It’s Time To Fix The Meadows Track

OK, it was a gutsy win by Destini Fireball in the Superstayers final at . But while the finish was exciting, it was hardly the stuff of legends. The time alone confirmed that – 42.74, or 10 lengths outside the record, and five lengths outside the winner’s previous best. Even so, the race told us a lot.

First, the field contained three fairly average distance dogs, one of which ran 3rd (Mission Complete). None of these are capable of any better than the 42.90 mark, which is simply not top class. Not so super.

Second, four other runners were not genuine distance dogs – see last reason. They include Xylia Allen which compounded on the home turn, as it did in its heat. It may improve with more maturity but that is in the lap of the gods. Either way, I suggest it may need some time off. Otherwise, like , it is a very fine 600m dog and not yet a stayer.

Third, the nature of the circuit nearly cost the majority of punters their investment. Destini Fireball was the best dog but he won only because he was running down tired dogs. He had bombed the start, which was unusual after good getaways at his previous four runs. Then, seeing the inside blocked, he decided to go around them, which is a near-fatal error at The Meadows. The heavily circular shape of the track forces any dogs trying that to cover lots of extra ground, especially if they do it on a turn. You have to do two to their one just to keep up. That challenge is more extreme at The Meadows than at virtually any other track.

There is nothing new about this feature – it’s been there since the day it opened and it applies to both main distances. As a further example, the final was all over soon after they left the boxes. Once Spud Regis (1) and El Brooklyn (3) led, nothing else had a chance. As I mentioned in an earlier article, inside is a huge advantage at The Meadows where 60% of winners come from the inside four boxes, and 35% from the inside two. Together with Richmond (which has a flat first turn) that is the highest ratio in the country.

That sort of bias is also present at Cannington and where cutaway turn designs make life difficult for outside dogs which cannot jump to the front. Even when they do they had better cut quickly to the rail as otherwise an inside runner will scoot further away on the turn – which is precisely what Spud Regis did. A top run, but it had little real opposition.

The Meadows is an unfair track and warrants rebuilding to allow proper contests to take place. It was originally built in its present form because greyhound racing has failed to conduct sufficient – or any – studies to determine what makes a good track and what doesn’t. It’s about time it did.

That does not mean they all have to be identical (although one-turn tracks in are tending that way) but that they incorporate principles which are targetted at creating the fairest possible opportunity for all runners. What is happening now is the equivalent of forcing a football team to run against the wind for the entire match.

By comparison, the gallopers have quite a few trips where “barrier positions are important” but they have made strenuous efforts to reduce their man-made biases, just as they have improved gradients on the bends. They also take a dim view of jockeys cutting across other runners. Harness people will always have challenges with barrier draws but at least drivers there have the option of using their speed at different parts of the race, unlike dogs which go hell for leather from the start.

On the subject of tracks, it appears GRV is about to publish details of a contract for an upgraded Traralgon track. So far as I can tell, there has been no call for public comment about the new layout, which does not say much for GRV’s new transparency policy. It’s . did the same thing when it fiddled with the first turn at Maitland a couple of years ago. Further, it quoted experience at other tracks which was plainly wrong. We’ll tell you what’s good for you was the attitude then. Maitland now has a bias.

Is The Meadows the only place that needs attention? No, far from it. But two major concerns are the lack of recognition of the effect of design flaws on the outcome of a race and the habit of re-building tracks with the same faults that the old track had.

Richmond and are classic examples of the latter, but you might also consider the impact of all the new 650m/680m starts at Victorian provincial tracks – at Ballarat, Warrnambool, Shepparton and . In three of those the previous distance was shortened, presumably with the idea of achieving some sort of standard. The result is that all of them ended up with starts close to a bend, creating a smash and grab outcome for the first 100m.

Take, for example, Shepparton 650m, where a race this week produced placegetters with first sectional times of 17.10, 18.17 and 17.35, while other runners ran all the way up to 18.55. Just do some quick arithmetic – that’s a 20 lengths difference from first to last and it’s only the first section. Such wild variations are commonplace over these trips as well as at short trips with the same features – 410m is one. This makes a farce of form assessments. The irregular times are strongly influenced by artificial factors while the abilities of the dogs become secondary. Consequently, dogs seldom repeat performances shown in the formguide.

Any trainers, dogs or punters who liked the old Bendigo 700m or Warrnambool 680m might ask why all this happened. There is no logical answer. Any claim that provincial dogs are less capable of running out the longer trip is problematical – not many can run out the slightly shorter trip anyway. But the decision to make the change certainly did not help create better races – far from it. It just introduced more bias and more interference, as occurs at The Meadows. No doubt the independent study I have called for will help provide answers. That’s something Greyhounds Australasia really is responsible for – the study would have a commercial impact but it is basically about safety.

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