Time to go back to straight racing

AN INTERESTING comment was made by contributor Jason Caley to colleague Bruce Teague’s article ‘It is time to start building better greyhound tracks’. Caley suggested he had two greyhounds who would be better suited if racing were conducted in a clockwise direction, ‘However, both of them would do very well on a straight track too. Before we go the clockwise-counterclockwise route, consider the merits of a zero-turn straight track. If it can work and be a TAB event at Healesville, why can’t the other states make it work the same way? One track (just one) like Healesville in every other state and run at TAB class even if it half normal stakes would save the careers of so many greys.’

For those of us who are old enough to recall when the Wyong straight track was in operation, its Saturday morning and afternoon programs were jam-packed and the crowds were pretty decent in terms of numbers as well. Yes, I am casting my addled brain back to the mid-1970s, the height of the popularity of greyhound racing, but I would be surprised if there is a single professional or semi-professional trainer out there who wouldn’t welcome having a straight course to race on again in New South Wales.

Complementing Wyong in the early days was Richmond, opened in 1948 with a 320 yards (293 metres) straight track and later Appin, which only closed in December 2013.

Victorian and Queensland greyhound racing was, for many years, completely dominated by straight racing, simply because of expedience. Government regulations allowed for proprietary racing, but pressure from horse racing, cinemas (both rivals for the discretionary funds of people) and churches (opposed to another gambling medium) hindered the sport. Those regulations forbade the use of mechanical lures, and so tracks were compelled to use live hares and straight tracks were easily the best way to overcome some of the silly restrictions.

Among the biggest and most lucrative races in Australia in the 1930s through to the 1950s was the Kedron Thousand, run up a 320 yards (293 metres) straight. Of course, Capalaba is still racing up the straight with success.

In Victoria, Napier Park held the Melbourne Cup up a 400 yards (366 metres) straight, with a pacemaker, between 1934 and 1954. There was also a straight track at Maribyrnong.

In horse racing, as is well known, the Newmarket Handicap and the Lightning Stakes, both run down the straight at Flemington are often terrific spectacles, and it takes a pretty good racehorse to win them.

As far as the betting side of the equation goes, I would think there would be plenty of punters, especially those who are professionals or semi-professionals, who would be happy to bet on straight racing as opposed to, for example, those dreadful 431-metre excuses for races at Ipswich.

Equally, punters I am fairly sure would prefer putting their hard-earned on a 350-metre straight event any day (or night) of the week in preference to being served up with a 280-metre mad scamper at Wentworth Park on a Monday night.

Given the sensible desire to try and prolong the racing careers of so many greyhounds, I would think straight track competition would prove a great help in achieving such a goal. It would be a win-win for owners, trainers and greyhounds as well as punters.

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