This week stewards in Victoria asked a trainer some serious questions about his dogs’ high frequency racing. That’s dogs – plural – as the same bloke had run one dog eleven times in five weeks, another nine times in the same period, and a third seven times.
The trainer’s response was that the dogs looked fine so he kept them racing. They did not do any good but he kept them at it anyway. For their part, the stewards could only look on as there is no rule saying how often you can race a dog. Common sense, yes, but not a rule.
Given the number of times this sort of thing occurs, it is shameful that our rule makers cannot do better. It’s not just a matter of animal welfare, it’s also a poke in the eye to punters trying to work out what the chances are. Is the dog fit enough? Was it knocked around? Has it recovered?
As for the trainers who do this, it would be a good idea if some of their mates would tell them that you cannot establish a dog’s fitness just by looking at it. It’s their insides as much as their muscles that supply the forces to allow them to run faster and further.
See, for example, what must be a hundred pieces of hard evidence in these columns over the years concerning stayers which could not repeat their previous week’s form. That applied to both good and average dogs, even sometimes to Sweet It Is, which ran 16 lengths outside Space Star’s record when finishing second at The Meadows last Saturday (times corrected for the handicaps). That run followed a very fast time at Sale the week before.
Meantime, it is good to see stewards finally taking more interest in form discussions. However, a note of caution: they are now often asking why a given dog did not meet “market expectations”. That’s all very well but it presumes that the market knew what it was doing. Sometimes it doesn’t.
To illustrate that point, here are some comments from stewards at the Sandown meeting last Sunday.
“Stewards spoke to Mr. R. Camilleri, the handler of Hanging In There, which performed below market expectations. Mr. Camilleri stated that Hanging In There has lost early speed since returning from injury and is a greyhound which is best suited when racing on pace. Stewards noted his explanation and took no further action.”
In fact, there was not much they could or should do, although the handler’s explanation was a lot of nonsense. The dog had box 8 and owned sectional performances which did not suggest it would be able to cross easily, or at all. Certainly, it had one very good run in its kitbag recently, which was why it was made a $2.60 favourite. But its other runs were just so-so. The market backed it on the good run and ignored all the others.
And it did not lose “early speed” if indeed it ever could be said to qualify in that class. In the subject race it ran a normal 5.16 section. On average, that’s all you could expect from it. As for “racing on the pace”, every dog in the land would like to do that but some can and some can’t, often depending on the box and the opposition. In this case, some inside dogs got out much quicker, thereby removing that possibility.
The upshot is that if you rate a dog only on its best form you risk serious problems. Given all the data, Hanging In There warranted a longer price than 6/4. The market was too ambitious. In fact, the market adopted a fairly common practice of giving the dog in the 8 box undue credit. It’s fine if it can jump well and compete for the lead, but deadly if it can’t. Nothing new there.
The NZ experience
Someone may have heard what happened to the drug problem with Sweet It Is in Auckland in early June but no further publicity has been seen. Meantime, it is instructive to keep up with how things are going in New Zealand.
As always, racing at its seven tracks regularly displays good, clean running with only modest interference. It contrasts sharply with the customary roughhouse scene at Australian tracks, both on the circle and one-turn. Hobart and Devonport would be exceptions, perhaps Mandurah also.
Yet another illustration of the clean running lies in the spread of winning boxes. With only a minor exception at Forbury Park, where there is stronger bias over the 545m trip in favour of the inside box, all main trips show a nice even distribution across the eight boxes. Box 1 is successful in no more than 15% to 17% of cases whereas many Australian tracks record wins in the 18% to 20% bracket, often helped by the silly cutaway turns some have had thrust on them.
While all races finish on the lure it is notable that only two tracks (Hatrick and Manawatu) have the high, looped lure arm which was used in extensive Australian trials in Brisbane and Adelaide. The other five tracks have lures which are fairly closely attached to the rail but they are bulkier and at a much greater height than is the practice in Australia.
Apparently, NZ has a fairly low incidence of failing to chase penalties, which may well have something to do with the different lures. Figures have not been made available.
Readers might remember that at both Albion Park and Angle Park problems with injuries and failing to chase were significantly lower with the FOL than with the standard lure. Unfortunately, authorities bowed to the cries of anguish from a minority of trainers and generally canned the exercise. SA is continuing the use of the different lure at Gawler and Mt Gambier but not at Angle Park. Why the FOL can work in one place and not in another is a mystery.
Otherwise, it is disappointing to see NZ racing dominated by 300m events. No doubt this reflects the abilities of their dog population but it does nothing to advance the breed or to encourage punting. The sport would be enhanced if anything shorter than 400m was banned.