First pick a dog in the right spot

THERE are lots of things to think about in respect to tracks and form. At its most simplistic, what dogs do and what tracks make them do are two different deals. There is a strong tendency to concentrate on the former and ignore the latter. That’s a big mistake, if for no other reason than that it skips over the real potential of a given dog – assuming it gets a fair go.

For example, there’s the best galloper and the dog in the best position. Which do you go for? Tipsters with training backgrounds (and there are a few) will go for the dog that can scream around the track in lightning fast time. Serious punters will prefer the well placed dog, knowing the odds usually work that way.

Whichever, it boils down to whether the dog is well placed.

For example, in the Shepparton Cup final last Sunday, multi-Group winner Dyna Villa had to contend with box 6 and a bunch of smart sprinters. It actually began well enough but on the way to the turn it got squeezed out of contention. The figures will show a poor sectional but they were not a true reflection of its ability. It could not pour on the power because of the crowd around it. Meanwhile, Azza Azza Azza (would two of those Azzas have been enough?) motored up from the rails box to run away with the race. It did not begin unusually well but did show great pace along the rail to the turn. It was well placed, Dyna Villa was not.

Perhaps that’s just stating the obvious, but a great many punters thought Dyna Villa could get away with it. They were wrong; $2.60 was poor value in the circumstances.

(In passing, the Aza Aza name is a South Korean slang term and is spoken as an encouragement to competitors, as in “fight on” or “go for it”. The extra “z” may be an optional spelling).

Over in Perth, the question in the Galaxy was whether the improving Lady Toy, nicely boxed on the rails, could run down the favourite Space Star, which was expected to lead, and did. I thought the bitch could do the job but I was wrong. Lady Toy got to the lead marginally on the home turn but Space Star was too strong in the run to the post. However, this was a fine contest; both got a terrific crack at the prize, not least because the rest of the field was not up to their standard and stayed out of the way.

In the Perth Cup, favourite Star Recall, which is not a hard railer, got away well from the inside but fell victim to other runners trying to negotiate the awkward first turn, and got ankle tapped. That allowed My Bro Fabio to run around them, eventually recording a 30.34 win, which is a fairly average time for this class. As with Allen Deed, which bombed out in the Consolation race, this track is not ideal for such dogs.

Then the handicap event at The Meadows on the same night proved an excellent spectacle. It had a full field but the handicaps and the individual dogs’ jumping abilities meant that they spread out very quickly. All had a fair chance and little interference was evident. The better dogs got through and the finish was very close.

The point about all these examples is that when you keep the dogs apart you get a better race. Squeeze them up and any old result is possible. Bolters grabbed the places in the Shepparton Cup and the First Four paid $1470 in NSW and even more in Victoria. The leader was always in the clear, and perhaps also Ronray Spirit (which was disappointing) but anything was possible with the remainder. Aside from Azza Azza Azza, it was a poor spectacle.

In total, stewards mentioned 20 names in the Cup as suffering “bumps” or “collisions”, whatever they mean, on the way to and into the turn. It was not pretty.

So, how do you keep dogs apart? Handicap races are not a solution, just an illustration. And you can’t expect to see too many races where there are big differences in abilities. That would fly in the face of the grading system.

The answer has to lie in the way the track is laid out. More space between boxes? Boxes positioned wider on the track (the opposite of that is a proven disaster). Different sorts of lures (including the follow-on-lure)? Better cambers and turn radii? Who can be sure?

The challenge is a complex one so maybe there has to be a complex answer. Well, a simple answer with complex ingredients. The only way to achieve that is by conducting some exhaustive tests over a year at a variety of tracks. Three very cluey and independent people could do that.

Back to Shepparton for a moment – whatever possessed punters to back Zipping Rory into $1.40 in a five-dog 650m event? Certainly, the dog has done some nice things – notably a 41.75 win at Wentworth Park – but it is one of the most inconsistent dogs racing. Its last few runs have been pretty ordinary so, even in this moderate field, on form and from an outside box I could not rate it better than a 4/1 chance. In practice, it was lucky to grab 3rd spot on the line, four lengths behind the winner in 37.87 (that winner having missed the jump by three lengths), which was slower time than run by a Grade 6/7 lot earlier in the night.

This gets back to my comment at the top of the article about the best dog v the best placed dog. Zipping Rory was not well placed in the circumstances. Stewards did query the run but they were never likely to obtain a decent explanation – the dog’s problem is not in its body but in its head. If it leads it wins, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. In all of its 12 wins it has led or been very close early.

Shepparton, incidentally, had seven short fields out of twelve, perhaps influenced a bit by the hot weather. Punters were a bit “off”, too, in the Sunday evening slot, which is never a good time for feature events. Strangely, the Cup final pulled in the second worst pool of the night – $6,568 in NSW but a healthier $19,362 in Victoria. Obviously, random gamblers dominated the scene.

The competing Sale meeting was also much of a muchness with three short fields and three races with fallers, one of them involving four dogs, all on the 440m turn. GRV would be well advised to start again on re-modelling the circuit.

Accuracy Would Help

I did promise to lay off the ongoing series of misleading stories from stewards but this one was so silly that I had to mention it. It is one of many.

Race 7 The Meadows 7 Feb.

“Lucy Rae, Jindara and Smiley Sam collided soon after the start checking Bronco De Jurer. Bronco De Jurer and Olive’s Gift collided approaching the first turn checking Don’t Be Short. Chrichton Bale checked off Adam Handler on the first turn checking Olive’s Gift and causing Lucy Rae to race wide”.

All three sentences are wrong. The collision in the first sentence had absolutely nothing to do with Bronco De Jurer. It was well clear of the others. Bronco De Juror bumped Olive’s Gift on the first turn but that had no effect at all on Don’t Be Short. Chrichton Bale did get off on the turn but never touched Olive’s Gift. However, it did crash into Lucy Rae.

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