Nothing, absolutely nothing, is more important to a greyhound race than how the dogs handle the first 100m. That sets up the entire race. It provides all the flavour. And the only way to predict that part of the race is by checking first sectional times.
But, apparently, neither clubs nor state authorities are convinced. One of the big worries is that those authorities are not talking nicely to each other – or at least not about form.
Just looking through last Saturday's GRV form for The Meadows it was noticeable that at least eight dogs with interstate form were missing sectional times – Lucky I'm Black, Iona Seven, Gotta Be Fancy, Magnum Blast, Dark Assassin, and Abacus Bale from NSW, Dashing Man from Queensland and Maddison Dee with SA form.
These were not cases where they had no sectional times to start with. The problem was that the times did not move interstate with them.
Punters might also have looked thru the GRNSW formguide for Bulli on Monday night. It contained what looked like helpful “speed maps”, suggesting where dogs would be positioned soon after the jump. Yet if you perused the form for individual dogs you would find that more than half their runs contained no sectional times at all. So how did they construct those nice looking maps? Very mysterious.
Official Queensland form contains lots of runs from the Northern Rivers tracks yet not a single one of those will show a sectional time. None. Zilch. Some are not recorded, of course, but many are. On top of that, Ipswich sectionals are also highly erratic – sometimes you get them, sometimes you don't.
SA is also a problem as many dogs nip over the border to Horsham and Warrnambool from Mount Gambier and other provincial tracks, mostly without any sectional times.
If you look around Australia, only Victoria makes any serious attempt to provide a complete coverage of all sectional performances. Even then, the Victorian data has quite a few holes in it, usually because the home club just did not get around to it.
The others, except for Tasmania, are fine for city tracks but not so fussed about provincial meetings. A few of the latter are good but the vast majority offer only a leader's time at best. However, Tasmania, which provides only leader's times everywhere, does recognise the need and is now busy planning upgraded timing systems. The state has already brought in a new computerised system for the gallops, using GPS locators on saddlecloths.
Still, having good times at home is just half the battle. You have to tell everyone else as well.
To make room for the extra work, can I suggest authorities start paying less attention to 2nd sectionals and run-home times, both of which are of no use in picking future winners. Extensive statistical testing shows they offer no benefit and the dog responsible for the run-home time is often unknown anyway. Such times are useful for horses but not for dogs which go flat out from the start.
As an adjunct to any improvement program, we could use an Australian standard for producing running numbers (which also need to shift interstate). Currently, the practice varies from track to track. At Wentworth Park, for example, the first set of numbers covers the order in which runners poke their noses out of the box. That falls under the heading of useless information.
SEE NO EVIL …
The Singleton-Waterhouse fracas at Randwick on the weekend had its source in the disclosure of an injury to the well-fancied More Joyous. Thoroughbred racing rules say the stewards should hear about that while trainer Gai Waterhouse says it wasn't really necessary. The bit about what bookmaker Tom Waterhouse knew or said is another, and possibly more serious, subject which will get sorted out later on.
Greyhound racing has the same rule but it is hard to remember the last time the stewards, and through them the public, heard any such news. Or, if they did, just how would stewards pass it on. 99% of greyhound fans don't go near the track and it's hard to get a word in edgewise in the crowded SKY program. Punters even get on-air tips for feature meetings only as the dogs are going into the boxes. Not much use then.
A reliable system is needed.
It's pretty reasonable to expect that any athlete – equine, canine or human – will suffer from niggles or worse during the course of a campaign. With humans, from Michael Clarke's back to Benji Marshall's foot or any number of AFL knees, you will get chapter and verse in the newspapers and on TV. With horses, that news is fairly regular, even to the stage of arguments between stewards and trainers. In that case, stewards often exercise their right to send in their own vet to check out the horse. With dogs, almost none of this happens, perhaps excepting something affecting a champion racer with a significant injury requiring it to be scratched from an upcoming event – Miata in Melbourne comes to mind.
More often, if it appears at all, such news appears after the event, or even after a retirement, and then from the trainer himself in a media interview. There are instances of a couple of prominent stayers and a Golden Easter Egg winner where we heard well after the event about injuries and illnesses which had to be overcome to get the dog to the starting line. Some such problems might have been evident to an experienced observer during the running of the race, yet he would still be guessing. Nothing from the stewards, though, so we can assume they knew no more than the punters.
What's the purpose of the rule if no-one follows it or polices it?
Finally, a close cousin to the injury question is the dog which is backing up very quickly after a hard race, sometimes with substantial travel in between. The quick check at weighing-in time is unlikely to tell us how the dog feels so the money goes on regardless and the dog often fails to live up to expectations. A couple of recent top stakes winners remind you of this conundrum. Here there is no rule, but there should be.
The gallops inquiry may set up interesting precedents.