Roy Masters, Fairfax Media, September 21, pointed out the hassles in the NRL. “Everything I hear from coaches and players tells me fatigue, either physical or mental, is by far a bigger factor than it ever was. Coaches complain about five-day turnarounds and plane trips across three states and stand down players to rest them.”
But are greyhounds any different?
The trouble is that you never quite know. Was the dog tired, injured, smashed or just sick of the whole deal? Race failures have many causes but the hardest one to fathom is whether it has been over-raced, meaning it has not had enough time to recover from an earlier effort.
We have documented many times the impact of frequent racing on distance dogs. The evidence is conclusive amongst both good and average dogs. Once every seven days is too often for any but the hardiest racers, and there are very few of those. Protests that “trainers know best” is nonsense because the facts simply do not back them up.
For example, in the three distance heats at The Meadows last Saturday – after deleting a couple of obvious outliers – the runners had raced 6.4 days previously on average.
But how much does it affect sprinters? Oddly enough, the figures are not too much different, suggesting the week and week about practice is cemented in many trainers’ minds. Yet that disguises the extremes. Long outages for injured dogs are to be expected, of course, but there are still numerous racers that turn out three or four days after their previous start. Are they fit? Do they have niggles? More importantly, are they keen? Or are they just following the pack around. You just don’t know.
Going back to the stayers, all three heat winners actually reflected their best recent form (but not their PBs) but only one of them was favourite – Seeking Justice. Several other well supported runners, most backing up from the week before, had their chances but faded in the run home.
So much for the heats. The final on this Saturday will ask all of them to produce their best once again after yet another seven-day break. History suggests that will be a bit of a raffle so there will be no real winners, especially not amongst punters who are trying to guess how good they are.
The quick back-up sprinters are no better off as three-day breaks mostly end up with poorer performances the second time around. I have not had the resources to conduct a proper survey but observations show repeatedly that a drop-off in form occurs.
In any event, dogs are still dogs, greyhounds are still greyhounds, and they are all part of a breed which has never been known for its stamina. Possibly more so in recent times as sires with proven sprinting prowess dominate the breeding lists. It cannot be an accident that experienced commentators describe the modern greyhound as “less robust”.
But that’s just a question of degree. The more important gap in our knowledge is just how regular racing affects a dog’s metabolism and how long it takes to replenish the spent forces, all of which is beyond my knowledge and probably that of most participants. As with many other subjects, the industry relies on a “she’ll be right” attitude even though – potentially – it has the means of unravelling the facts in a scientific manner.
Indeed, the recent WDA study, conducted for GRNSW following the live baiting issue, conclusively reported real misconceptions amongst trainers about the worth of some education and training techniques. Tradition and common practice overwhelmed advancement and modernisation. It showed specifically that “the trainer does not always know best”.
Today, we have specific and irrefutable evidence that excessive racing over longer distances causes performance to degrade in the vast majority of cases. Even so, authorities continue to allow and encourage heat and final racing in successive 700m-plus trips over a 7-day period, usually for bigger cash prizes such as the current one at The Meadows. This is a folly which benefits no-one, least of all the dogs.
Has no-one read the papers recently? They are full of abusive comments about the conduct of the industry while millions are being spent on inquiries (most conducted by people without sufficient knowledge of the subject) which have either ignored or skated around the key elements.
Breeding, as such, is not the key issue. Racing is, together with the missing studies of how those races are created and how the competitors are produced in the first place.
Doing what you did last year is called survival, at best. Improving on what you did last year is called progress. With the stroke of a pen the industry could achieve progress by banning back-ups within 6 days, or 14 days for stayers.
Success at last
The marvellous thing about the Speed Star event at Sandown was that each race was won by the better dog. All due to zero interference.
Can we find a way to do that with eight dogs in a race?