Have a choice between a nippy dog and a hard chaser? Take the keen one any time – at least you know what it will do. The other one will give you ulcers.
A reminder of this point came when the two star Bales – Bekim and Heston – were displaying their wares recently. Bekim runs in the centre of the track (or did) while Heston rails beautifully. But both not only chase well but come home as powerfully as any seen in a long time. Their respective record times at Sandown and The Meadows were made in the last 100m, not the first.
To be more accurate, Bekim’s run was a genuine record, Heston’s wasn’t. In each case GRV had tricked up the timing mechanisms to make everything two to three lengths faster (their estimates). This peculiar move meant that the relationships between times at Sandown or The Meadows and times at all other Australian distances were distorted. Each track has three distances and there are some 400 different trips across the nation so that resulted in form students having to deal with 4,800 wrong numbers (counting first sections and overall times only).
And, contrary to some reports, Heston Bale did not begin “brilliantly” in his record run. He began OK, was second at the judge, railed through to the lead in the back straight and powered home. A great run, but only a pretend record.
I don’t know what his run home time was, nor do I need to know. For a few reasons, this is one of the code’s biggest wastes of effort and space on the semaphore board.
First, a good run-home time will not tell you whether the dog will get a longer distance. A strong finish over 520m may well peter out 10m or 20m later. You never know. Similarly, for example, greyhound racing is littered with cases of 600m runners which were favoured over 700m but faded badly in the straight. You hear only about the winners, never about all the losers, which are the vast majority.
Second, if you want to analyse times seriously, using the second section or the run-home time will not improve your results. 99% of a dog’s performance is explained by the first section and the overall time. I know that because we have tried umpteen times in umpteen ways to incorporate the other two times into form analysis programs, only to find that they make no difference.
One of the confusing aspects of second sections is that if the dog is held up early – ie not spending as much petrol – it has more left to show us when it does get free. This is also the “Elektra” effect – don’t chase for the first half of the race, then fly home in spectacular fashion.
Conversely, it is not unusual to see a normally moderate beginner/strong finisher suddenly fly out of the boxes to the lead, only to fade in the home straight. Again, there is a finite amount of petrol in the tank.
Third, you can’t be sure what dog ran the run-home time anyway. Unless it was leading-all-the-way, the dog hitting the earlier marker and the winner may be two different runners. In any event, unless you (a) know where the beam is and (b) you were watching the race or the video keenly you would not be able to tell which dog was in front at the critical time.
Anyway, both Bekim Bale (if it gets back to the track) and Heston Bale seem as though they would get 600m or longer. But we will never know until they try.
What we are lacking at the moment are dogs that can run out a genuine 700m, and do so consistently. You can count the good ones on your fingers – fingers of one hand really. Some others are dependent on getting a fly at the start and not being hassled during the trip, which does not make them a very reliable betting proposition. The rest just cannot run the trip.
In places like Queensland and SA they have been making valiant attempts to promote distance racing, only to uncover lots of very ordinary dogs. WA distance dogs are rarely competitive when they come to the east while Tasmania’s top stayer failed badly in Victoria.
Are we breeding them right? Rather than offering incentives for distance races it might be more productive in the long run to offer those bonuses to distance sires (whatever they are is for experts to decide).
Failing improvements in that area, we are now being sentenced to a life increasingly dominated by 300m-400m races, all of which are less predictable than the races they replaced. That’s a massive change compared with 10 years ago. And not a good one. The fans like longer races.
Historically, the average greyhound’s top speed has occurred in trips around the 435m mark. After that, and barring freaks, it is just a question of which one is slowing down least. It will be interesting to check in a couple of year’s time to see if that has changed.