Keeping Them Keen

As a kid it was always fascinating to hear about a horse that had raced twice in the same day at Randwick, sometimes doing quite well in the second run. Not only would that be seen as crazy today, not least by the RSPCA, but media commentators often debate whether a 7-day break is sufficient for a horse more used to 14 days, especially if it had just run a “gutbuster”, as they call them. Still, the trainer knows best.

Consequently, it was interesting to read a Dr John Kohnke article about when and how to organise a horse’s downtime, whether caused by injury, “training off”, or for other reasons (it was really an advertorial on Virtual Formguide for Kohnke products but useful nevertheless).

The article pointed out that “the typical thoroughbred spends … 42-60% of its time in training, with the remaining time turned out for a spell … (while) harness horses spend 70-75% of the year in training, often with short breaks between preparations”.

Kohnke goes on to discuss when and how to handle the horse’s coming and going and what potions to buy to keep it fit and happy. And so on. But since the name is well known in greyhound circles it poses the question of whether the greyhound industry should also be looking more carefully into this subject.

Bear in mind that a lot of Kohnke’s information was based on organised surveys into training and spelling practices.

For example, one report showed that over a period a horse’s performance loss was as much affected by “a loss of willingness to exercise” as anything else. In turn, that led to “a gradual change in the overall physical condition”.

How do greyhounds compare?

Statistics are hard to come by but checks I have run over recent years reveal that 10% to 20% of dogs back up inside a 7-day period, some after as little as 3 days, despite frequent recommendations from vets that a dog needs the best part of a week to restore the juices. Even that leaves aside whatever trialling and exercising it has done at the same time.

There is one pattern, though. It is highly unusual to see a topliner back up quickly. (One exception was Radley Bale, which I mentioned in a previous article). Nearly always it is the lesser dog in the kennel which has to work harder, which defies the logic of the situation.

Form seems to count for little. For example, a random meeting check this week (at Horsham) showed that 23 of 98 dogs listed had not run a place in their previous four starts (there was a time when that would not have earned them a draw). Only two of those 23 ran a place this time, one of which was a maiden with one previous start, the other a track specialist returning. So, were trainers hoping for good luck to arrive, or would it have been better to put them out into the paddock for a while and start again?

Certainly, they earn no money sitting in the kennel yet, by comparison, keenness is an even more important factor in a racing greyhound than in a thoroughbred. After all, the dog is out there by himself. But if it is plodding around in the back half of the field, what is the point?

All the evidence suggests that high frequency racing is a modern trend, probably influenced by increased racing opportunities filled from a static dog population. That same squeeze is leading to frequent short fields and insufficient nominations. But what will you turn up with a ring-around trying to get more starters? Hardly the pick of the bunch.

Warrnambool Classic Time Again

I have to make my annual groan. I like Warrnambool but I hate the Classic. These events for unraced dogs, maidens, slow dogs and a few good ones are a dead loss for punters or viewers. They end up as a string of follow the leader races, interposed with the occasional shock which no-one could predict.

In the 19 heats this week 13 winners started at odds-on, all the way down to $1.10, two at $1.20, and three at $1.30. Another 3 winners were just in the black, while 3 odds-on pops got rolled. Modern Fantasy, bless him, unplaced at its last six runs, scored at $29.90 in NSW ($29.60 in Victoria) with the $1.30 favourite running 3rd. Not exciting.

Owners and trainers may like them but I can’t say the same for the customers. There has to be a better way.