WHILE on the question of declining city field standards, it is also worth mentioning the increasing habit of creating country-to-city heats and final events. These almost always involve dogs of lower standard being given a chance to pick up some bigger prizes in town.
It’s been a longstanding practice in NSW but is now picking up pace in Victoria. The Meadows offered two such events last Saturday, one of 525-metres and one over 725-metres.
The sprint was not too bad as runners were reasonably competent and most had some fair form. Even so, race conditions included the proviso that they had to be “Vic Bred”. This is a fairly common habit in some states but it amounts to discrimination which can never be well justified.
It’s like saying you can’t join my team unless you are nice to me – and therefore denying some owners and all the public of potentially better races. It is a sop to those states (all of them, actually) which provide breeding bonuses to locals regardless of whether those investments produce any benefits over time (which none do – it’s all a mirage).
This is a national industry with dogs, trainers and punters who pay little heed to the location of the race, only to tracks which happen to suit their cause and their timetable. Discrimination never works in the long run. It is an outmoded practice and should be dumped.
The long race involved runners moving up from 660-metres at Bendigo to the much more testing 725-metres at The Meadows. That is a very important distance change so it meant guessing at the outcome.
In the event, my personal rated favourite won the race (in very moderate time) but two of the most favoured runners could not make the first four, while a dog with ordinary form improved to fill the Quinella spot.
These races are all very well as encouragement for country performers but they fail the test of excellence which should be paramount at major city tracks. Separately, they might be marginally improved if the country races were longer than the typical 650-metres/660-metres.
The extra distance would have the additional bonus of providing more interference-free starts. The current starts on top of the turn badly bias early running. More discrimination!
(There is more to this subject but that’s for another day).
NSW weaknesses further exposed
Recently I mentioned last Saturday’s Richmond Oaks – $30k to the winner – in the context of a shortage of runners at the parallel Wentworth Park meeting.
However, a closer examination of the form for the Oaks suggests the competition for spots there was not too sharp either. Yes, there were some city class bitches amongst them but certainly no budding champions as you might expect for that sort of money.
Chica Desticada has been good to me and I have always liked the way she gets out well and makes it hard to pass her, but she seems to have trouble putting two together these days, notwithstanding a very quick run at Wenty recently.
Rue De Kahn is no champion but has also been a regular city winner. However, she won this event on experience and good field sense, not on fast time – 30.71 is very average for this sort of race and she was untouched.
Heat winners had run between 30.61 and 31.01, compared to the track record of 29.90. Rue De Kahn’s fortunes were helped a lot when half the field ran off at the flat first turn, which is a pretty normal happening at this track.
Richmond’s design is seriously faulty, despite being rebuilt a few years ago. The root cause of the problem is poor positioning of the 400-metre boxes.
In any case, a prestigious event like the Oaks deserved a higher quality field.
No care, no responsibility
Quality is also missing at the upcoming new track at Cannington. Detailed plans just published by GWA confirm earlier worries about presence of a bend start for 600-metres.
It’s still there, despite all the evidence showing that such a feature increases interference and poses higher risks to dogs.
For example, Sandown’s 595-metre start is far from the worst of them but take a look at what happened in Race 2 last Sunday where dogs were spreadeagled across the track.
The frustrating point about Cannington’s planning is that the authority did consider the option of shifting the start off the track proper so as to offer a fairly direct approach to the straight.
It got knocked back. In doing that they ignored their own experience at Northam, where the 588-metre start has been pushed well off to the side. It’s not in a chute, but it’s the next best thing and offers reasonable space for runners at the start of the race. It’s not uncommon to see the field get around to the judge without touching each other.
We have seen only a plan view so cannot be sure of the camber around Cannington’s turns. There is always a risk when a bend start runs quickly into an area used for the start of another trip – i.e. for 600-metre and 520-metre in this case – and the camber is peculiar.
For example, at Albion Park track builders gave 600-metre dogs a flattish run to the nearby turn but in doing so made life awkward for runners coming around that turn from a 710-metre start – often throwing them off.
Much the same problem applies at The Gardens, where many dogs coming around the home turn have trouble holding the rail and lose their advantage as a result. The culprit there is the positioning of the nearby 515-metre start.
On the other hand, the home turn at the newish Gosford track is a good one. It’s all a lucky dip.
Perhaps it’s about time trainers started refusing to nominate for the tricky starts until remedial work is undertaken. It has happened before at the gallops. Apart from that, you have to wonder if sooner or later the question of negligence will come up. Given the anti-racing climate at the moment, authorities should be doubly careful.
On the plus side at Cannington, there appears to be no repetition of the cutaway first turn which biases the current track and causes some dogs to run off, so one lesson has been learnt. But we shall have to see in July when it opens.
The big breeding query
A reader mentioned that “over breeding that has gone on for several years” in response to a recent article. In saying that he has missed the very point of the article that breeding has actually been in decline (by 15.7% over the decade to 2013).
Whether it is good breeding or bad breeding is another issue altogether.
Victoria has made some strenuous efforts to discourage backyard breeding with poor stock but other states seem not to bother. However, whatever they did has not stopped the overall activity from falling away. Here is yet another subject which warrants in depth investigation – on a national basis, of course.
This is one subject which cannot be assessed properly by individual states. Both sires and dams move around too much for that to be helpful.
Good breeding and keen owners are two critical catalysts for industry progress so the effort would be worthwhile.
(Note: While Victoria has made a big deal of its breeding subsidies and bonuses and has been helped by additional government grants, its actual performance is actually worse than the national average. Over the decade to 2013, its Litters Registered fell by 18.7% compared to the Australian figure of -15.7%).