The thrills and spills – both numerous – in the eight Geelong Cup heats on Monday were headed by Black Magic Opal's record- breaking 25.25 run. Otherwise, most winners ran much the same times – a bit over 25.50. Only Five Paws was a bolter, scoring in 25.72 after some heavy interference in the field.
But there was an important incident that went unnoticed. Ronan Izmir, arguably the best 450m racer in the business, led as expected but then dropped out as they entered the home straight.
I say “best” because the dog was looking for a huge bonus after winning two other provincial Cups earlier this year. It had only an average career in NSW before moving to Victoria at the end of 2012 but then started dominating all and sundry. The change has been a credit to both the dog and the trainer.
In March/April, for example, it won eight in a row, followed by another six in a row from June to early September. Up to the Geelong meeting it boasted a 61% strike rate all told, or 74% this year. That's huge.
If there were a 450m GOTY award, Ronan Izmir would surely win it. Some may argue that a couple of others also deserve that title but none have displayed both the speed and consistency of Ronan Izmir. (Black Magic Opal would obviously be a contender but it is not always a reliable beginner, even though it can muster early pace).
Ronan Izmir's past wins included a 25.43 run at Geelong (which would have won 7 of the 8 heats), 24.98 at Shepparton, 24.97 at Ballarat and 25.01 at Warrnambool – which are all at or near record times.
So what happened this time, and why did the stewards completely ignore the performance?
The run was below par on two measures. First, over this trip Ronan Izmir has never been beaten once it led, yet on Monday it faded on the turn and Crump went straight past it (giving ARG colleague Warren McDonald and his followers an inspired victory). Ronan Izmir finished a disappointing 5.4 lengths behind the winner. Second, its own time of 25.86 is the worst it has ever run on any track of this type.
But why so? The possibilities are:
(1) It failed to chase. Highly unlikely, given its history.
(2) It was injured. Also unlikely, but not impossible, although it still finished the race and nobody called for the vet.
(3) It was tired. This is more than possible. 11 days before Geelong it ran a sparkling 29.63 in its Adelaide Cup heat, and then 4 days prior to the Geelong heat it again sucked in the big ones trying to catch the flying Ernie Bung Arrow in the final. In the end, Tomac Bale ran it down to take second spot.
This is a dog that is not ideally suited by 500m races, even though it has performed respectably at times, including at Angle Park. However, if it is racing beyond its prime distance then it must also be using up more petrol than it is comfortable with. That loss has to be replaced yet would that be possible with only a four-day break leading up to the Geelong heats? Then there is the extra travel to consider. The odds are against it.
I wrote about this principle on October 7 (More about Rules and Other Stuff), when I made this suggestion.
“Regularly we are seeing dogs backup quickly – many only two or three days after their previous race. Rarely does this policy show dividends, which is not surprising considering standard veterinary advice about recovery times for the average dog. But dumping these conundrums on unsuspecting punters is not a good policy. How will they ever know if the dog is up to such a task? You can't tell just by looking.
Imposing limits of at least 5 days between runs for sprinters and 7 days for stayers is a must. The dogs will probably thank you for it as well”.
We sometimes forget that, on average, greyhounds reach their peak speed at around 435m, after which they are all slowing down, some more than others. This time Ronan Izmir started slowing down after only 300m or so and then just plodded. There has to be a reason for that.
No doubt some dogs have stronger constitutions than others but the conventional wisdom that “the trainer knows best” is also a dubious route to follow. Obviously they may know lots but they cannot open the dog up and look inside, nor can they reach a reliable conclusion without the help of sophisticated medical testing, which takes time and money. This is precisely why the only protection for the public is a Rule which would ban such quick backups.
The sad part of it is that the stewards, who are allegedly responsible for form and performance assessments, failed to do a half decent job in this case. They were entitled to at least ask some questions, yet did nothing but write down which bumped what.
Ronan Izmir started at $1.30 in NSW and $1.40 in Victoria so a huge amount of public money went down the drain when it failed to do what it normally does.
GRV has not yet responded to a request for comment.
Disclaimer: Yes, I stood the dog out in my First Four but I would have lost anyway due to the oddball placings – as did everyone else in NSW because it jackpotted. It paid over $2,200 in the bigger Victorian pool so very few got that either.
Postscript: From December 2012 onwards Ronan Izmir has backed up in 4 days on three occasions; it won two in a row in December then failed in its next two runs; in March it followed a Traralgon win with two runs over the easier 425m trips at Bendigo; then it won over 450m at Shepparton in September before running second at its following start there.