TOO many dogs? Well, on Wednesday of this week the nation ran 10 meetings containing 113 races, headed by the heats of the Ballarat Cup starring Fernando Bale. All states were involved except Tasmania.
37 of those races, or 32.7%, started with empty boxes. The best fields were at Angle Park which had only one empty box, the worst at The Meadows and Rockhampton with seven short fields at each. These examples illustrate why long term patterns reveal average field sizes in the range 7.2 to 7.5 out of a possible 8.
It could be argued that too many races are being programmed and therefore the match between dogs and races is unbalanced. However, the alternative of running fewer races might amount to an over-correction. It’s a fine balance.
More to the point, the above figures, which are not unusual, offer no evidence of excessive demand for spots, and therefore no direct evidence of over-breeding. That term has become no more than a catch-phrase, plucked out of the air by anti-racing types and people running inquiries, all without any decent investigation or analysis, much less any depth of knowledge of the industry.
To be sure, it might not be too hard to identify some breeding that could be described as wishful thinking or ill-considered. It is likely that the current adjustment of breeding rules will have some downward effect in that area.
Meantime, the balance of the greyhound population can reasonably be said to be achieving a practical outcome. Having got that far, the residual, of course, is that some portion of the greyhound population will always be surplus to requirements.
This is where critics go off the deep end and call for the industry to be shut down because it fails to look after every single pup whelped. Of course, they blithely ignore the fact that the same thing happens to all dog breeds in one way or another, although generally without the degree of supervision that is present in greyhound racing.
Nevertheless, it does make a point. It suggests that future discussions should be concentrated not so much on breeding numbers but on how to best to handle the poorer performers. Whether the dog population is halved, doubled or stays the same, that challenge will remain. In other words, the so-called solution offered by Greyhounds Australasia (a 40% overall reduction) is nonsense and would solve nothing. It is possibly the worst piece of corporate policy I have seen in the last 50 years.
The starting point for improved handling of the surplus must be to enhance the image of the greyhound in the eyes of the general public. Far too many people simply don’t like the greyhound. Not a skerrick of work has been done in that area by any authority, club or betting operator. Invariably, any publicity they mount is addressed to racing ability and racing success rather than to the basic worth of the animal itself. They are trying to sell the sizzle when first they should be promoting the steak.
It can be done. I yearn for the day when Uncle Ben used to take its mixed dog caravan around the shopping centres, greyhound mum and pups included, providing interest and entertainment to thousands. It was a winner for all the parties involved. It stopped only because of budget restrictions.
History repeats itself
The night of the Ballarat Cup heats on Wednesday saw some great runs, particularly the 24.88 by Fernando Bale. However, Shared Equity (25.03) and Over Limit (25.12) were hot on its heels. Unfortunately for Over Limit, it ran only second to Fernando Bale and will miss the final. That’s a great pity as it holds the track record at 24.77.
All winners were either first or second around the turn, which brings me to an important point. Far too many really good dogs got squashed out of their races on the run to the turn, a few due to poor jumps but most because of the overcrowding after they leave the boxes.
It brings to mind comment I made back in May following feature races at Warrnambool. Then I pointed out the high level of interference as they went down the back straight. I said “given that Warrnambool is probably one of the better one-turn tracks in the country, we have to ask if there is not a better way of laying out tracks in order to reduce this interference.”
Yes, there is, but I am not sure exactly what it is. We can all have our theories about where the boxes are located, whether there should be more space between them, what sort of lure is best, what minimum turn radius is ideal and how banking should be engineered. But putting all that together and matching the result with the habits of various sorts of dogs is a massive job requiring serious expertise and a lot of time. A specialist team is essential to do that.
Meantime, there are some obvious hints.
1. Don’t build starts on a bend.
2. Position boxes further away from the rail.
3. Go to Hobart and find out why most dogs run straight ahead after the jump.
4. Don’t mess around with turn radii – make it even all the way round.
5. Maximise the banking on turns – and continue well into the home straight.
6. Use the “hooped” lure as it appears to keep dogs further apart.
7. Investigate use of GPS tracking devices to determine where and why dogs run in a certain way.
In some cases, a local experiment could be done quickly and cheaply and improvements monitored. But basically, a year long study is the only real answer.
The cost would be substantial but the benefits even larger. Less interference, fewer injuries and more predictable race results lead the way.
Don’t judge a track by the way a top dog spears out and leads all the way. It will be much more helpful to see what happens to the rest of the field. After all, that’s where most of the dogs and half the betting are located.