Let’s Get Rid Of The “Band Of Wild Indians”

The great Paul Ambrosoli used that term years ago to describe the scene at the start of the old 605m trip at Bulli. It’s gone now, following the track re-building after the floods, and is replaced by more sensible 515m and 659m journeys.

Yet, today, there are still too many troublesome 600m races – that’s the ones with bend starts, which is all of them.

They confuse punters, the dogs get in each other’s road and run an increased risk of doing damage to themselves. At best, they are 4-dog races. The back four have no chance of winning and little chance of gaining a place. A change is badly needed.

HERE’S CHOICE 1:One solution is to alter the rules and cut the number of\starters down from eight to six. That would not be perfect but it would be a lot better. Those who worry that this reduces the opportunities for two dogs should consider that four of them are not going to be able to compete properly anyway. They don’t win from the back.

HERE’S CHOICE 2: Of course, an even better solution would be to re-position all the starts but that would take time, money and require dozens of people to change their minds (very difficult in the greyhound world). For reasons I have never understood, club bosses seem wedded to the concept that boxes must be sited on the track proper. They are forgetting that greyhounds have a lot better sight than humans. In fact, it’s their best thing, which is why they were once termed “sighthounds”. They could easily pick up the lure from a hundred metres away if you asked them.

On the other hand, the rules can be changed almost overnight. HERE’S CHOICE 3: Meantime, there is no reason why one state could not conduct an experiment with smaller fields.

Why so important? Well, there are two big issues involved.

First, these races are far too unpredictable and so discourage more and better punting. And, before someone points out that they currently pull in quite good money, let me mention that some racing administrators have previously claimed that maiden events are worthwhile because they attract good pools, too. Yes, but from whom? With unraced or inexperienced runners or with bend starts it effectively means bettors are wading into a book of 150%-plus. That’s not punting, it’s pure gambling and no better than playing a poker machine. Or worse actually, as the pokies run on 110% or so. Clearly, many 600m investors are not assigning proper value to the physical risks of the race.

Take, for example, last Thursday night’s main four meetings which saw nine races over the 600m distance.

At Sandown, all four favourites lost – Happy Tiger 2nd at $2.00, Jethro 4th at $1.90, Shadow Lane 3rd at $2.10, and Rock Up Richer 2nd at $2.40. At Albion Park both 600m favourites lost – Tweed Bah Day 5th at $2.60 and Charter 3rd at $3.00. So, too at Dapto – Cool Duke 3rd at $2.30 and Princess Zara unplaced at $2.60, while at Angle Park the loser was Kalarikki 3rd at $1.40. Even though that’s a small sample, batting 0 for 9 is not a good look. And yet all those dogs were in pretty good form.

Conservatively, that means somewhere near $200,000 of Australian punters’ money went down the drain on Win totes alone. Double that to take into account all the exotics. All that is cash that can’t be re-invested on the next race.

Mostly, those losers were not nosed out at the finish but shoved out of real contention in the first 100m. With the bend coming up straight after the jump there is little opportunity for moderate beginners to make up any ground. Instead they have to cope with others running diagonal courses all around them. It’s all too much.

As we pointed out last week these effects are not limited to 600m races. A large bunch of 400m races are involved, too, mainly those on one-turn tracks. Interference is higher there as well, as is the variability in winners and dividends. Ditto for the newish 650m bracket at Victoria provincial tracks, two of which have actually had their distances reduced, thereby placing them right on top of the bend.

The message is never judge a track by the dog that spears out and leads all the way. Instead, watch the other seven.

Incidentally, the Bulli subject is relevant there, too. Several years ago, before the GBOTA first took over the club, manager Paul Barnes had a firm policy of preferring races of 472m and longer. He found that they attracted higher turnover than 400m races, which rarely got on to his programs. In that era, Bulli turnover on Wednesdays always comfortably outpointed neighbouring Dapto in the seemingly better slot of Thursday night. Yet when the GBOTA took control of Bulli the 400m events returned with their awkward bend starts, after which GRNSW started playing musical chairs with race dates and Bulli lost its edge. Never mind what trainers liked, the customers preferred longer races. Barnes was right after all.

Cleaner races would be one of the major potential drivers of increased patronage of greyhound racing. It’s not much good doing a fantastic job of working out the form if it all comes undone in the first few metres. You immediately move from a punt to a lottery. Even mug gamblers hate seeing their choices knocked out in the first few metres.

Secondly, it makes a mockery of welfare policy to continue to put dogs in unsafe positions. When eight dogs are frantically squeezing into a space big enough for only four, something has to give. If they are not injured then some dogs will certainly suffer a loss of confidence, which is probably even more worrying and harder to fix.

To take no action is to leave the industry in a vulnerable position, arming the critics who are opposed to greyhound racing of any sort. Yes, they are mostly nutters but they have a way of scaring people off, sometimes including state parliamentarians, so they do count.

Next time, I will be writing about other measures authorities might take to update longstanding rules and practices. Amongst those will be the option of disqualifying fighters. We saw a blatant example at last Thursday’s Sandown meeting where the offender was pinged and outed for 28 days. That it was the favourite was bad enough but it also ruined my personal Quinella, which really hurt. The Trifecta paid $3k and the First Four jackpotted, so hardly anybody succeeded.

In this case, the offender missed out on prize money, as did the victim. But what if the fighter had won prize money? Under current rules, it is still eligible to collect, which constitutes a gross miscarriage of justice. Should we stop this happening? Comments welcome, please.

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