It is surprising that gradient problems on home turns don’t get more attention. Previously we had touched on the subject of the flat home turn at Bulli but it’s really just the tip of the iceberg. It should not be a difficult challenge for designers or builders. Either you get it right or you don’t.
For example, Victoria has gone to a lot of trouble to produce an excellent booklet to guide course curators. But its coverage stops as you enter the home straight. It does not specify how far into the straight the steeper gradient should continue.
Observations at a new track such as Geelong suggest it does not go far enough. On the outside track, runners regularly fan wide as they come out of the turn, thereby creating a risk of further interference. In any event, the running order changes and so do the results trainers or punters might have been hoping for.
Elsewhere, a flat home turn is evident – to varying degrees – at Albion Park, Maitland, The Gardens, Shepparton, Cranbourne and Angle Park. Sale is also suspect as dogs often seem confused about exactly which course they should follow. To that list you need to add the new kid on the TAB block – Goulbourn. There, the odd runner can be seen tip-toeing along the grass verge in the home straight. A lot of improvements occurred at the complex but they forgot about the track itself. GRNSW does not have a good history in this area.
An intriguing thing about Bulli and Maitland is that both were rebuilt in the last decade or so. Yet both tracks had the same home turn fault previously. At the old Bulli track I have seen a runner given a bump as they entered the home straight and then – at high speed – having no choice but to jump the picket fence which used to be there. It still finished sixth. The rebuilding process failed to correct this problem.
In some of these cases the culprit seems to be an original design flaw. Builders appear to have first positioned the boxes and only then worried about creating a circuit with the right gradients. A better plot would be to set up a mini “velodrome” effect at the outset and, having done that, then put the boxes into place.
This is especially important where boxes are abeam of the home turn. The Gardens, Goulbourn and Cranbourne home turns reflect that clash of interests (remember also that The Gardens designer got the old 413m bend start badly wrong, and only belatedly were the boxes shifted around to their current 400m spot). So, too, the former Gold Coast and Singleton tracks. At some of those tracks dogs have been seen to lose the turn and almost hit the nearby boxes, or, in the Gold Coast case, run out of the SKY picture (in the old days there used to be 732m boxes near the turn).
In contrast, another newish track – Gosford – has some pretty ordinary features but its home turn is excellent. The nearby 600m boxes were positioned so as to allow a nice gradient as dogs moved into the home straight, never mind where they came from. That may or may not have been an accident but it works well anyway – dogs can pass on the outside without losing too much ground, which is the whole point of the exercise.
Of course, good intelligence on this and other aspects of the subject would emerge from a detailed scientific study which the industry badly needs to set up. Until adequate design principles are established, the only method left is guesswork, and it has failed.
Well that’s not quite right. Maybe we could ask the Kiwis? They seem to have done a better job.
Short fields dominated nearly all National Championship heats at Albion Park, Bulli, Sandown, Meadows and Angle Park, as well as the two distance heats in Perth. Albion had fields of three and five in two of theirs. Is this a lack of desire, a lack of quality dogs, or a dislike of Hobart’s one-turn track? In at least two prominent cases, trainers have specifically elected not to try.
One good dog – a recent Group 1 finalist - actually raced at a provincial track on the night of the heats. In the distance heats, the majority of dogs are just not up to the class anyway but there is not much you can do about that – not in the short term.
One question this poses is whether form in a small field will transfer to form in an 8-dog field. Of the NSW heats, for example, only Barcia Bale showed much promise there, but time will tell.
The subject is more deserving of an inquiry than swimming performances. But to do that, you would need to convince six states (or eight major clubs) to get together to talk about it. If they do, they might also discuss changing the race title. It has never been a championship at all, but a State of Origin competition. Several major events are more worthy of the championship tag. There is nothing wrong with the more correct SoO title, so why not use it?
Looking at the bigger picture, the need for good one-turn tracks can be undersold. They are vital to make sure we optimise the contribution of the entire greyhound population. Victoria has plenty of options, although the reason for setting up both kinds of tracks at Geelong escapes me. NSW has adequate but not plentiful alternatives, while two of Tasmania’s three tracks fit the bill. WA barely squeezes by with Mandurah.
Queensland trainers are crying out for one to replace the lost Gold Coast but political interference means they are going to have to wait two or three years at least and suffer a continuing diversion of local dogs to the Northern NSW tracks. That’s risky. Unfortunately, SA has rejected suggestions to switch Gawler from circle to one-turn (I know that because I have suggested it several times) and instead spent money on the existing layout. All its substantial tracks are now circles which provides an unbalanced product, thereby making it harder to attract or maintain its racing stock. States in a delicate situation like SA and Queensland should leave no stone unturned to improve the variety.