Henry Ergas, usually better known for his economic and political commentary, plucked out a topical quote in his column in The Australian (16 June): “In the game of the round ball,” Jean-Paul Sartre ruefully observed, “everything is complicated by the presence of the opposing team.”
The opposition in greyhound racing is turning out to be the people who refuse to do anything about removing the complications from its racetracks. No better illustration is available than the pictures of competitors at Wentworth Park in the Peter Mossman heats last Saturday. They were spread out at the first turn like a flock of geese in the path of a jet aeroplane. Feathers flew everywhere, three dogs fell but many more were inconvenienced. Few favourites won and exotics ranged from difficult to impossible to pick. The First Four in Hooksy’s race paid $4332, another paid $5,165 (or would have if someone had put $1 on it) and four others were just under or over the $1,000 mark.
The reason is simple – the track is badly designed.
Thirteen years ago authorities fiddled with both main turns, only to make the situation worse. For forty years before that, grass and loam, it was always known as “the tricky track”, mainly by comparison with the famed Harold Park circuit, beloved of trainers, punters and champion dogs. Many refused to go over the hill to Glebe’s other track, knowing their fortunes would be in the lap of the gods. Their numbers include Australia’s biggest and most successful owner, Paul Wheeler, who for years refused to allow his dogs to race at Wenty and now allows it only on special occasions when big money is on offer.
Perhaps Greyhounds Australasia talked about the subject at their quarterly meeting last week, although we have no idea what was on their agenda or what they decided to do. If so, they might also have looked at the other major circle tracks in the country, all of which also have significant faults in one way or another. The problem is endemic and it is scoring the industry a series of own goals. Punters don’t much like their chances being ruined after the first five seconds.
In some cases the problem is easy fixed. We pointed out the other day the urgent need to shift the start of the 600m trip at The Meadows, but you can add Albion Park’s 600m start to that list as well. Despite all the noise about millions being spent to create a new track at Logan, Albion Park will continue running for years to come and a comparatively small investment would attend to that problem. Yet it is not even on the shopping list.
Currently, that part of the track is hemmed in by the existence of one of those figure eight training tracks for the trots. That not only causes hassles for 600m starters but the resultant flat camber also disadvantages 710m dogs trying to get around their first turn. As favourite Tarks Nemesis will remember, it was there that it took the second favourite (Wag Tail) off the track in a heat of the Gold Cup, allowing outsiders to take the honours.
Incidentally, the last plan published for the new Logan track included a bend start for its middle distance trip, indicating that authorities are very slow on the uptake.
Back to the nitty-gritty, Xylia Allen scored a meritorious all-the-way win in the Albion Park Gold Cup last Thursday, albeit she did not have a lot to beat. Her 41.71 time was three lengths slower than her heat win although she ran almost identical time to the judge the first time around. It was her seventh distance race in 42 days so the pressure is no doubt telling, even though the Albion Park is trip certainly one of the easier “700s” around.
On that last note, Albion Park’s 710m is essentially a 650m sort of trip with a good two thirds of all winners being in the first two from the jump. It was instructive to note a great stayer, Arvos Junior, finding it too tough from box 8 to catch the runaway leaders there in the National Championships. Outside boxes are always disadvantaged because of that flat first turn mentioned above.
More surprisingly, our old friend, Late Angel Lee, finally conquered his demons in winning a 4/5th grade 710m race last week in a smart 42.09, after running a quicker first sectional than Xylia Allen. In both these cases they were noticeably slowing on the line, suggesting that both are due for a longer break than the constant 7-day habit they have been experiencing. Be wary if that does not happen.
In the only other distance race of note last week, Luna Jinx got away quite nicely (5.10) at The Meadows and had little trouble scoring in a moderate 43.06. This time she paid a more sensible $4.20 on the tote. In her previous three starts, winning the first and doing poorly in the next two, she has been priced at $1.90, $1.50 and $2.80. Several of her opponents were theoretically capable of better times but all are fading these days or just not getting into the race. None of these is worth backing at anything less than $4.00, including Luna Jinx, and preferably after a longer beak than 7 days.