Yes, No, Maybe?

Good to hear from some readers about the quality of our tracks, but we would like to see more comments. We have plenty of time before all the hard figures come in and we can start drawing conclusions.

Some suggestions have been interesting, some a bit odd. For example, one view is we should not worry about interference as good dogs will jump out and avoid it. “They’ll be alright if they nick out in front” is what one famous club boss once told me.

Well, sure, but what about the others? And half the code’s finances depends on how the placings affect exotic betting.

A unusual theory (maybe a practice) suggests that a disruptive track keeps away better dogs and allows the locals to grab the lion’s share of the booty. I doubt that sort of muddled thinking will impress the RSPCA.

Opponents of track improvements – and there are a few – have failed to answer a key question: if tracks which allow a smooth passage around the first turn still attract just as much or more patronage as a disruptive track, which not make them all smooth?

Another view is that making all tracks meet the same criteria will make them clones of one another, thereby destroying much of the interest. So far that has not happened much. In fact, actions by the two major NSW clubs give the lie to that. The Gosford re-build was supposedly designed to be a copy of Angle Park, but it is not even close. The Gardens was alleged to follow the design of Sandown, but it’s not even close, either.

On the other hand, recent Victorian practice has created several similar one-turn tracks: Warrnambool and Shepparton on the one hand and Warragul and Geelong on the other. Still they seem to offer enough small differences to make life interesting.

Anyway, despite all that, life continues to offer serious questions about what is happening today.

Consider, for example, the last two Group 1 races run in Australia.

The Silver Chief at The Meadows a month ago was won by the track and the first turn. Godsend, far from the best dog in the race, led all the way with the advantage of box 1, while the rest got into strife at the turn and could only watch. They were competing for a place. You might have thought that one of Glen Gallon, Heston Bale or Cape Hawke would have got free but it was not to be. In particular, Cape Hawke had jumped well enough but got pratted at the first turn. Still, good luck to the winner.

In last week’s Perth Cup it is doubtful if anything could have got to Oaks Road once it jumped and led. Heston Bale, perhaps, but that’s conjecture. Oaks Road had been in top form and deserved the victory. The placings – and therefore all the exotics – were another matter entirely. The hassle between Heston Bale and Uno Reltub behind the leader cost them both their chances but it was just bad luck for both. Nothing much you could do about that. However, when Mepunga Geordie suddenly ran to the right in the middle of the first turn it wiped out most of the rest. Outsiders filled all the places. Lektra Jay had been at the rear, missed the damage and had no trouble running into second spot. That event was a function of the odd shape of Cannington’s turn – one that routinely gives extra bonuses to a railer coming from an inside box but often sends runners off the track at the same time.

Similar outcomes have been noted in the Easter Egg at Wentworth Park (Dana Beatrice, 2009, got through after Miss Elly Mint and EL Galo failed to handle the turn properly). In the 2006 National Championship at Launceston, Immortal Love whistled along the rail while the rest were bumping into each other on the turn. In each case the peculiar nature of the turn dominated the race. Both those tracks give extra help to a railer on the first turn at the expense of outside dogs. It’s called bias.

It’s all a question of degree. Some boxes are obviously better than others but take that bias too far and you end up with an unfair and less predictable race.

Irrespective of what comes out of this study, striving for excellence is a policy that is hard to beat. Indeed, that’s what breeding and training is all about.