Token Prince, Where Are You?

There was a time when one of the maxims of greyhound racing was to “back the favourite in the distance race”. No more. Or not unless Zipping Lad is on the list. And perhaps WA record breaker Miata in the future.

In the last three months, the four main distance tracks – Albion Park, Wentworth Park, Sandown Park and The Meadows – have run 56 races over 700m-plus. Sydney led the way with 35, twice as many as in Melbourne.

Exactly half were won by favourites but if you take out four multiple-winners (Atelier, Zipping Lad, Granduer and Echelon), the proportion comes down to less than a third.

The upshot is that a dollar on each favourite would lose money.

Incidentally, while Malfoy (and his dad Token Prince) created the Zipping batch the other three had no obvious staying qualities in their breeding. Echelon and Granduer are from the same Mogambo litter, and he was basically a sprinter – with the only exceptions a couple of very quick runs over Ballarat 550m. But it is intruiging that our fourth winning dog – Atelier – is by Bombastic Shiraz, which is also the sire of WA champ Miata, now the holder of the Cannington 715m record (and others). Still, no other members of either litter have special qualities and Bombastic Shiraz was a sprinter himself.

(All the above except Miata are males but that may not mean anything).

These days, two states – NSW and SA – are offering special bonuses for distance races but there is no evidence that such a policy will return any dividends. On the contrary, the last three weeks present strong arguments for a review in all states, both in the city and in the bush.

In that period (up to 8 Jan) city tracks in Queensland, NSW, Victoria and SA, which control 85% of the nation’s racing, offered 19 distance races between them and many were lightly patronised.

January 2012 Distance Racing Statistics

State Total Number Of Distance Races Number Of Full Fields
Queensland 2 2
NSW 10 5
Victoria 5 3 one race was a non penalty race
SA 2 0
Totals 19 10

In one SA race with only six starters (which is fairly normal), the two short priced favourites got involved in a fight, leaving the outsiders to complete the First Four. No runners in either SA race would have a ghost’s chance of winning a 5th grade in NSW or Victoria. SA’s best current “stayer”, Kalden Mayhem, has just finished last in a 720m heat at Wentworth Park. Previously, its best 731m time at Angle Park was 13 lengths outside Arvos Athena’s track record.

In Brisbane, the more recent of two distance races resulted in the two favourites running 7th and 8th, albeit from outside boxes, which are a serious disadvantage at the 710m start (yet another design problem). Local trainers are regularly quoted as needing to shift promising distance dogs to the south, mainly Victoria, for better opportunities. But why Victoria when there are many more distance races in Sydney?

That Brisbane track problem is not unique. Just as it is with sprints, many distance races are won and lost at the first corner. Early interference is normal at all the above tracks, particularly Wentworth Park. And a thump in the ribs can stop stayers just as much as sprinters.

On the other hand, many runners are all-or-nothing types – if they don’t lead they can’t win. If they get hassled, they can’t win either, another sign that they are not true stayers but converted sprinters.

Most worrying is that to have nine of nineteen races with short fields tells us that demand – preferably quality demand – badly needs boosting. Even more so if you consider all the dogs that cannot run the trip anyway, but still try.

Mind you, with nominations for this week’s $40,000 Cranbourne Cup (heats) meeting having to be held open (ditto Sandown last Sunday), and no reserves for the Cup heats, it seems the industry’s eyes are bigger than its stomach. Cranbourne eventually ran with five short fields, including 5-dog and 6-dog distance heats. In total, the four main meetings on this day operated with one third of all races short of a full field. Is there too much racing, or not enough dogs, or both?

For the next few years, it is clear that 600m racing is the next best thing to good distance events. In theory, they are a good test and the public likes longer races. Sadly, racing bosses cannot get their head around the need to place boxes somewhere else than on a bend. That makes them all lotteries. When, oh when, is someone going to knock down a fence and create a shute for these starts? It is not rocket science. The same principle applies to many 400m trips, too. If in doubt, just ask the gallops people – they build shutes everywhere.

But that leaves us with even harder questions.

If the last 50 years of greyhound evolution has seen a change from robust, well-muscled types to skinny speedsters (as some observers have suggested) how can we expect them to run out longer trips? And what is the fix? Remember, this is the 6,000 year old greyhound breed we are talking about. You cannot get much more fundamental than that.

Interestingly, Australia’s greatest breeder, Paul Wheeler, has admitted he went through a lean period when the quality of his huge output was down. In that two or three year period a little while back, very few of his dogs could get a strong 500m, let alone 700m. They were leading up and fading. That has now been corrected but it is an illustration of how easily things can change.

However, as Greyhounds Australasia says it will consider nothing but regulatory matters, who is going to review the multi-state distance racing challenge, or the increasing incidence of bend starts across the nation, and how will they do it?

It will be no use asking the thoroughbred people for advice about this. They have the same problem and are doing absolutely nothing about it. Quite the reverse, actually. There is already a trend towards shortening their long races. Some even favour cutting back the Derby trip! Is nothing sacred? Well, the Melbourne Cup is probably safe, but that’s about it.

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