Here’s a suggestion for a better Topgun. At The Meadows eight runners is too many. Six would be plenty – and fairer.
The track is not kind to outside runners at the best of times but in a race with highly qualified dogs the chances of getting across are minimal unless the dog is brilliant early. Even if they jump with the field the likelihood is that they will get shouldered out of the way at the first turn.
Coincidentally, that is precisely what happened at Albion Park in the Gold Coast Cup final last Sunday and that track is easier to handle in this respect than The Meadows (it’s not a great turn; it’s just easier for outside dogs to handle). In the event, He Knows Uno (from 1) began poorly as usual but got a saloon passage up on the rails to be handy in the back straight. He is a very good field dog.
However, while Sobbing Destiny (4) led as expected, the next quickest beginners were from 5 and 7, also expected, but neither could get a clear run around the turn. Citi Hawk (6), another good beginner, was also inconvenienced early on. None of these were winning chances on the night but they might well have competed for a place.
As the two inside dogs are likely to lead in the Topgun, and both are reasonable railers, there will not be a lot of room for slower types like He Knows Uno. Doubly so with the possibility of Radley Bale and Allen Harper boring over from the outside.
He Knows Uno (5) and Prince Diablo (3) are powerhouses but only the latter has the odds with him. In these races it is rare for leaders to get run down but the Prince might be handy enough to make an exception.
Sandown is a different story. Outside dogs can motor up around the turn. Just ask champions like Awesome and Whisky Assassin, neither of whom were much good at The Meadows but loved Sandown. Still, you could make a case that six runners would be good for the (4-dog) Shootout as well.
But go further. Since both races are specialty events, personally selected, a 6-dog field could be accompanied by trainers indicating their box preferences – in English fashion – and dogs placed accordingly. That would produce an even tidier race.
The effect of track layouts on a dog’s performance was nowhere better illustrated than in the Lismore Cup heats on Tuesday night. Despite the presence of good quality dogs, first turn smashes ruined many chances in all four heats. In three of them the leader got a break and was never in danger of being caught while in the other the leaders ran off and allowed a slower beginner to move through. First Four dividends averaged $1,260, which tells the story.
Lismore’s turn is significantly closer than those at The Meadows or Albion Park but the crowding often occurs right after the jump, as well as on the turn. Something in the mix is not ideal.
To those who may claim all this is a rub of the green – just luck in racing – please look further. Sure, interference will always be a factor but when it gets to a high level it far outweighs the dogs’ abilities. Selections become lotteries and the public are dismayed by the way races are run. Even mug gamblers (and no doubt trainers) are unhappy to see their pick wiped out in the first few seconds. It’s not just a matter of winning or losing but getting a reasonable run for your money.
And when that interference is caused by a track feature it is inexcusable that authorities do not fix the problem. Just to pluck out one example of many, it would be a relatively small job to pick up the 431m boxes at Ipswich and move them around so they looked directly down the back straight – for, say, a 400m trip. Meantime, local trainers and viewers alike are regularly horrified by the damage done as dogs try to make a hard left turn just after the jump. Worse, the ground levels are wonky on the 520m first turn, which is abreast of the 431m start, leading to dogs running off out of control
Bend starts aside, the only sure recipes for success are to own a good beginner and either (a) draw box 1, or (b) take your dog to Northam, Hobart or New Zealand. Travelling might be a hassle but much cleaner running is available at those tracks than in any other Australian capital city (or Launceston and Newcastle).
No idea why this is so. Perhaps a serious study would uncover the secrets.