There are two things often said about short fields, and especially 4-dog races. First, that there will be less interference and, second, that boxes don’t matter so much. Both claims are suspect to some degree.
It’s amazing how often two or three dogs in a small field will jostle with each other, especially on the turn. The competitive aspect is always to the fore and such dogs are often evenly matched. Remember, just the other day, how Allen Harper closed off Radley Bale’s galloping room in the Topgun as they rounded the first turn. I don’t think they touched but it did make a difference. It was a bit like “blocking” in American football, or AFL, for that matter.
As for boxes, the history of Sandown’s Shootout tells the story. Except for one year the winner has had box 1 or box 7 – the bookends. That suggests they tend to squeeze out the two in the middle. If there is interference that is where it is likely to be.
A third factor is present. Usually they run good time but nothing spectacular. The only really quick win came last year from Cosmic Chief when he ran 29.33. All others have been 29.60-plus. Unlike this year, Cosmic Chief always had a sectional margin over his opposition, which included a youngster (Push The Paint), a stayer dropping back (So Seductive) and the variable Enry Walt.
Once again, that suggests even the winner has got a weather eye open for the opponent near him, and that tends to slow them down a fraction. (But remember, GRV has fiddled with the timers so expect a couple of lengths faster than usual).
Then there is a fourth element. On all but one occasion, the winner has been first or second from the start. The exception was the versatile Mantra Lad in 2008, but he quickly got into second spot (from box 7) and then finished on too well.
All of which tells us that there should be a dominant dog from the beginning of the race. But will there one be in 2011?
Boxes are unknown at the moment but will be critical (the draw is at Sandown tonight).
Sandown Shootout Analysis
- 1. Radley Bale will have little hope unless he draws the rails. Even then, he is not running quite fast enough to cope with the heavy hitters.
- 2. It might not matter much where Cape Hawke draws as he is likely to be left behind early on and will depend not only on finding a run through – a very tough job – but also running down another very quick dog.
- 3. Allen Harper is the swinger. He will be prominent and doing the right thing but probably needs a break to take out the event. He has not raced at Sandown but will certainly have trialled there.
- 4. If Bekim Bale gets the 7 he will be near unbeatable. Even the 5 may allow him to take up a good spot at the turn (depending on what gets the 7). The dog does not come out of the box very quickly but can motor up after he hits the ground. He is possibly the only dog in the race that does not need to lead to win but he does need to be handy. Should he draw 1 or 3 the race becomes extraordinarily difficult. It would be very hard to predict how it will be run. Bookies will love this option
Throw into the mix the peculiarity of Sandown’s first turn. It is amazing how often you see one or two inside dogs take a step to the right as they move into the first turn. I call it the “Sandown Two-Step”. It is obviously caused by some track design features which needs attention. It may not appear this time, given the experience and quality of the competitors, but you can never be quite sure.
At the same time, the Sandown turn is amenable to a strong dog running around the field – as Awesome and Whisky Assassin did in earlier days – always providing an errant runner is not spearing out from the rails at that point. Effectively, only Bekim Bale is used to doing that, albeit against lesser opposition. I am still not sure if he is a natural wide runner, or he has got used to racing in the centre of the track just to get away from the other runners. Coming round the home turn he is going so fast he has not much option but to go down the middle.
A fascinating race.