Lies, Damn Lies And Greyhound Statistics

You have to feel for Iso Octane, on the sick list at the moment, doing nothing wrong.

He’s lost his 29.29 Sandown track record. Initially, not to another dog but to an arbitrary and hardly necessary change to the equipment. GRV altered the timing mechanism so that dogs were able to reduce their times by two or three lengths, maybe more.

I say “initially” because only the last of three successive Sandown “records” (in the space of 10 days) may have been a valid one. Bekim Bale’s 28.96 run on 25 September probably deserves the honour. The others, including an earlier run by Bekim Bale behind Heston Bale’s record run, do not. They were artificially constructed.

The likelihood is that The Meadows, which has performed like St Kilda beach since re-opening, will settle down to also provide record breaking opportunities for new dogs. The same timing “fix” is programmed there, too.

The disgraceful aspect of all this is that – apart from the original announcement of the works program – GRV media releases have trumpeted Sandown’s fast times but failed to mention they were all due to the jazzed up timing system. Releases from GRNSW and AGRA repeated the same mantra without qualification.

Mind you, this is not to detract from the brilliance of the Bartrim Bale-Amelia Bale litter, led by Bekim Bale and Heston Bale. They have been truly amazing. But why not tell the whole truth?

(But note – their later runs in 5th grade suggest they might be better off missing the big time events until they gain more experience).

Sandown is now running in Version 3. Previously, Version 2 started up in April 2010 following the renewal of the loam surface, which itself lowered times by a good four lengths below Version 1. Add to which the track harrowing on 27 September made a mess of times in the 29 September meeting. Anyway, good luck trying to work out past form in that mix.

Sandown is far from alone, though.

Traralgon had previously been treated to a total replacement of its loam surface and was understandably slower for a considerable time. It settled down and was “normal” in late 2010 and early 2011. Then, around the time of its local Cup series this year, it became lightning fast. Three or four lengths had been shaved off previous times and new records set. The club claimed it was just the presence of good dogs. Not true. Ordinary dogs, even maidens, were running faster, too. They still are. It all remains a mystery.

Similarly, earlier this year, Wentworth Park suddenly found a three or four lengths improvement for no reason at all – or none that anyone can identify. This is why all sorts of dogs have been breaking the 30 sec mark and plenty of near-record 29.50- 29.60 times run by top dogs. Year on year comparisons show average times reduced from 30.45 to 30.12. Another mystery.

Bendigo had a similar experience for some months around the time when Slater ran his 430m record in late 2006, followed by a 545m record by Flashing Floods. Neither club nor authority could explain that.

These things are a nightmare for form students trying to compare performances but forced to consider apples, oranges and lemons. Ordinary week to week variations – due to weather etc – can be handled but not fundamental changes in the nature of the track.

On a related subject, note that winning box statistics can lead you down blind alleys.

For a start, two of the bigger jurisdictions – Victoria and Queensland – are publishing data for one year only. For most trips this results in meaningless nonsense. To achieve a reasonable order of error a sample size of at least 400 is essential. Only a handful of heavily used distances do that in a single year. To be truly reliable all such data should cover at least 1,000 samples.

Oddly, Queensland recently reverted to the one-year-only approach after being taken over by the horse-dominated Racing Queensland organisation. For years QGRA had published excellent long term figures.

But the GRV policy is equally odd. It has always had plentiful data. I can verify that because as far back as 1994 I obtained a computer printout (no internet capability then) of 10-year data from new GRV director, Adam Wallish, in his then-role of 2IC to the late Ken Carr. That made a huge difference to race analysis.

But one of the most confusing aspects of box figures (and times, to some extent) occurs when a physical change is made to a track. For example, in mid-2010 Maitland underwent a change to the rail on the main turn, thereby offering extra help to inside dogs. Both times and box preferences were affected yet GRNSW and others continued to publish box figures as though nothing happened.

A similar event occurred at Warrnambool a few years earlier when major trackwork affected running and box preferences but the 450m distance remained unchanged. Yet no-one re-started the winning box data.

Conversely, GWA and GRSA did re-start their figures after making changes to the first turn and box position at Cannington and Angle Park, respectively. Good for them.

The greyhound industry, particularly the breeding and punting sectors, lives and dies on hard figures. It must be done well for the industry to prosper.

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