What other option is there than bend starts, a reader asked? Well that's an easy one to answer.
Alone among the racing codes, or in human sports, greyhound racing long ago decided that all race starts had to be on the circuit proper, including those on a bend. Maybe that had its genesis in space limitations, funds available, or the time volunteer working bees were able to allot to building the track. Who knows, but it doesn't matter. The point is that it is a dumb principle. They just create problems and have no upside.
The solution is to locate the start off the track – ie in a shute – just as the gallops do. In fact, already the industry has sneaked in a couple of mini-examples. See Canberra 600m and Northam 588m starts, both of which are well off the track proper and allow runners a halfway decent run before hitting the upcoming turn.
There is no reason why you could not extend those “shutes” even further. With a little cooperation from the lure driver, dogs might even get a fairer all-round look at the lure when the boxes open. The distance between the boxes and the lure is irrelevant because the greyhound – historically classed as a “sighthound” – can spot a moving object in the far distance. Long sight and the urge to chase are its two biggest assets. Hearing is not.
In fact, GWA, when evaluating the middle distance options for the new Cannington track, actually looked briefly at the possibility of a shute but then dismissed it in favour of what it called a “start across the apex”. It might have better termed it across no-man's land, or no-dog land, thereby consigning both dogs and punters to a life of misery.
But the problem is not limited to middle distances. For example, the lengthier 650m starts now spread around Victoria could easily have been sited further back. In fact, two of those they replaced (Bendigo 700m and Warrnambool 680m) did exactly that. We can only guess that the reasoning was to make life simpler for provincial dogs which lacked the strength to cover the extra few metres. Yet it is plain that many of today's starters cannot run out the 650m anyway. It has been a left-handed attempt to advance the industry (ie encourage stayers) and it has not worked very well.
But that's not all. Many bend starts are actually for sprint distances. Add them up; Townsville 498m, Ipswich 431m, Albion Park 395m, Tweed Heads 520m, Lismore 420m, Casino 411m, Grafton 480m, Muswellbrook 429m, The Gardens 400m, Gosford 400m, Richmond 400m, Bathurst 450m, Sale 520m, Angle Park 388m and all the new 390m/410m starts in Victoria are just some of the obvious ones. All create some sort of mayhem after the jump. All bias outcomes unnecessarily.
Most of these could be improved without huge expense, just as the original faulty 413m location at The Gardens was eventually changed for the better – not perfect but better.
For example, probably the worst of all is the Ipswich 431m trip where 66% of all winners lead all the way – an Australian record according to my surveys. Coming from behind is just too hard. Those boxes could readily be picked up and located at the end of the back straight, thereby offering, say, 400m runners a longish straight run out of the boxes. It would also result in a win-win situation because, simultaneously, that change would allow a sensible first turn banking for 520m runners instead of the flat surface which now throws runners off to the outside.
An identical hassle and an identical solution are present for Richmond 400m/535m trips.
In other words, bend starts for both sprints and middle distance races are a result of a failure of clubs and authorities to look outside the box, so to speak. They are a relic of an age when “she'll be right” thinking dominated. They ignore the sorts of advances made in every other racing code or sport. They ignore common sense. Jockeys, harness drivers and humans would not accept these standards for a minute yet the poor old greyhound has no-one to talk for him. Why is that?
Hocks Are Complicated Matters
The question of broken hocks is addressed by some as the culmination of an existing weakness (crack?) incurred elsewhere but then put under extreme pressure in the ultimate race. That could be right but few would know, including most likely the trainer. He can hardly take X-rays every day.
What we have to remember is that the hocks we hear about amount to a very small percentage of the total number of dogs racing, or even of the total number of injuries. Consequently, putting Oscura or any other dogs into the statistics is not helpful unless we first know what totals are involved.
However, the main point of my earlier comment was the regularity with which broken hocks occur as the dog is coming out of the first turn. In other words – after the time when they have just put maximum pressure on their driving legs, more so than at any other time in the race. The question then becomes whether we can better design the turns so that the risk is minimised.
On top of that we also have to consider the extent of other injuries which may occur at the same point and for much the same reasons.
Certainly, you would expect less damage to emerge from bend starts because dogs are prevented from quickly reaching top speed due to the nearby turn. Even so, that does not make bend starts a good thing. You also have to count all the bumps, bruises and falls that they generate – all of which have an effect on both mind and body, as well as on punter's wallets.
In any case, statistics at tracks which have multiple distances show that the highest rate of falls occur where the start is on or close to a bend. Examples include Albion Park 395m, Casino 411m, Canberra 440m, Geelong 400m, Gosford 400m, Horsham 410m, Meadows 600m, Gardens 400m, Shepparton 390m, Warrnambool 390m and Warragul 400m.
But we need that scientific report smartly, please. Ignorance of the facts should be no excuse for bad design.