How hard is it to pick top class finals like the Topgun?
They all have plenty of ability so a great deal depends, not so much on luck, but on how they run on the night.
In the event, a good young-un beat a good old-un.
Allen Harper (31 mths) showed extraordinary mental and physical strength to overcome a better positioned Radley Bale (42 mths), always on his inside, and then run way from him.
But they got there because they jumped quicker than the opposition.
Here is a comparison between their current average sectionals (last 10 races converted to Meadows equivalent) and what they actually ran in the Topgun.
2011 Topgun Field First Sectional Times Comparison
|1.||Kilty Lad||5.11||5.20||+0.09||2.||Allen Hertz||5.07||5.22||+0.15||3.||Prince Diablo||5.12||5.21||+0.09||4.||Bogie King||5.20||5.16||-0.04||5.||He Knows Uno||5.31||5.34||+0.03||6.||Radley Bale||5.11||5.09||-0.02||7.||Allen Harper||5.10||5.09||-0.01||8.||Oaks Road||5.16||5.15||-0.01|
So it wasn’t so much the brilliance of the outside dogs as the failure of the inside division to do their usual thing. Of those, Kilty Bale was disappointing while Prince Diablo can be erratic and chose the Topgun to show one of his worst starts (not long ago he recorded a brilliant 5.31 at Wenty and he has run under 10 sec at Bulli). This time he was never in the race.
Neither was He Knows Uno but that was expected from the start. Without, perhaps, the benefit of box 1 he can never be competitive in company like this. You cannot give big starts to top dogs. The only surprise was that supporters backed him in to 5/1 when he should have been at least double that figure. Even then, he needed an almighty crash at the first turn to get near them. No way.
Overall, though, the King is dead, long live the King. Radley Bale, now with over $400,000 prize money, has been possibly the best race dog in the country over the last two or three years. Unlike others like El Galo and El Grand Senor, he could not only get away well but finish off his races strongly.
His hit rate may well have been even better had he not been backed up too quickly on several occasions. In the Warrnambool Cup earlier this year, for example, he raced like a tired dog, just a few days after his marvellous win in the punishing three-week Egg series at Wenty. However, it is interesting that he is still beginning very well although that area is usually where older dogs fall away. The Topgun run and a 4.37 in the SA Cup are good evidence of that. Still, six months ago he would probably have won the Topgun.
But Allen Harper, now with 14 wins from 20 starts, is the dog of the future.
Despite all that, a question remains. Once the field got into the first turn, half the runners were out of play. The first four then were the first four at the finish. Certainly a 6-dog field may have improved that situation but it points up one of greyhound racing’s shortcomings. Not enough dogs get a decent crack at the prize, even the small end.
Of course, a good beginning is important for any competitor, and much of a dog’s education aims to improve it in that area. But some dogs will never be brilliant out of the boxes, yet may well have speed and strength to show us later in the race, providing they get the opportunity. That brings up two issues.
Admittedly, it is a fine point but there is a case that the industry has gone too far in promoting early speed. Slow beginning sires are seldom popular, nor are stayers. From Head Honcho to Brett Lee to Bombastic Shiraz and others, fast beginners have increasingly dominated the scene.
There are some exceptions. Primo Uno, for example, was a blunderer at the jump but produced quite a lot of top grade sprinters (perhaps with the help of mum?).
Yet the end effect is to remove from serious contention a large slice of the dog population. That’s not good, socially or economically. It also detracts from the spectacle as the public like nothing better than a big finisher thundering down the straight to catch a tearaway leader.
Which leads us then to creating races where slower beginners have a better chance of success. This means design improvements for our tracks – eliminating bend starts and generating more space on turns by whatever means possible. Keeping the runners separated is the objective. To do that, only serious scientific studies have any hope of delivering the clues that track builders will need. Guesswork is not an option.
That will not achieve perfection. But, as one example, any such program must attack inside-biased tracks like The Meadows, Cannington and Launceston to start with. Getting around the circle is hard enough as it is without the track adding to the difficulties. And, no, the Topgun was not an illustration that the outside is great at The Meadows. It was just the exception to the rule.