Sandown Puzzle Remains

Following my item about racing at Sandown (April 29) I have been keeping an eye on results there. It’s not a pretty picture.

At the next Thursday meeting, May 2, three bolters got up. On top of that, five Trifectas paid over $500 and six First Fours paid over $1,000 (NSW tote), or would have done if someone had bought them. All those First Fours either jackpotted or showed false dividends which were greater than the total in the pool. That suggests that placings are harder to get than winners. Remember that exotic bets like these comprise over half of all wagering and have been growing faster than Win betting.

Last week, May 9, was much the same. Four Trifectas paid over $500 and four First Fours over $1,000 but this time you could not put the problems down to the class of dogs. Ron Ball’s comment that the Sapphire Crown heats included an excellent group of female sprinters was spot on (but not up to Flying Amy’s standard though).

Xylia Allen and Punch One Out put in really strong runs, the former after being barrelled at the first turn. Both had favourable boxes, as it turned out. Punch One Out handled the track beautifully, going around the centre of the track from box 8 until she could see the way clear to cut over and rocket around the rail. The other two winners were not favourites but were fancied to some extent.

The four Dawson heats were much messier with two bolters and two mid-priced racers succeeding.

However, we should pay homage to Glen Gallon. Despite a crook box, he found his way through the field for a really solid win. This must the Australia’s best field dog, bar none. He never gets hit and he never hits anything else. May there be more like him.

Unfortunately, regular provincial cups winner Ronan Izmir disappointed. As warned here earlier, this is a great dog up to 450m but he has yet to prove himself over the longer trip. After just leading around the first turn, he gave it away on the home turn. His only 500 win has been at Traralgon, a much easier journey than Sandown (or Cranbourne, for that matter). Still, he’s only 28 months old and may well improve with more experience.

Note: GRV results suggest Ronan Izmir’s running numbers were 32244. In practice, 21244 would be more accurate. He actually had his head in front of the winner as they came out of the first turn.

All told, nothing on this premium night suggested the track is up to the standard required of one of the country’s most important venues. Apart from first turn jumbles, you might notice that the home turn causes many dogs to veer wide, indicating the camber is not right. The run-in from the 595m boxes may be the culprit there. It needs careful study and rebuilding.

Apparently, some others may agree.

On that same Thursday night, NSW punters would have been most interested in three tracks – Albion Park, Sandown and Dapto. But consider the average Win pools:

  • Albion Park $19,602
  • Dapto $15,240
  • Sandown $12,498

Notwithstanding Brisbane’s Big Dog 600m, the fields at Sandown were far superior to either of the other two tracks. Yet the public rated it worst by a long way.

A contributing factor may be that Albion Park races preceded Sandown’s by 3 minutes all night, meaning some punters would be hard pressed to get set on both, especially if they had to collect winnings. That’s a price to pay for crowded programs. Even so, Sandown betting was very disappointing.

WHY PICK ON SANDOWN?

Perhaps I do, but you have to start somewhere and most of Australia’s tracks can do with improvements. Good track designs are not a common feature of the sport. And it is disconcerting to hear others saying “Oh, let’s build a track like Sandown”, as has been heard in Newcastle, Launceston and Brisbane, to name just three. As it happens, neither Launceston or The Gardens at Newcastle are anything like Sandown anyway, while Brisbane is still twiddling its thumbs.

The hassles at Sandown have been evident since the new track opened in 1988 and I pointed out to the then-CEO that running to the first turn was often disruptive. So, too, at the start of the first turn where some inside dogs have a habit of veering out without warning, taking others with them. There is still more crashing on the exit to the turn (as hampered Xylia Allen). Some broken hocks emerging out of the first turn also pose questions – Knocka Norris, for example, in a solo trial. Check steward’s reports, if you like, and count the number of “hampered”, “bumped”, “collided”, and similar comments they make.

Since then I have supplied voluminous evidence on dividends, times and interference to GRV, all to no avail. All they have done is replace the sand. Surveys show that 7.3% of Sandown races involve a fall, and 37.0% involve a dog 20 lengths behind the winner, both above average outcomes. That’s the severe end, but one or two modest bumps can change the nature of all the placings. It’s all a question of how often it happens.

To rub salt into the wound, a couple of years ago GRV arbitrarily decided to change the timing mechanism on the boxes, thereby causing a substantial reduction in race times (around a couple of lengths). This move destroyed the relationship between Sandown times and every other Australian track, to say nothing of ruining the integrity of past performances. Records were no longer records. Yet GRV did not care, apparently failing to appreciate what both punters and breeders value.

MORE OLDIES NEEDED

A couple of other quirky events occurred in Victoria last week.

First, the McMahon family brought home three of their Doctor dogs in 1st, 2nd and 3rd place at Warrnambool on Wednesday, running quite good time. The only problem was that the winner, Doctor Elroy, was a rank outsider. Maybe they split their bets?

Another interesting point came up at Ballarat’s secondary meeting on Thursday afternoon. As is the regular practice at many Victorian tracks, the club scheduled a Veterans race. But this time they got enough dogs to run three such races over 390m and all were run in very smart times – 22.31, 22.14 and 22.13. Favourites won all three.

It is amazing that few such events are programmed in other states, and virtually none in NSW or Queensland. The evidence in Victoria tells us that there is a demand for these races but if the opportunity is not there then what happens to these senior dogs?

Veterans’ races are far more predictable than the rubbishy Tier 3 and Class C events being pushed at the moment. These dogs know how to race, their form is well declared and they are quite popular with punters. Why aren’t there more?

It makes no sense not to stretch the careers of fit dogs and thereby improve the economics of ownership. But besides that, the concept of events for older competitors is one that the community relates to. Many human sports have successful programs for oldies – golf and tennis do it professionally, for example, and attract good sponsorship.

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