1. The dog is a youngster or a little on the clumsy side and has trouble maintaining a consistent course.
2. The dog is built to better handle a clockwise turn rather than a counter-clockwise one (ie a wide runner with greater strength on its left side (horses often display a similar bias).
3. The dog gets shoved out by another runner.
4. The track surface is sub-standard – ie slippery underfoot.
5. The turn is poorly cambered, and/or has a cutaway section at the start of the turn (eg Wentworth Park, Bulli, Launceston and Cannington) which forces runners to cope with two turns in one.
The first three are hard to manage but the last two are man-made problems and therefore fixable. Unfortunately, we have not done that.
For example, note that yet another dog, Decanus, broke a hock while coming out of the first turn at Sandown on Jun 4 (strictly speaking the second turn as it was a 595-metre race). This continues a longish line of dogs meeting similar problems. Just recently, Space Star pulled a muscle at the same spot in the Sandown Cup but there have been quite a number of broken hocks in the past.
Lacking the figures, I can’t say definitely that it is worse at Sandown than anywhere else but it certainly seems so. Whatever the percentages, it is clear that the matter needs attention. This is a point where dogs are moving at high speed and have just put their maximum effort into negotiating a turn. If there is a weakness, this is where it will emerge.
The degree to which that weakness is attributable to genetic factors, or to early education and training techniques is unknown but could well be established by proper investigation.
However, if it happens more often at one track than another then it is a straightforward matter to measure them up and see what the differences are. Pretty obviously, a flat turn will produce greater strain than a velodrome-shaped layout. Both camber and surface quality are involved here. Having done that, how does this correlate with the injury levels? You could add Ipswich and Richmond to the test list as both have very flat first turns for their main trips.
Either way, there can be little doubt that Sandown’s turn is suspect. There is far too much evidence to claim otherwise. GRV and, indeed, Greyhounds Australasia, should be taking action now.
At risk are the career opportunities for some dogs and the life of others. That’s a heavy cost.
Emotions are fine but facts are better
The one sure thing about greyhound racing fans is that they will all have different opinions. Ask any ten people and you will get eleven different opinions – one will change his mind half way through. It’s what makes the world go round.
Fair enough. But occasionally here we hear from some one-eyed characters, always anonymous, who are not prepared to look anywhere else but in their favourite direction. They can be worse than supporters of Collingwood or South Sydney. Sadly, some go even further and get abusive, which is seriously out of order. What is the point, particularly when they frequently get their facts wrong?
I often get criticism, which is fine and can help all our educations. But sometimes it is rude, personal and poorly founded at that. That gains nothing.
One recent offender knocked me for backing the wrong dog in the last Nationals at Cannington – rather than his pet bitch Sweet It Is. The problem with that is that I did not back any of them.. He just made it up.
He then went on to claim that Sweet It Is would have bolted in the Sandown Cup the other night even if Space Star, then about eight lengths ahead, had not met with trouble. Since Space Star had run many lengths faster in the heat and had just broken Nellie Noodle’s longstanding record at The Meadows, that was a monstrous call – one that bookies would have been happy to take on. Me, too.
But there was more. According to this reader, Space Star suffered “a lapse of concentration” at the critical stage of the race. To see the dog suddenly falter like a footballer grabbing his hamstring, that’s an even bigger call. The dog’s connections would no doubt be horrified by the accusation. It also rubbishes the vet and the stewards who reported “Space Star was vetted following the event. It was reported that the greyhound sustained a torn right monkey muscle, a 28 day stand down period was imposed”. Another error?
He then claimed I said Warrnambool was “poorly designed”. What I actually said was “However, given that Warrnambool is probably one of the better one-turn tracks in the country, we have to ask if there is not a better way of laying out tracks in order to reduce this interference.” That discussion related to what I saw as a need to better design many tracks to help reduce interference on the way to the first turn. Big difference!
Then I am “so bitter and twisted” that I can’t give due credit to Sweet It Is. That comment emerged from a discussion about the massive changes in prize money over the years, of which only a small bit was related to Sweet It Is, now the leading money winner.
Funnily enough, I was probably the first person (or writer) to remonstrate with stewards back in November 2013 when they wrongly hauled in Sweet It Is’ trainer to demand an explanation for its “improved” performance when winning at Sandown at 50/1. In fact, the bitch had not improved at all but merely run up to its recent form. Stewards are often not very good at assessing form.
However, the more important question is how our top stayers are performing in general.
Over the past few years three greyhounds have clearly led in the staying stakes: Xylia Allen, Sweet It Is and Space Star, each somewhat different types. The remainder are either also-rans or once-off performers, unable to repeat good efforts. Their results and times clearly showing the problem of backing up too soon in staying races.
Xylia Allen was a marvellous all-distance racer but was probably best suited to the middle distances even though it ran records over both the 500s and 700s, all due solely to its class. But in long races it could never back up well in the following week – never. Its career shows that repeatedly.
Sweet It Is is a poor beginner, always needing a clear run to show its best. Often it did not get that but when it did it performed well, never to record-breaking level but good enough to beat the opposition most of the time. In any event it can run till the cows come home and is a fine entertainer. However, omitting NZ runs, it has won only 3 of its last 13 starts.
Space Star took a little while to build up to the genuine staying category but once it got there its form has been emphatic. It won 12 of its last 13 runs leading up to the Sandown Cup. The only miss was the week after it ran the “gutbusting” track record at The Meadows, thereby emphasising the validity of that theory (as supported by top vet Dr John Kohnke).
Champions? The term is over-used but how do you tell anyway? My own starting point is that the dog must race consistently fast and beat all comers in the majority of its races, barring unusual circumstances. Whether in Group races or not is irrelevant in this case, primarily because the staying opposition is so often ordinary. For example, the Nationals at Cannington was no more than a two dog race. The others were never going to be in it. (A correction, though. In an earlier comment I implied it beat Space Star there – in fact it was Xylia Allen).
Sweet It Is is a very talented dog over 700-metres-plus but not over shorter trips. Although it is a genuine stayer, it gets beaten far too often to claim a champion tag. Xylia Allen could be erratic but its versatility and sometimes brilliant times make it a realistic candidate for the title.
In the current era, continuing on its present path and injury permitting, I would expect Space Star to easily take the champion stayer title over the next year. It has almost done enough already. Space Star makes his own luck and does it consistently. Two out, Sweet It Is could never catch him over 700-metres. It simply cannot run fast enough, as dozens of times attest.
Anyway, whatever your views, using abusive language is always counter-productive. It degrades the industry.
Note: Sweet It Is’ losing runs occurred in the Galaxy (CANN), Super Stayers (SPK), Summer Cup (WPK), Chairman’s Cup (WPK), Top Cat (MEA), Lizrene (SPK), Association Cup (WPK), Distance Plate (WPK), Gold Cup (WPK), amongst others. It has also had good wins at those tracks but predicting them is near impossible. However, I have never bagged this bitch. What I have said more than once is that punters should never take odds-on about it. Anyone who won big in the Nationals at Cannington would by now have lost their winnings and then some if they kept on backing it.