Trackside Stories

Two postscripts to the 15 April article about track expenditure.

Over the years I have visited around 30 tracks in the three eastern states and Tasmania and on each occasion it has been my practice to go out early and ask permission to “walk the track”, much the way jockeys do when visiting a new racecourse. By doing that I get a feel for what the dogs have to do. I can gain a good impression of whether it is easy or hard to get into the race from an awkward spot.

For example, a few bend start trips are not only tightly positioned on the circuit proper, but they also have the inside box pointing into the nearby rail, so to speak, meaning the box 1 dog actually has to do two things; first, edge to the right after the jump and then bear left to make the turn; second, it must jump well as otherwise it will be smashed up against the rail. This is a classic example of poor design. Eight dogs are trying to get into a space large enough for four.

Anyway, in seeking that permission, I found that about half of all track managers responded by asking the same question: “Why would you want to ?” They just don’t see the point. I guess we are supposed to take what is dished out and not worry about it. But I do – my wallet tells me to.

The second story concerns one track where I did the usual walk – . Before it was re-built I had been watching a number of dogs missing their gait as they rounded the home turn. Always at the same point, a couple off the fence, they would stutter and lose ground before regaining their momentum. I couldn’t understand it but those incidents radically changed the outcome of the race.

As I walked back and forth across this section it was hard to see anything amiss at first. But then I got down on my hands and knees. Sure enough, at the magical point I discovered an undulation in the surface. It was not huge but it was significant. I then looked around for the cause. Lo and behold, parked just behind the old 700m was the water truck (Victorian folk frequently prefer to use water trucks rather than the fixed “fairway watering”, presumably because it wastes less water). On quizzing the curator I discovered that it drove on to the track at the exact point where the undulation occurred. The wheels did the damage. They then changed their practices and the problem disappeared.

My point is that if you see a particular effect then there has to be a cause somewhere.

Sometimes that will be hard to find. For example, I went to some trouble to do the same walk-around at the now-closed Gold Coast track, and for a similar reason. About one third of the way around the main turn it was common to see a couple of dogs running abreast clash with each other. Something there made it hard for them to maintain a steady course. One or both would then be spat out the back.

I never found the reason for that problem. Once again, there was nothing for the eye to see. Yet the hassle was there – repeatedly. And it was also there on the old grass track. It is possible to conclude only that some combination of gradients, turn radius and lure type combined to create the problem. That’s the sort of thing that only detailed scientific evaluations might sort out.

Such an effort would be well worthwhile. Comparable hassles are present at other tracks at the same point – Bulli being the most obvious.

By the same token, it was not hard to see why dogs regularly ran off on Gold Coast’s home turn. It was too flat, sometimes even leading to a dog disappearing out of range of the SKY camera. The likely reason there was the earlier presence of the old 732m boxes. When such boxes are placed near the home turn (or any turn) it is not uncommon for builders to set up a level run in to the upcoming straight, all the while ignoring what that might do to dogs coming around that turn from another distance. They need a decent camber to help maintain their course.

That fault not only occurred at the Gold Coast but also at , , the former Singleton, The Gardens, Angle Park and maybe others. More imagination is needed.

Anyone who claims that dogs themselves cause all the interference forget that man is involved, too.

Incidentally, that same Gold Coast track had one other unusual feature. The 457m start was perched on a rise so that dogs had a downhill run on to the track proper. But that lofty position also meant that dogs rounding the nearby turn – those in distance races – enjoyed a good camber and were less inclined to run off. Good thinking.

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