First, consider this comment by Justracing.com.au boss Phil Purser on Gai Waterhouse’s decision not to take young star Giulietta to the Magic Millions later this week.
“It is understandably a big ask for a young horse to back up into a race, second-up in just seven days. I always think big two-year-old races are a bit like rugby league grand finals – in that most are won by the team that didn’t play in a gut-buster semi-final seven days earlier. So if you put a line through every two-year-old that raced seven days before a Magic Millions or a Golden Slipper I suspect that you’d finish a mile ahead. It’s just common sense really, but in thoroughbred racing when punting is involved ‘common sense’ often comes in a distinct last.”
Now look at the way the top three greyhounds progressed from semis to final of the Silver Chief (which is, like the above horse races, an age-limited classic where competitors have not reached full maturity). As far as we can determine, the track speed was similar on both occasions.
Dyna Villa 29.74 (5.10) > 29.86 (5.04) Two lengths slower
Dyna Double One 29.52 (5.07) > 29.89 (5.20) Five lengths slower
Above All 29.76 (5.20) > 29.78 (5.15) Similar
The first two dogs both jumped well and led all the way in their semis – i.e. gut-busting all the way. Both had also done the same thing in their heats a week earlier again. Dyna Villa started the same way in the final but faded in the last bit of the race. Dyna Double One led all the way in heat and semi but showed little early dash in the final and could not make up the ground. By comparison, Above All took his time to get near the lead in heat, semi and final and therefore had something left to press on in the home straight, recording almost identical time in its last two runs.
This is just a theory, but it is something to watch. It’s not just a matter of what they won but also about how they ran the race. The “gut-buster” syndrome has to be a factor. It is even more prevalent in distance races, of course. There is no jockey to hold a dog back and tuck him away for a final effort. He’d be yanking on the reins anyway.
Consider some more perspective.
Before long – a bit like football finals – tennis players will be talking about how many, or how few, five-set matches they had to endure on the way to the final of the Australian Open. Back the player with an easier passage. In a heavy program, the Wanderers football team from western Sydney beat half the world but now can’t crack it for a win in the local comp. Fast bowlers are being rested from quick turnarounds to avoid breaking down, with young ones in particular having their progress closely managed.
Certainly, all this tends to run counter to the high success rate of dogs which can get out in front and lead all the way, thereby avoiding any possible interference. But it’s not that race which is open to question – it’s the next one.
On the other hand, some trainers have been critical of three-week series for major events. But that has been based more on the inconvenience suffered by connections or dogs which have to travel long distances rather than on endurance factors. Seven-day breaks are not regarded as extreme but there must also be queries about long series of constant racing, with a bit of trialling thrown in (often essential for interstate visitors).
Animals, including humans, all have different-size petrol tanks but those tanks are nevertheless fixed in size in each case. Once emptied, they have to be refilled. Even then, some pumps work harder than others. The questions for researchers, and hopefully racing administrators, are how to measure tank and pump capacities, and what policies and rules they should adopt to suit.
Meantime, punters can only watch and work out the gut-busters for themselves.
Since the penalty for getting it wrong could be death, or at least a forgone career, it justifies putting this research at the top of the list. After all, it’s a welfare thing, isn’t it?
There is some indirect guidance. Many years ago I can recall Australian marathon champion, Robert de Castella stating he was good for just two such races each year. Yet today’s competitors start in many more than that, presumably because they are better trained and better managed because of a great deal of scientific investigation and analysis. There must be some clues there.
Stop it, I want to get off
There will be a few readers who can recall when times were recorded only to the nearest second – by someone’s stopwatch. Then we moved to tenths of a second. With more modern gear that went further and all times were reduced to one-hundredth of a second, or two decimal places. Now, for heaven’s sake, we have one-thousandth of a second, purely because someone got hold of a machine which tells you time to three decimal places.
Since officialdom now says one length equals 0.63 seconds, that means that each third decimal point is equivalent to 0.0016 lengths – that’s a bit more than one-thousandth of the length of a dog. Not a head, not a nose, not even a whisker. This is nonsense, absolute nonsense. Who needs it?
In any case, is the implied atomic accuracy that good? That extra decimal could be affected by someone slamming the door in the camera room, or by some extra oil in the box mechanism, or by a minor eruption in an Indonesian volcano. It makes no sense, mathematically or in practical terms.