Sandown on Thursday become a night of contrasts – first when up and coming stayer Starc put in a shocker. Backed into favouritism ($2.00 in NSW and $2.60 in Victoria), it wandered out of the boxes and meandered around at the tail of the field for the entire race, finishing eight lengths behind a smart winner in Flying Twist (41.90). Starc looked really tired.
Previously, it had put in a solid effort to win at the track on 11 September, running 6.13 and 42.10. A week later it did even better (6.15 and 41.88), finishing on strongly although unable to catch the runaway winner. Then this week, its third distance run in three weeks and an ignominious failure – 6.54 and 42.42.
The Dailly camp had four starters in this field, including the winner as well as Starc, and all had much the same recent racing experience. But then so did all the others. One week gaps are what all trainers seem to work with these days but in reality they are all kidding us. Time after time the evidence is that no-one can really be sure how the dogs will turn up this week – not for distance races. It’s all guesswork.
Even sadder is that stewards generally take little interest in performance reversals like Starc’s, despite it being a warm favourite and running poorly. Perhaps a visit to Flemington or Caulfield might throw some light on how best to handle these situations?
Anyway, if trainers won’t do it and stewards are not interested, it falls to racing authorities to bring in a rule banning a second distance run inside 14 days. That might produce screams of horror in some places but not from punters or the dogs themselves. It’s all a question of priorities.
The Prelude sprints were another deal altogether.
In a night of smart times, nothing could compare with the 29.09 run by My Bro Fabio out of box 8. Like a very similar performance by Campaspe Will, also from box 8 (but with a small bump on the first turn), the dog came out moderately and then ran around the field to end up threatening Bekim Bale’s track record of 29.86. Never have I seen a dog put so much space on a quality field as My Bro Fabio did from the home turn to the post. It was a massive display of power.
More remarkable was that My Bro Fabio had just broken the Canberra 530m record from an inside box, railing and leading all the way. By comparison, My Bro Fabio ran around the centre of the track at Sandown, covering much more ground than a railer like Bekim Bale. Those two “each way” runs are the mark of an outstanding greyhound.
What should have got a big mention last week was the huge return to form of Dusty Moonshine. After breaking the Dapto distance record, the dog returned to Wentworth Park and ran a personal best of 41.86, a length quicker than its previous winning efforts.
Even so, it’s still hard to explain away the erratic nature of some runs. The dog ran really well on 21 Jun, 4 July and 2 August, then went poorly on 9 August and 6 September. The Dapto record followed on 12 September and the quick run at Wenty on 20 September.
Who knows exactly why the drop off occurred. There was some talk of a minor injury yet the dog was passed fit to run in both the slow runs, including the state run-off for the Nationals, but it looked jaded to the eye. One poor run was after a quick back-up but the other was well spaced.
Whatever the answer, this is a talented dog and the subject in general warrants more serious investigation. The prospect of apparently in-form stayers suddenly losing their spark is not an acceptable proposition for the greyhound public – as indicated above for the Sandown race, and many others.
NUMBERS NOT ADDING UP
The other day we advanced some reasons that would have forced WA to permit reduced fields for local FFA races, one of which was that everyone is short of starters to one degree or another, not just WA.
Taking that a step further, we surveyed the main eastern tracks over the last three months and found that 24% of all higher grade races started with one or more empty boxes. That more or less accords with other surveys of all race types.
This should not be a surprise. We have no more dogs but we do have more races to fill. It’s simple arithmetic and has been trending that way for years.
A full appreciation of this subject – and it is a complex one – could come only from a comprehensive review by a national body, yet the one we have appears uninterested or incapable of assessing how the industry is going. That leaves us with each state authority making up its own stories about why things are good or bad, or worse, keeping on pumping out slanted media releases about how marvellous things are.
However, there is a quick solution. Reduce all meetings to 10 races (remember those?) and then market them more aggressively. Instead of waiting for gamblers to turn up at the TAB counters, go out to the public and explain to them what makes the canine athlete tick and how to get involved.
Taking action like that would give the industry some chance of replacing income from lost races with bigger pools and commissions from the ones that remain. In doing those sums, we should also remember that income from a short field is always lower than from a full field – due to exotic betting trends.
WA’s immediate problem is getting hold of enough higher grade dogs. But it is not the only state with that challenge. Why not go back to the hopelessly complex and convoluted grading rules now in place and simplify them? Current practice has been to keep adding more rules to the ones that already exist. The recent Master’s rules in NSW and the MEP and SAP system in Victoria (replacing non-penalty races at Sandown and The Meadows) are classic examples of how to make life harder for all.
More importantly, most states now have policies where – irrespective of their intentions – the effect is to introduce more and more races where dogs can retain their 5th grade status. Success in that area obviously means that fewer dogs make their way up through the grades, which is where the WA dilemma originates.
When in doubt, throw everything out. Go back to scratch and start again. A simpler system worked well enough for 50 years or more, so why not now?