I’ve often been asked to speak about the importance of position posting as a factor in greyhound racing.
Does the #1 box have an advantage? Are dogs starting from the “middle” boxes, #4, #5 and #6, disadvantaged? Isn’t the outside, #8 box, pretty good? The answer? ABSOLUTELY! The next question: “HOW absolutely?”
You can look up, or compile for yourself, a chart of how the starting box bias works out. (Be aware that it may be vastly different for different tracks, and may even vary at one track, from grade to grade, and certainly from course length to course length!) In the majority of cases, you will see some positive bias toward the #1 box, perhaps also the #8, and, in some cases, the #2 or #3 boxes may show a slight edge. Likewise, in most cases, the #4, #5, #6 boxes will indicate a lower percentage of winners.
The most common explanation of this is summed up in terms of likely interference, or lack of same. The #1 and #8 dogs start with dogs only on one side of them. All of the other dogs face possible contact from dogs on both sides. Considering this, what one factor makes interference on the break less likely? FAST BREAKING ABILITY! The dog that gets out faster than his neighbours is far less likely to make, or experience, contact from other dogs, regardless of its starting position.
Thus, a dog starting from the “middle” boxes is less likely to have contact problems if it breaks quickly, far MORE problems if it breaks more poorly than its neighbors. Likewise, a dog starting from the #1 or #8 box, though it has fewer “next door neighbours”, will still face probable contact if it breaks slowly.
Keep in mind, too, that although the #1 and #8 dogs have other dogs only on one side of them, this is not as strong an advantage as it may seem at first thought. While the #1 dog has only the #2 dog to be immediately concerned with, it also has the RAIL on its left side and seven dogs on its right side, some of which will be trying to get themselves to the rail, or at least to the inside.
Likewise, while the #8 dog has only one “neighbour” to be concerned with on the break, it also has the outside FENCE on it’s right, and probably at least a couple of outside running dogs to its left, who will sometimes push the #8 dog to the outer edge of the track. (Note: In the US, several tracks are providing a space, or an empty box, between the #4 and #5 positions, to minimise the disadvantage to the “middle” dogs.)
There are those who claim that the inside starting dog, if it continues the rest of the race on the inside of the track, has an edge because the inside running dog has a shorter race to run than the wide running dogs. While this is mathematically true, a dog running the rail has tighter turns to negotiate, and somewhat more chance of getting squeezed against the rail. Think in terms of racing cars on an oval track. It has long since been proven that the fastest way to get around the track is to run fairly “wide” on the straightaways and to cut down on the inside of the turns.
Though this is hard to train for, from time to time you will see a greyhound who has figured this out. I call this the ability to “sling shot” into and out of a curve. Generally, this dog’s record will prove that this is a strong advantage! Otherwise, simply determining that a dog is an “inside”, “mid-track” or “outside” runner is no big advantage, unless you can see how this particular style fits, or doesn’t fit, with the other seven dogs’ running styles.
Even so, as you compile statistics on this factor, you may well find that, in some instances, a substantial edge does seem to exist for some boxes and a distinct shortcoming for others. In this case, you may have a factor to consider in your handicapping. But before you assign too many “plus” points to the good boxes, or deduct points for the poorer boxes, you must take into mind each of the dog’s breaking abilities. In general, a slow breaker suffers more from the poor boxes, and usually benefits far less from the better boxes, and a fast breaker can overcome the poor boxes, and enjoy even stronger benefit from the better boxes. But, as with any other handicapping factor, don’t make the common mistake of “making mountains out of molehills”!
Like boxers, gymnasts and other athletes, the biggest difference between greyhound contestants is the “will to win”. The “WANT”. He who wants the win the most is most likely to achieve it. Often, this factor alone carries more weight than physical ability. The same is true with dogs. Basically, they are pack animals. And, you will observe some who perform this way – they take delight in just running with the pack. Some of these dogs will “hang on” for months or years, finishing in the money just often enough to avoid being eliminated. A few, however, will carry that spark of competition – they just don’t like seeing other dogs’ tails in front of them. They want, more than the other seven dogs, to, by golly, CATCH that lure!
Since you can’t interview or psychoanalyse these dogs, how do you spot them? By their records. They will be seen to have the drive. They don’t give up. They’re not out there just to romp with their buddies. They can’t win every start, but their desire is evident. We handicappers measure “speed”; “jump”; “class”; “early and late speed”; and many other factors. Sometimes we can sort out, in a particular dog’s records, an elusive quality that we might call “TRY”, or “HEART”. It’s not always that evident. But when you see it, consider that it can carry a good deal of weight in your handicapping process!
To speak briefly of some other handicap-able factors that usually don’t deserve the time sometimes wasted on them. (Remember my warning of the hazards of OVER handicapping?)
Don’t, for example, give a great deal of time in trying to unravel the factor of “weight”. Do heavier dogs do better on the turns? Do lighter dogs tend to break faster? Are heavier or lighter dogs best on the inside of the track, or outside? The truth, here, is in the dogs’ records. While you can measure and compare weight factors using the “of & in” method. (OF the last 30 dogs who weighed over 32kg, how many finished IN the Trifecta, as an example…) Some “heavy” dogs do well, some lighter dogs do well. Again, it is more a matter of desire than weight. Look more at how the dog has been performing, as opposed to how much it weighs!
Is it important to check a dog’s sire and bitch? Only, perhaps, if you consider it a factor in a Maiden race. Otherwise, the dog’s record speaks for itself, and its mum and dad aren’t going to be out there on the track clearing a way for it to win.
Likewise with trainers and owners. Clearly, some trainers do a far better job than others, but, again, this will show up in each dog’s past performance records. A dog doing poorly is not going to be pushed faster in the race at hand by its trainer.
And even a poor trainer gets lucky now and then with a dog that has both ability and spunk! If you start handicapping trainers and owners, other than, perhaps, in Maiden races, you’ll find yourself in a black hole of losses.
How about the post parade? Do you pay a lot of attention to this? Can you spot the stronger dogs by their looks or behaviour? The weaker dogs? Does a dog pulling strongly at its leash indicate more desire? Is a dog needing to be pulled to the starting boxes a sure loser? A lot of otherwise serious handicappers put a lot of stock in the parade. In my opinion, the smarter ones don’t. I’ve seen dogs who had to be carried to the starting box break out and win. I’ve seen dogs which couldn’t seem to wait to get to the boxes proceed to chase seven tails around the track.
On the other hand, I once noticed a lady sitting behind me at one track who seemed to be cashing several more Trifecta tickets than I could manage. I had to ask her: “How are you picking the dogs, and how are you betting?” She gladly answered, “I just watch the post parade, and box the three dogs with the brightest eyes, for $6!” I had spent several hours handicapping the race program, and was betting an average of nearly 10 times that much. Yikes! On the other hand, I did notice in one post parade, years ago, that the favourite dog was actually limping.
I deleted it from my wager, and scored quite well. I watched a few hundred post parades for a while after that, but seldom do so anymore.
By the way, if you fancy you are a good judge of dog flesh, do you think you could tell, from observing the post parade alone, if the forthcoming race was a Maiden race or a top class race?
How about the dogs’ gender? Do males, (dogs), fare better than females, (bitches)? Again, let the records speak for themselves. In the US, female dogs tend to carry a slight edge on the longer courses, but you would not give a female any extra points for being female if she had not been performing well. Again, to test this factor for yourself, the “Of and IN” test will tell the tale. Don’t let heresay affect your approach. Check these kinds of factors for yourself!
By William ‘Bad Bill’ McBride
PRACTICAL PUNTING – JULY 2009