The time when favourites won most of the distance races now seems ancient history. To see why the current pattern is different it is necessary only to look at ten dogs which have featured recently – seven involved in the Chairman’s Cup heats at Wentworth Park and three lesser lights in Melbourne.
In most of these cases the dogs have been racing week-in, week-out over long trips. Yet the two that had an extra week off prior to those heats – Dusty Moonshine and Space Star – followed the same general pattern.
Using 41.90 to 42.00 as a guide to smart runs at Wenty, here is how they have been performing over the last four weeks.
Sweet It Is: FAIR FAIR FAIR FAIR
Always consistent but always subject to hold-ups along the way. Rarely able to avoid interference, something which reflects on its own ability, not bad luck. It last good win was in the Nationals at Cannington, where it was untouched all the way.
Zipping Rory: POOR FAIR POOR GOOD
Erratic. Its good heat win (at a long price) was its first decent performance since July when it won well at Sandown. However, that may have been a gutbuster as it led all the way. Be wary.
Space Star: GOOD POOR GOOD POOR
Impossible to predict since moving to the staying distance after brilliant middle distance performances. Fading over the 700s now despite having run good times earlier.
Dusty Moonshine: POOR POOR GOOD FAIR
Plenty of ability but spark has gone since its record run at Dapto and earlier good performances at Wenty.
Dyna Willow: POOR FAIR FAIR POOR
Despite one win earlier at The Meadows has never really regained its pre-injury form and was especially bad in its heat.
Zipping Maggie: GOOD POOR POOR POOR
Downed Xylia Allen at The Meadows but both ran ordinary times. Otherwise has displayed no sparkle since previous Wenty performances. Faded in heat.
Ruff Cut Diamond: POOR GOOD GOOD GOOD
Newcomer to distance racing – failed at first attempt but raced well in last three. The Cup final will be its fifth long trip in five weeks.
Then, moving down in class a notch, here are three recent examples from Melbourne.
Flying Twist: POOR POOR FAIR POOR
Showing up in 5th grade events at times but needs to improve to be really competitive.
Shall She Rock: POOR POOR POOR POOR
Although usually well supported and consistent, has never run good time.
Starc: FAIR FAIR POOR POOR
Form declined remarkably since two useful runs over the long trip.
If you were to draw a trend line for each dog’s form it would normally show a significant fall over time. The two exceptions, Sweet It Is and Shall She Rock, which are steady, are not putting in good enough performances to justify any confidence in the market.
Otherwise, the more racing they get the worse they perform. This is hardly a surprise as the constant week-about distance racing over extended periods can cause only one of two outcomes; either they maintain a level, or their performances decline – mostly the latter. In the majority of cases we are asking the dog to use up ever declining reserves.
The average greyhound is not designed to race hard for more than about 440m. In the vast majority of cases their speed declines after they pass that point. As each marker goes by – at 500m, 600m, 700m – more and more dogs drop off the pace, something which can be seen in everyday racing but is more acute the longer it gets. Even at the 500m level many of the dogs you see running home well are not increasing their speed, but slowing less than the others.
By the time you get to 700m you are looking at only a tiny percentage of the dog population which is capable of competing, let alone finishing reasonably well. Going further, marathons of 800m to 900m once resulted in wins for a handful of freaks (Dancer’s Reward for one) and lifetime disaster for most of the other runners. Thankfully, these races have now disappeared but the evidence they left behind was clear.
Consequently, every time you ask a dog to exceed its natural capability, you are drawing on a bank balance which is steadily reducing. It may not happen all at once but it will happen. Then, if there are no more funds left in the account the engine stops and the bank manager calls.
There is no more classic example than Xylia Allen’s brilliant record-breaking 41.53 run at Wenty back in April, closely followed by a failure when fading in the final. It was all used up and was competing on class alone. That has happened several times during its career.
What has not happened is that racing authorities and AGRA (which organises dates for Group events) do not seem to be concerned about the strain caused to stayers when required to back up at seven day intervals. The current four-week distance race pattern of heat-final-heat-final is not just unwise but dangerous. Another outcome is that even a dartboard will be of little use when the Chairman’s Cup final is run next Saturday, and the form displayed will be of little value for future punting purposes.
It seems WA is having trouble finding dogs for all its races, not just the FFA types mentioned here recently. Even though the Mandurah Cup meeting the previous night absorbed some dogs, Cannington’s prime Saturday night meeting ended up with 10 of 11 races short of a full field. The last race was also over 297m for squibs.
Wentworth Park followed suit on Friday night by including a 280m race for the first time in recent memory. Five of ten races started with empty boxes. Saturday night’s meeting attracted only five and six runners respectively in the two Cup heats.
The Meadows main meeting on Saturday needed six Novice dogs to fill its program.
Have we run out of dogs? No, there are just too many races for the dogs we do have.
Stewards Report, The Meadows, R3 Saturday.
“Miss Society was quick to begin. Reen’s Fabian, Exquisitus, Global Lad and Gemstone Jack were slow to begin”.
Slow? Actually, Reen’s Fabian (2) began quite nicely, quickly slotted into 2nd spot behind the leader and then ran past it in the back to win comfortably. Its first section was a lively 9.12, which would lead more than half these races. Its published running numbers were 2211. Why would they say the opposite?