Albion Park – Historic But Flawed

Nationals night at Albion Park last Thursday was one to remember for a number of reasons, not least the gutsy performance by the veteran Dashing Corsair (4 yrs 4 mths) to take out the distance championship. Skilled hands must have worked wonders with the sore back which caused him to stutter in the home straight during the previous week’s run-off. Punters were wary, though, and he started at $6 or $7 on the totes, despite a near perfect record on his home track.

The sprint championship was a messy affair following the first turn scrunching that affected half the field. Metz Magic did a fine job to threaten the 30 sec mark despite his mid-field beginning.

Favourite Cold Fusion had eased out a bit from his early odds-on quote (a ridiculous price, incidentally) but fell out of the boxes and did well to finish a respectable second. More credit to his field sense. And Allen Hertz led around the corner but eventually gave way to harder finishers to take third spot.

The distance race was a different kettle of fish. Interference was low but, unfortunately, the track still dominated the dogs.

Albion Park’s 710m trip may never see another major race before the new Deagon track comes on stream next year, which is fine with me. Its inbuilt bias has spoiled many a promising contest but maybe track builders can learn from that mistake.

For future guidance, it’s worth defining that problem in more detail.

First, the run to the turn is too short. Dogs do not have sufficient time to sort themselves out.

Second, it strongly favours railers. Wide runners cover far too much ground to remain competitive.

Third, the first (and home) turn – the one near the 600m boxes – is badly cambered so that dogs caught wide lose more and more distance as they try to overcome the flatness.

Fourth, due to all the above, it’s a leaders’ track, as I mentioned in my 21 August article, and therefore does not provide all runners with a reasonable chance.

The year’s Distance Championship reflected all these issues. Pickle Mickle (1) and Dashing Corsair (2) got away nicely and dominated three quarters of the race. Indeed, the WA dog got his head in front on the home turn but then faded into fifth spot. From that point Dashing Corsair was never going to lose although Lady Arko (4) gave it a mighty shake to get within half a length on the line. Kalden Mayhem (3) plugged on for third.

But note that those four dogs came from the four inside boxes. Go back to the first turn and watch – check the video if you can – how record breaker Bobby Boucheau (7) and the highly fancied Zipping Lad (8) got away quite reasonably but had no hope of crossing to the rail where the leading division was bowling along.

Coming wide round that first turn their legs were flailing madly as they tried to move up against the tide, so to speak. The camber worked against them and they were never in the race after that. Zipping Lad virtually gave it away while Bobby Boucheau finished on fairly well for a distant fourth.

When you boil it all down, the key question is how best to design turns. The Brisbane problem outlined above is not alone. For example, also on the flat side are first turns at Ipswich, Richmond, The Gardens and Dapto, Launceston is pretty ordinary, while home turns at Angle Park, The Gardens and Bulli need improvement.

Very often, the gremlin seems to be the location of another set of boxes, or a run-off into the pen, near the problem turn. A classic is the 400m bend start at Richmond (a hassle in its own right) which has been allowed to affect the gradient on the nearby 535m first turn. A level run-in for 400m dogs results in a flat turn for dogs trying to get around the 535m first turn. The outcome is that many don’t and veer off, causing interference.

This is a guess but observations suggest builders tend to place the starting boxes on the plan first and only then worry about creating a circuit for dogs to run on.

Ideally, you would do it the other way round. Only a track with a perfect contour can ensure dogs show their maximum abilities. (A good example is the Bendigo harness track, which has much better banking than the adjacent dog track – now under reconstruction).

***

WARNING: My recent comments (Aug 25) about the need for corrective action on the Deagon and Gosford layouts were picked up by a one-eyed, anti-racing American organisation. Fair enough – that’s free speech for you.

However, these people can be extremely negative in their approach. Rather than addressing the need for improvements, they want to ban all racing, quoting evidence of cruelty in the kennels as well as racetrack injuries.

USA experiences with abuses are giving them plenty of ammunition to pursue their cause – perhaps partly due to the “factory” approach to greyhound care in that country. Indeed, such an emotive campaign caused the shutdown of Massachusetts’ only two tracks last year (despite the owner pointing out that Boston’s kindergartens had a higher injury rate than his dogs).

Let’s make sure this does not happen here.

LET’S BUILD BETTER TRACKS!

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