Chute for the stars – interest sparked in track improvements

OUR item about the hassles with bend starts (ARG, February 3) was an immediate hit with readers, all in favour of getting rid of them bar one or two who doubted the practicality of the project.

Those doubters may be missing the point. The first thing is to recognise a problem exists. Having done that, we can then look around the country and see if we can’t improve things. Some jobs will be easier than others but it still needs a national effort because both dogs and customers know no borders these days.

The urgency is great. As we speak, WA workers are wielding picks and shovels to construct yet another bend start at the “new” Cannington track. And, sooner or later, dilatory politicians and racing authorities in Queensland will sign some cheques to get the greenfield Logan track started. Going on scrappy information previously offered, that will also include a bend start.

It emphasises the fact that the benefits of having a greenfield site do not necessarily include using a dash of common sense. Indeed, the last such project was The Meadows, well over a decade ago, and they had no hesitation in installing one of the worst bend starts in the business.

Subsequently, the only other bend start added to the Australian calendar was dumped on the Sandown track. It may be fractionally better than The Meadows but it is still disruptive – unnecessarily so. Race 3 at Thursday night’s Sandown meeting tells you that in no uncertain terms – even with only six starters it still had big disruptions and a faller.

Another point worth noting is there is some existing evidence of better designs. There are two and they are modest but they still are worth examining.

First, Canberra already has a mini-chute for its 600m start. It’s not very long but it is a genuine chute, located off the track proper on a slight bend behind the 530m boxes. It works pretty well.

The other is at Northam in WA where the 588m start is also substantially off the track proper but is not in a chute as such. Nevertheless, it is a roomy area which seems to offer runners a decent chance of obtaining a trouble-free start.

Anyway, the point is there are different degrees of “bad” when you talk about bend starts. Some you can get away with – perhaps one being the brand-new 590m start at Bulli – but others are disasters. A prime example would be Ipswich’s kamikaze start for 431m races, where leaders win 66% of races and the rest struggle to stay upright. That’s easily the highest ratio in the country. But all of them are capable of design changes which improve racing prospects.

Design criteria should include a requirement that all starts must offer a straight run, or nearly so, for the first six or seven seconds of the race. Assuming other factors are equal (and they often are not) that gives the field the opportunity of sorting itself out before the turn. Anything to avoid eight dogs hitting the same small space at the same time.

What you do not want to do is to crowd the inside dogs unnecessarily – ie, by squashing them into the rail if they can’t manage to jump out in front. The worst example of that is at Albion Park’s 600m start, where the box one dog is actually pointed into the rail. If it does not get out quickly, it is history. Mind you, that does not happen just on bend starts. Poor box locations at Dapto 520m, Goulbourn 450m, Canberra 440m and Lismore 520m similarly force the inside dog to veer to the right at the jump. Naturally, they create their own interference.

What is plain is that almost all badly located boxes are amenable to some sort of improvement, sometimes at minimal cost (eg, Newcastle’s shift from 413m to 400m), sometimes not. But the big problem seems to be that the people responsible for these tracks are not amenable to change. We need to convince them. Talk to your local member, so to speak.

Meantime, the general point I made the other day about squeezing on the way to the turn at Shepparton 450m can be applied to most one-turn tracks, including all the new ones in Victoria and the adjusted one at Maitland.

But there is an answer there, too. Nick down to Hobart and watch a few hundred 461m races, all of which have minimal interference and no falls. Typically, after the jump most dogs will run fairly straight ahead, thereby reducing the potential for interference. Why do they do that? No idea, but anyone studying the principles of track design should hotfoot it down there and measure everything, then compare it with their home tracks.

Fascinating battles at a tricky Cannington

While WA marches on in its preparation of the replacement track for the existing Cannington circuit, a few big races remain to be run, including the Perth Cup (530m) and the Galaxy (715m) on Saturday, both with a mixture of local and interstate runners.

It is critical to remember that both these trips are biased strongly in favour of inside dogs due to the cutaway nature of their first turns (hopefully they will not appear at the new track).

While local champ Star Recall (box one) will start favourite in the Cup, it will have to be on the ball to hold out Astronomize (box two) in the run to the turn. Visitors are unlikely to be effective from their outside boxes. Nominally, you might say My Bro Fabio (box eight) is well placed on its overall form but the Cannington circuit is not kind to dogs that are wide and poorly placed early. The shape of the track allows inside railers to nick away from them. My Bro Fabio ran only moderate time in its heat (30.47) despite having a free go all the way. I thought Xtreme Knocka (box five) had had enough by the time the post arrived and he certainly cannot lead these anyway.

Like My Bro Fabio, Allen Deed was not well placed from the outside in its Cup heat but will go round in the Consolation ($13,500 to the winner) from box one earlier in the night. Given average luck it can handle the inside well enough so it might well take up a good position at the turn.

Space Star (box seven) is well enough placed in the 715m Galaxy and can usually get out smartly. However, Lady Toy from the red box is an interesting proposition. Given the opportunity she can rail well and has been showing much improved form recently. If she can get out reasonably she could give Space Star a terrible fright. I suspect she will finish better than the favourite so it all depends on how much of a start she gives him.

For NSW punters, the major barriers are the tiny win pools available at the late hour. If it is possible (and sensible) a Fixed Odds wager would be the way to go.

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