Comparison between different generations can never be reliable but everyone likes to make them anyway.
The current debate features the relative merits of new star Barcia Bale, with its immaculate record, and champion Brett Lee. Basically, it’s hard to argue with 11 out of 11, but I am inclined to take up breeder Paul Wheeler’s suggestion and wait a few months until Barcia Bale reaches its likely peak. Top level competition might be the key indicator.
One clue comes from the Wheeler policy of starting Barcia Bale’s career at 21 months, and that only for a Qualie. Its first race start was at 24 months, meaning it had a maturity advantage over many of its early opponents. On the other hand, Brett lee got going unusually early for a male at 16 months of age and retired to stud two months shy of its 3rd birthday. Brett Lee was also a much smaller dog (30.5kg) than Barcia Bale (35.5kg).
Meantime, note that Brett Lee was quicker at Horsham, which is arguably a much faster track today, and at The Meadows, which has also had the benefit of some re-jigging (it is now 7m longer but that is offset by new timing gear). They are the only tracks common to both dogs at this stage but we will have to see if Barcia Bale gets to the Nationals at Hobart (subject to tonight’s Bulli final) where Brett Lee was responsible for a 25.57 run over 457m at the old track. Add about 0.12 to convert to 461m at Elwick (based on average winning times at the two tracks.
Another difference - and it is slight - is that Brett Lee led all the way in 30 of its 37 wins. In its 7 losses (resulting in 6 seconds) it did not lead. So far, Barcia Bale has come from a little behind in 3 of its 10 wins. Once again, the opposition has been considerably different but Barcia Bale may be the stronger finisher. That would be something it has in common with some other members of the litter – Baggett Bale, for example.
Interestingly, neither dog raced at Sandown, bar Brett Lee’s final race, which it lost.
However, if you think back, it brings into perspective how dogs gallop around a turn. No two have the same habits. Some are better able to maintain speed than others. Brett Lee’s awesome 28.88 run around the tight Angle Park track tells us that he had no trouble holding up in that area. He also ran 28.96 and 29.04, so that’s a trio which is unlikely ever to be equalled or even approached – a Usain Bolt effort. Another comparison is available when you examine Lansley Bale’s form around The Meadows (more circular) with Sandown (more cigar shaped). He always did much better around the former, indicating that speed on the turn was his forte. In contrast, both Assassins – Awesome and Whisky - were ordinary at Angle Park and not a lot better at the Meadows, but they killed Sandown and the big tracks. While both got out in the centre of the straights they did get round turns fairly neatly – no doubt why they stacked up so many records.
Incidentally, note that both Brett Lee and Lansley Bale are in the background of Barcia Bale’s pedigree.
In fact, that gives the lie to over-eager comparisons with the newcomer. Brett Lee not only had a spectacular race history – Easter Eggs and the like – but had a massive influence on breeding, both here and overseas. To say that Barcia Bale would do likewise is not impossible but very ambitious indeed.
Anyway, back to the track. The point is that dogs aint dogs, and track designers need to recognise that. This does not mean that all tracks should have identical properties. But it is necessary to realise which cause produces what effect. A line should be drawn between features which inconvenience the odd dog and those which affect the whole field.
Bend starts are the obvious example of the latter. Another is the cutaway first turn concept, most recently introduced at Maitland after GRNSW wrongly claimed it had been a success elsewhere. Two years experience there shows that it has biased the running, more so than usual, in favour of dogs in boxes 1 and 2 and to some extent in 8. They easily lead the sectional times list. Others suffer unless they are good enough to jump in front.
The same cause and the same result occur at Launceston and Cannington, and often at Wentworth Park. For example, in the last National Championship at Launceston, Immortal Love (1) jumped with the field but then got a big break as they went around the first turn and won nicely. Earlier this year, Oaks Road (2) did the same thing in the Perth Cup while others ran off at the turn. Godsend (1) did it in the Silver Chief at The Meadows. Lochinvar Marlow (1) did it in the Paws of Thunder at Wenty. They were not necessarily the best gallopers in the field but the favourable box and the nature of the turn allowed them to nick further away from the rest of the field.
A bias is a left-handed way of solving a problem. Far better to analyse the issues scientifically and come up with solutions that are fairer to all. Not perfect, but fair. This is national issue so it’s down to Greyhounds Australasia to organise such a study.
Happily, the Elwick track at Hobart is a very good one. There can be no excuses there.
Note: Since Brett Lee’s demise, two dogs have pinched its name, one in Chile and one Pakistan-owned (no doubt a cricket follower), both with strong Irish influences. Surely some things are sacred, particularly in Ireland where a string of Australian sires has added considerably to the local scene. Indeed, the Chile version traces back to Top Honcho and the Pakistani one back to Head Honcho.