Readers may remember that in April 2006 the brilliant and versatile Paua To Burn broke the Wentworth Park record with a 29.51 run. That time stood for a couple of years until Queen Lauryn came along with 29.44. But the latter time was kosher, the former was not, of which more later.
In December 2006, Slater smashed the Bendigo 430m record with a 23.61 run, an amazing time that has not only stayed in the books ever since but will remain so for evermore as the track is now being re-built. Almost simultaneously, that prolific winner Flashing Floods posted a new 545m record of 31.01, as well as another run of 31.02, times which were fantastic at that stage but have been eclipsed since.
None of those Bendigo times were kosher, either.
The point is that each of those performances slotted in to a period of 4-6 months when the tracks were extraordinarily fast. That statement is underpinned by comparisons of times run by hundreds of dogs before, during and after the extreme periods.
Here is a similar case. The last 200 winners at Wentworth Park this year have averaged 30.11. Last year, winners averaged 30.45, a difference of just on five lengths. In the last three months Radley Bale has run 29.45 while four others ran in the 29.50s – Allen Harper, Loathsome, Noble Pedro and Bogie King. These are all fine gallopers but would you back them against Queen Lauryn at her top? Another half dozen have run in the 29.60s.
In normal times, eyes are opened whenever a dog breaks the 30sec mark at Wenty. Yet, recently, all sorts of fair-average maidens and 5th graders have been doing that.
Form students will have noted much the same thing happening at Traralgon. After the track was ripped up and the loam replaced a couple of years ago, the track was on the slow side for a while but then settled down. Yet just recently, dogs have been chopping up to half a second off their expected times. The club maintains it is just a matter of good dogs competing there (eg in the Traralgon Cup series). But my own analysis includes not only the Radley Bales and Allen Elroys but also run-of-the-mill 5th graders. All of them have been shaving their times by large amounts (not over 298m, though).
So why are those quick times not kosher? The evidence shows that Bendigo and Wentworth Park were tricked up at the time. It may or may not have been done on purpose but it did happen. So, too, at Traralgon. There can be no argument about this because the before and after comparisons are too stark to deny.
At Bendigo some claimed the source of the water used on the track may have changed (from mains to bore or v.v.) and therefore affected times. But that’s never been confirmed. Neither the club or GRV would comment at the time.
At Wentworth Park, officials make a point about winter conditions being conducive to fast times. There is a grain of truth in that but you then have to ask why it did not happen last year, or the year before. Either way, the steamroller has been out this year.
The upshot is that a quick read of the formguide will give you a lot of misleading information. Apples are mixed in with oranges.
On top of all that, over the last year punters have had to allow for the half second quickening of the resurfaced Sandown track, as well as the arrival of new surfaces and distances at re-built tracks at Warragul and Geelong, and some undefined fiddling with the Maitland track. Bulli has often been lightning fast as well. Then there is the inevitable ultra-fast track put on for major events. (Why do they do that?). It makes it all a big ask for the poor punter.
There is a yawning gap which leads to the above problems. Officialdom has no way of assessing, let alone publishing, the effect of track changes or conditions on the day. The stewards’ customary fast-good-slow guesses are not worth a cracker. They might as well insert their car key into the surface and look knowledgeably at the TV camera when they are doing it. In any case, a rain-affected track may well be quicker than normal or winds may make it slower.
This subject is much debated at the gallops yet there at least the stewards have a prescribed method of checking the surface, allocating a specific number to the outcome – eg Good 7, and thereby keeping punters informed. It’s not perfect but they do try.
Your writer can offer no immediate solution for this problem, or not one of benefit to the public. Comparisons with career times for a large number of dogs will do the job pretty well but that’s outside the reach of average punters (or trainers, for that matter).
However, we do have a composite national form database now (or GALtd does). In these days of whizbang communications a couple of boffins could well devise a small program to help stewards assess track conditions on the basis of times run at the meeting, and then enter a figure into their laptops. The answer could then go into future formguides. That would put us one ahead of the gallops.