So, is it time?
Warrnambool’s “Classic” series may well be classic to some but others will have their doubts. The word classic denotes “of the first or highest class or rank”, according to the Macquarie dictionary. Unfortunately, although the club puts a lot of work into it, this event does not even get close.
Soon after whelping, a dog’s name goes down for a start in the event. After forking out some hundreds of dollars in fees the owner may then end up with a dog with four legs that has qualified for entry. Whether it can run fast or not is immaterial.
This time, four of last week’s 12 heats were drawn with a short field. Runners included 10 first starters and two others with only one run. 18 were maidens, including the above first starters. Since they have all paid up for a start, there are no reserves.
After scratchings, we were left with two heats with a full field, four with only seven runners, three with six, two with five and one with only four runners.
A few decent dogs were scattered around but the majority had poor form or none. On the night, a few times were good, five favourites started well into the red and the average margin to the fourth dog was just on 10 lengths.
This is a case of clubs (and maybe authorities) latching on to an idea that owners and trainers might like but ignoring what customers need. That’s not in the best interests of the industry, even though these races were largely self-funded. (Yes, I know some will point out that TAB takings were reasonable but these days you would probably get much the same results from racing frogs).
Together with “auction” series racing, as at Dapto, these things belong to a bygone era when mates raced against mates and had a beer afterwards. As betting propositions they are terrible. That would not be quite so bad were it not for the overall decline in race quality due to the increasing proportions of Maidens, Tier 3, Restricted Win, Non Penalty, C Class, Novice and squibs’ racing in today’s TAB programs. Taken together, it is adding up to a mug’s game. It is also detracting from the significant number of high quality races the code can put on.
By all means offer incentives for people to buy pups but do it so that future racing is not paying the price. After all, that future racing is what creates the prize money that owners and trainers need.
In contrast, the thoroughbred equivalent, the Gold Coast’s Magic Millions, might have a few rough edges but it does promote the breeding sector directly. It offers only one race, rather than seventeen, and horses qualify for entry in order of prize money won. So it is genuinely competitive and it also attracts lots of good publicity.
But why now? Well, consider this: many Australians love their Holden cars, but no-one is buying them any more. GMH is downsizing and survives only on handouts from the taxpayers. Ford is in much the same boat while Mitsubishi has already shut down its main production line. It’s called the march of time. We need freshness, initiative and imagination to carry the code forward.
A COUNTRY WIN
I should have added another track to my 15 April list of investment problems but I did not because I don’t think it has had a lot spent on it (apart from volunteer labour). This is the country track at Northam in WA.
Actually, it is not a problem but an asset. While I have never done much analysis of racing there, what I do see on videos shows a remarkable absence of interference. Barring the odd wide runner which veers off the track, the fields seem to get around in good shape, and for all distances including the 588m which is nominally a bend start.
However, the 588m boxes are set back off the track proper and therefore allow runners more time to get set.
Another positive feature at Northam is that crashing to the rail is rare – dogs tend more to run straight ahead, much like they do at Hobart. Why, I don’t know, but it bears close study to learn the secret. In fact, both Mandurah and Northam might offer evidence for WA authorities when (if) they have to build a new Cannington track.
As an aside, Northam, like many other tracks these days, has changed to a red lure. No doubt it looks spectacular to committee members in the boardroom. Unfortunately, expert opinion is that greyhounds are largely colour-blind to red. It’s the movement that attracts their attention, not the colour. They were bred to spot deer on the other side of the valley, not to win art prizes.
A very fine youngster, Black Magic Opal, ran away with the first race at Wenty on Saturday night in a fast 29.79 with an equally quick first section of 5.40. It’s now won 13 of 16 starts, all but two on a TAB track, which is nearly as good as it gets. Everybody expected that, of course, which is why it started at $1.20, despite this race being its first attempt beyond 450m and its first run on the circle proper.
Its previous runs had been at Coonamble, Gosford, Maitland and The Gardens.
But do you know over all those runs it had earned only one sectional time in what must be called the second-rate NSW form system and that was 12 starts ago at Maitland (5.37 over 400m)? Even that one is always arguable because readers are forced to guess which dog was the actual leader, and times for non-leaders are never published for these trips. On top of that, in NSW no two tracks publish details exactly the same way. In any case, that particular performance was old enough not to appear on any current formguide.
Not good enough.