 461m, a distance which probably suited it better.
Meanwhile, Mats Entity (8) will be careering over from the outside. I don’t see it winning but it could get in the way of the stronger dogs. Ronan Izmir (3), which won this race last year, is also capable of anything, given a clear run. Indeed, that’s the big question – what will get into the clear?
When in doubt, back the red.
Going back to my comment about repeating record runs, it is noteworthy that Xylia Allen led easily in the Association Cup at Wenty last night but compounded on the home turn and ended up running 7.5 lengths slower that in last week’s amazing run. Why was that so? Was seven days too short a time to allow it to replenish the juices?
The winner, Sweet It Is, put in a career best performance of 41.78. You might remember this was the same dog the Victorian stewards queried after winning in moderate time at The Meadows some time ago. They were wrong then, as it did no more than perform as it had in the past. Nevertheless, under a new trainer now, it has obviously grown a leg.
Also on times, in the Golden Easter Egg only the first two dogs managed to improve on their heat or semi times (although not on their other career runs) while the other six did worse. It’s all about positioning and luck on the night. Of course, Tonk got a huge kick along when the leaders moved off on Wenty’s notorious first turn and let him scoot along the rails to the front. It’s far from the first time that has happened in the Egg – for example, El Galo and Miss Elly Mint suffered the same way.
Hands up everyone who wants to see the NSW premier track moved out west!