I hope someone can explain why Sweet It Is won the National Distance Championship so convincingly and in near-record time. It started at even money and ran 41.39, just outside Miata’s 41.30 record. For the life of me I can’t work it out.
Admittedly, it was only a 4-dog race in practice, as is common in this event, yet the betting says Sweet It Is is a better dog than Xylia Allen, despite the latter having a much better record, many faster times and some hundreds of thousands of dollars more prize money. And both had crook boxes on a track which heavily favours inside dogs.
At Cannington, the slow-starting Sweet It Is was better placed early than is usual, which would have been a help. But it was never in front of Xylia Allen until the last several metres. Yes, it is a good finisher but it has almost never been in such exalted time ranks in its life before, barring a single exception. (It ran fast times at Wentworth Park during April, along with several other dogs, including Xylia Allen, yet every experience since then has suggested that those times were suspect. Not that they were incorrect, but that the conditions on the night were somehow conducive to ultra-hot times).
Going back to comparisons at Sandown, where it has raced many times, Sweet It Is has consistently been in the 42.00 to 42.10 category, never any better, which would not get it within a bull’s roar of the Cannington time. And most of its wins have been against very ordinary opposition. Yet in Perth all the early markets said it should be a hot favourite. So did punters on the night – and they were right! I am flabbergasted.
Elsewhere over the weekend, we were treated to five other staying races at Wentworth Park and The Meadows; four were pretty average and one a sparkling one. Four more 5th Grade distance heats were run on Thursday at Sandown, two in fair times and two very slowly. All nine of these were won by dogs that led or nearly so, even including long term plodder Fantasizzing (a slow 42.48 at Sandown). Dyna Kayla and Dewana Babe put in quite nice runs at Sandown – both in the 42.00/42.10 bracket I mentioned above in respect to Sweet It Is. The rest were forgettable, bar one.
Space Age (Bekim Bale x Tonto Tears) came to Wentworth Park with a CV that included record-breaking runs at Richmond (618m) and Gosford (600m) and did not disappoint. After jumping in the first few it took the lead at the judge and went further and further away as the race progressed. Its time of 41.84 was exceptional for a first effort and would win nine out of ten good races there.
Obviously it was favourite but a win dividend of $1.04 is extraordinary for any race, let alone a first attempt at the distance.
Its breeding is interesting as while Bekim Bale was no slouch and a strong dog, it had no staying experience before being retired. However, on mum’s side, its grandsire was an All-American performer, Kiowa Sweet Trey, with 31 wins from 41 starts.
It’s worth remembering that the great Paul Wheeler went down the American road a few years back, following a period when very few of his dogs were running out a good 500m. That action helped no end. A few others have done likewise since then.
Space Age, along with Dusty Moonshine, which may well have suffered a minor injury in its defeat in the NSW Championship run-off (according to the trainer), offer real promise for the staying caper, which badly needs rejuvenation. Worth watching.
WHISTLING ON THE WAY THROUGH THE CEMETERY
Queensland again made the news with a report from Tattsbet indicating that it suffered a 2% fall in tote takings over the financial year. Boss Robbie Cooke came up with brave words about a return to growth with a new website, new brand, more advertising and more marketing expenditure (whatever all that means).
Racing Queensland chief Kevin Dixon has been making very similar remarks after boosting all-code prize money, using cash generated by its newly signed agreement with Tattsbet. Technically, that is cash no-one has yet so we will have to live in hope.
However, in both cases the assumption is that a fresh coat of paint will encourage more people to come into the shop. The bigger question is whether they will put products on the shelf that more people want to buy. To bring that about, the state first needs more good dogs and better tracks – prospects of which are uncertain, to say the least.
The new one-turn track at Logan is one to two years away, the Ipswich club has diverted attention to a replacement track at Bundamba in company with the gallops, and there is no indication that anyone recognises the frailities of the Albion Park circuit. Whether they admit it or not, both have (a) disruptive turns everywhere which produce unreliable betting propositions, and (b) declining average dog standards.
Those shortcomings are matched by the uncompetitive nature of Tattsbet’s small pools. Taken together, they demand radical action to reform the state’s racing package to have any hope of success. Bunging up prize money is good but it is no more than the start of a long journey.