A reader passed on the question from “a former GRNSW board member” (?). He wants to know if “the lowering of quality, both time and chasing, has made the sport more dangerous?”
Putting on a politician’s hat, I prefer to answer a different question. Who says the sport is more dangerous? And how do you define “dangerous”? Here, I will assume the questioner is referring to the rate of injuries and their probable cause.
The short answer is that we don’t really know. While authorities are ramping up studies of what, how many, and where, the data history on injuries is terrible. And some information is secreted in veterinary areas out of the public eye (see evidence at the Special Commission about a recent veterinary conference).
However, it is reasonable to claim that there are three contributory causes to injuries.
(1) The individual – the dog’s nature, condition, education and/or breeding.
(2) The race – random events during the race.
(3) The environment – the track layout and equipment.
The first point demands serious investigation and analysis from experts. Meantime, we can only guess at underlying causes such as racing too frequently, or over a longer trip than normal. Returning after a spell or racing when not fully fit might also be issues.
Random clashes will occur when the field is racing tightly, when dogs are inexperienced, or when dogs are compelled to race in a non-preferred part of the track.
The detail of track layouts is a much ignored aspect of greyhound racing but GRNSW is about to get stuck into it with a tender out for a major study. Meantime we are left with what authorities and club bosses personally think is a good idea. But, almost universally, they have failed – not only by not building better tracks but by copying old mistakes. WA is about to open the new Cannington track with a disruptive 600m bend start. SA is considering doing the same at the future Murray Bridge track. Queensland’s design for the mystical Logan track – ditto. GRNSW’ most recent job was a horror 90 degree bend start for Bathurst 450m.
The upshot of it all is more interference and, following that, a greater likelihood of injury.
Which leaves us with two questions. Is it worse now than in the old days? And how do you fix it?
I have no idea how you could make the comparison between new and old save to say that some innovations may have made things worse – for example, the change from grass to loam tracks where some dogs may find it more difficult to gain sufficient purchase, and cutaway sections on the first turn.
I make the grass comparison partly because those tracks allowed builders to create steeper turn banking which could then withstand washaways during heavy rain. Loam cannot do that even though it is more reliable overall. Who can forget the spectacle of outside dogs coming down off the bank at Harold Park, accelerating all the way? Maitland, too, for that matter.
Cutaways have been a disaster. Every such effort has either increased interference or biased winning boxes, or both. It started with Bulli (after reconstruction following flood damage) but continued at Wentworth Park, Launceston, Cannington and more recently at Maitland. The effect is to provide an extra advantage to hard railers from inside boxes but more often to confuse other runners which find a double change of direction a problem. Here are some notable examples:
2006 – Nationals at Launceston – IMMORTAL LOVE won from box 1 against much better credentialed runners. The dog set a new record but subsequently did very little of note.
2009 – Easter Egg at Wenty – DANA BEATRICE won from box 1, whizzing around the rail while better runners failed to handle the turn.
2012 – Perth Cup at Cannington – OAKS ROAD from box 2 handled the turn well while better dogs ran off.
So, yes, there has been some negative effect over the years, mostly due to poorly-advised track works while the change from grass to loam is a mixed bag of tricks. Similarly, the massive increase in middle distance racing over the last two decades has introduced bend starts which automatically make life difficult for any but long leaders.
Having said that, some trainers still maintain an average 600m start is easier to handle than a first turn from a 500m start, where dogs are hitting that turn at much higher speeds. I don’t see that but, in any event, it omits consideration of all the other factors that come into play on such turns. Most importantly, what is it that encourages the field to compress towards the rail as they approach the main turn? The Meadows would be a classic example, no doubt helped by the fact that the lure is fast disappearing around the corner, getting further and further away due to the more circular nature of the track (by comparison with a more cigar-shaped circuit such as Sandown).
It is not sufficient to say that the majority of dogs want to move towards the rail and therefore create their own compression. For a start, that does not happen at Hobart or Devonport in the run to the turn. The cause is an as yet undefined set of circumstances involving all aspects of the circuit and its equipment
However, there is some hope in the form of the hooped lure in use as part of the Follow-on-Lure trials. This is no more than an opinion but observations strongly suggest that FOL fields tend to spread out a little more, thereby promoting a lower level of casual interference. That view is supported by the fact that the original year-long trials of the FOL in Brisbane and Adelaide both produced lower levels of fighting or failing to chase penalties. (Unfortunately, the subject has been distorted by the arguments about physically finishing on the lure as compared with into the pen. There are actually two different matters to evaluate).
So, yes, there is some small justification for the view that interference has worsened over the years. However, the evidence is a bit sketchy and certainly not capable being proven adequately.
As to the fix, that is a no-brainer. A major effort into a study of the subject is absolutely essential, followed by the creation of a firm set of principles and then substantial remedial works on virtually all Australian tracks. Professionalism will beat amateurism every time.
Meantime, current NSW greyhound statistics reveal that there are 32.9 injuries per 1,000 starts, three quarters of which are not serious. By comparison, in 2013 AFL records show that, of a team’s 46 players, an average of 8.2 (or 18%) were missing due to injury in any one week. ARL data suggest 1 in 4 players suffer significant injury during the season. Tennis ranks are full of players spelling due to injury. Fast bowlers likewise. And so on.
Any athletic pursuit will produce injuries. However, I would hazard a guess that their treatment has improved radically over the years, and much credit is due to trainers, muscle men and vets and the much better resources they can bring to play these days.
More secret figures
A reader recently commented that “a recent escapee from TAB advised me that the “mug punters” (are) only 8-9% of turnover”. Hmmm. I don’t believe it, or not for dogs. A low figure like that may just be possible for all racing but that would be heavily biased towards turnover at the gallops where really big money is involved (including bet-backs from bookies). Even then, I would want proof.
The thing is that betting on dogs displays all sorts of crazy patterns which could come only from people who have no real punting nous and would have failed mathematics at school (or even dropped the subject entirely). Overbetting on favourites, use of Mystery bets, unprofitable Trifecta dividends and lopsided dividends for Quinella v Exacta are some examples.