Good to see the rebuilt Healesville straight track complex will be open for business shortly. Pictures suggest the new facilities are very impressive.
Basically, this is a very good thing. Straight track racing is a vital segment of the sport, providing opportunities not available elsewhere. Some dogs just don’t like turns, some are recovering from leg injuries and don’t need the extra stress of circle tracks (note that injured footballers are handled much the same way), and some find the hard straight run a good conditioner for longer races.
In that context, it’s a shame that Wyong in NSW and Kulpara in SA have been allowed to fall by the wayside, while Queensland’s Capalaba has got the staggers financially (its main benefactor – a big betting punter on gallops meetings – has gone broke).
However, what will be more interesting is whether Healesville’s new loam track will work better than the old one. The grass layout was not really up to standard for a TAB product on display to the whole country – not the grass as such but the general layout.
Two points are of interest.
First, Healesville had – and will still have – an inside cable lure. Commonly, Australian straight tracks are all grassed and use a centre drag lure. In the case of Queensland’s Capalaba, the club has had both a centre lure and a conventional cable lure running along the inside. It has long discontinued the latter and uses only the centre lure these days.
Second, and partly related to the above, Healesville races were characterised by “crashers”. The field veered towards the rail, thereby creating above normal interference. That’s a bad sign as fans do not like seeing their pick squeezed out of the race at the start.
This is why the best box to have was the 8, which provided a huge 18.7% of winners.
But there’s more. The next two most successful boxes were 7 and 6, in that order. The top three together accounted for 48% of all winners. Boxes 1 to 5 were all around the 10% mark, indicating they were coming off second best as the crush affected them most.
In other words, whatever combination of factors was in play, it produced a strongly biased outcome.
A preference for box 8 is not unusual, of course. It offers the occupant plenty of free galloping room. Capalaba, Appin, Wyong and Kulpara all produce (or did) 15% to 18% of winners out of the 8 box. But none have (or had) such poor figures for the inside boxes. The data shows that, next to 8, the next best boxes are normally 1 and 2, which is not the case at Healesville.
The Healesville outcome is that, while you may well be able to pick up a few winners, sorting out placegetters and exotic bets is in the lap of the gods. That’s why it has been unsatisfactory for TAB betting purposes.
A further interesting comparison is available.
If you watch the starts at Hobart (Elwick) and Devonport – that is, the run along the back straight – you will see that dogs generally run straight ahead. There is rarely any “crashing”, little lateral movement and interference is minimal. Clearly, the configuration at those tracks lends itself to a much fairer race. In those cases, the run from boxes to turn approximates what might happen on a shortish trip on a straight track
But why is this so? No idea. However, the Tassie experience suggests it may not be the inside lure that is the core problem. Rather it is a combination of various track features which, together, promote good or bad racing. Anyway, a drag lure down the centre of a loam surface might not be an option. Not sure about that.
GRV might well send a surveyor to Tassie to measure up their tracks and compare them with what is about to happen at Healesville. Or anywhere else, for that matter.
More broadly, this evidence tells us that “tracks ain’t tracks”. There is no telling how races will eventuate if a track possesses peculiarities which may or may not be obvious. In any event, rarely are they identified. So, if you want to reduce interference, a big time scientific study is the only answer.
Meantime, keep your fingers crossed that the re-born Healesville works well.