Greyhounds’ Sandown Cup – A four part story

Dirty Language

Before talking about the actual race, can we move to the 's report on the Cup final and make some editorial points. Here it is (in part):

faltered on the fifth turn and subsequently failed to finish. Zack Monelli underwent a post-race veterinary examination and was found to have a right hock fracture. A 90 day stand down period was imposed.

Following the running of this event, inspected the track on the fifth turn and were satisfied it was satisfactory for racing”

You'll notice that there are two mentions of something called “the fifth turn”. So the first thing the reader has to do is start counting on his fingers to work out where that is. In everyday language greyhound racing is conducted on either straight tracks, one turn tracks or two turn tracks. In longer trips a “third turn” comes into play as the 700m+ first turn and the home turn for all trips are one and the same thing. So how can you get a “fifth turn”?

It's not new, of course, but stewards seem to have created their own dialect. Each conventional turn is multiplied by two so that the first half of a turn and the second half of the same turn are each titled as “turns”. Why is that? It serves no particular purpose and just confuses. This is why a 715m race is said to have six turns in steward-speak. No doubt George Orwell would have an answer but I can't think of one. Please stop doing it.

The Injury

Back to the race.

My own multiple viewings of the race suggest that Zack Monelli was looking wobbly half way down the back straight – ie well before starting to move around the “fifth” or home turn where the dog actually pulled out and stopped.

But there is a history behind this. Over the years there have been multiple occasions – perhaps hundreds – where dogs have got around 's first turn (the first turn for 515m races but the second turn for 715m races) only to come to grief in the back straight with a broken hock. Invariably it occurs as they pour on the pressure to regain top speed. It has even happened in a solo trial – .

Now we are only guessing but an obvious theory would be that the dog's leg is stressed by the extra demands of the turn and it subsequently succumbs to that pressure when it increases speed in the back straight and a crack in the bone turns into a full break. At least that's roughly how they all occur.

It's not of much value to have stewards inspect some imaginary spot in that back straight when the more likely cause is some combination of its education, past racing experience or the specifications of the Sandown turn, especially the camber. Or maybe all three.

Normally the club always denies any problems with its circuit in cases like this. Nevertheless, only a forensic investigation including the detail uncovered by a surveyor's theodolite would uncover the facts. Further, an X-ray of the leg might be examined microscopically to see if it offered any clues, past or present. (One would certainly be available in this case).

That aside, let's note that this occurred to a strongly fancied and well performed race favourite. As it missed all the placings, it means that something well north of half a million dollars of the public's money went down the drain, to say nothing of the angst caused to the connections and doubts about the dog's future.

We know what happened. We don't know why. It's a deadly serious matter.

How They Ran

Anyway the race also had interesting aspects.

On overall form, my original thought was that Tyler Durden was not too likely to again lead Zack Monelli out of the boxes. I was wrong. I was brought undone when the two dogs did exactly what they had done in the heat, recording 5.98 and 6.09 respectively for the first section. That set up the pattern for the race.

Even so, and Kenny The Brute, each having only their second try over the long trip, both ran a couple of lengths slower in the final than in the heat. Stanley Road and also ran slower, while Maggie Moo Moo and were about the same.

Zipping Rambo, the eventual winner and apparently the subject of a big plunge, was a clear winner in a time two lengths or so better than its heat run. More power to it as a relatively inexperienced distance competitor but clearly a solid staying type

What About The Persepective?

Probably the most intriguing thing about the Sandown Cup series was that no runners – said to be the best in the land – managed to do any better than a time in the 41.70s, either in the heats or the final.

The track record is 41.16, run by Here's Tears which just shaved 's longstanding run of 41.17. Here's Tears has never looked like repeating that effort, which was run on a very quick track. It ran only third (41.98) in the Cup heat to Kenny the Brute so did not qualify for the final.

Otherwise, three dogs have run much faster time in previous races: Zack Monelli (41.49 at Sandown and 41.39 at Cannington), Zipping Rambo (41.49 in a previous Sandown race) and Hank The Hustler, third in its heat (41.98) so did not qualify but ran a very smart 41.38 in a separate race on Cup night.

Their consistency is in the eye of the beholder: Zack Monelli has won 8 of 12 distance races; Stanley Road 8 of 16; Maggie Moo Moo 5 of 13; Hank The Hustler 4 of 10; and the others 1 from 2 or 3. But many of these have been against lesser opposition or while moving up through the grades.

Still, there is always strong and consistent evidence that some so-called stayers are not that at all. Many are converted 600m racers which lead up and just flop over the line in a longer trip. Many cannot handle two long runs in the course of a week – which happened with half the field in the Cup – especially if they have led all the way in the first one.

It seems that some authorities have finally woken up to the current day pattern where more and more very short trips are dominating the typical meetings. Prize money is being boosted for trips above 450m in NSW and Victoria, for example, to try to achieve better balance. Even so, this looks like a in the dark as no-one has conducted any serious investigation into the strengths and weakness of staying prospects or, for that matter, the related damage that might be caused to the status of the breed as a whole – or to the individual dogs.

Decades ago, one maxim in the greyhound caper was commonly “back the favourite in the distance race”. Not any more, as the stats show starkly. Or, under today's price structures, not a good idea if you want to make money in the long term.

As keener minds than mine have said, “they are not as robust as they used to be”. That's something that needs to be better defined.

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