There’s an excellent picture on the GRV website which tells the story. It looks back at the 545m start on the new Ballarat track. The curve of the rail and the near parallel curve of the outside fence are clear. Unfortunately, the boxes are also on the curve, just as they were on the old Ballarat track, and on many others. Eight dogs will be asked to jump, then turn left and squeeze into space sufficient for four or five. On a brand new track, why repeat a problem?
It makes no sense when it is plain that there is plenty of vacant space outside the fence. It could have been built to bulge outwards and the boxes then placed so that all dogs had a direct line into the circuit proper. It might not have been perfect but it would certainly have generated lower interference.
Alternatively, they could have adopted the Bendigo solution, where the 500m start (effectively replacing one over 545m) is on a very slight curve but offers a pretty good lead into the back straight, while still making demands on the strength of the runners. It’s a good contrast with the speedsters 425m trip. A similar design is present at Bulli, where acceptable 515m and 659m starts replaced a smash and grab 618m on the bend.
Considering that bend starts are contrary to GRV policy, the Ballarat design is odd. But so was Sale where the recent track reconstruction produced a 520m bend start to replace an almost identical 511m bend start. The outside fence remained untouched.
Even history offers some lessons. Tim Haslett’s excellent book “Chasing Dreams”, sponsored by GRV, has examples.
BALLARAT: In the 1960s “the Broadway Park track was small with very tight corners and falls were frequent. It was not uncommon for greyhounds which fell at the first turn to jump the rail and try to cut across the middle of the track in an attempt to rejoin the race”. (Broadway Park preceded the current Morshead Park location).
HORSHAM: 1970s. “Track design is a critical issue for new clubs. Reducing the greyhound track to accommodate the ambulance (for harness races) would have resulted in much tighter corners on the greyhound track. Tight turns increase the chance of interference and injury to greyhounds”.
And who could forget the horrific 300m start at the old Olympic Park track – a 90 degree left turn just after the jump? A tougher challenge has never been seen in this country, possibly excepting the 429m start at Muswellbrook in country NSW, just down the road from the current Racing Minister’s home.
Elsewhere, similar hassles have been evident.
THE GARDENS: As soon as the new track got going, a letter went to the NCA, pointing out that the diabolical bend start for 413m events could be replaced by a slightly shorter and safer trip if they moved the boxes around into what was unused space. NCA’s General Manager responded that it “had been built by experts” and changes were not necessary. Six months later they moved the boxes and created a much more pleasant 400m trip. That cost an extra $50,000.
GOSFORD: As engineering designs hardened for the re-built track, they plainly showed awkward bend starts for the 400m and 600m trips. A letter went to the NSW GBOTA suggesting moving the 400m boxes around, in a shute if necessary, to a spot where dogs could get a good look at the back straight. The committee rejected the suggestion and stuck with the original plan. After six months racing experience, they slid the boxes further to the outside of the existing slab. That helped but it was far from ideal. It still isn’t.
I can speak with authority about those letters, since I wrote them.
To see how shifting boxes off the course proper would work, clubs and authorities have only to visit a nearby galloping track. Shutes are normal there – at every single one on them – and they all work well. Yes, it would put the dogs further away from the lure at the start, but that could not possibly be a problem. After all, sight is the greyhound’s greatest attribute. In fact, way back in time they were known in some regions as ”sighthounds”. It would also be a little fairer as the current bend start boxes give inside dogs an extra advantage because not only are they closer to the lure but they see and hear it a fraction earlier.
“Chasing Dreams” offers an example of that effect. In the bad old days at Geelong the starter was issued with a racebook where each page was marked boldly. “E” meant he should open the lids early, thereby giving the inside dog an advantage. “L” was late, so a late release helped the outside dog jump better while the inside dogs were pinging their noses up against the lids. At the time, Geelong was a family-run concern, and they placed their money carefully.
Underlying this whole issue is the industry’s massive determination to stick with practices which clearly do not work well. Why this happens is a mystery, but it is widespread and consistent. It is obviously part of the culture. Independent views are not welcome. Detailed evidence is a nuisance, apparently.
It is also a barrier to progress. It might be likened to a roulette wheel where half a dozen numbers have been blocked off - there is just no way you can win over time. No serious punter would have a go at that.