SI Vault
Ernest Havemann
August 27, 1973
The simple reason greyhound racing is booming appears to be that it is fun, maybe more fun than any other form of gambling. It's informal and it's fast, a tabloid version of horse racing. The whole drama from start to finish takes hardly 30 seconds, and then before you know it there's another race coming up. Most tracks run off a race every 17 minutes; you can watch an entire 12-race program in less time than it takes to catch the first eight races at a thoroughbred track.
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August 27, 1973

How To Beat The Dogs

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However, you can't always tell a dog's true class from the program. The program may show that he ran three races out of the money in A, ran out three more times in B and is now entered in C. Looks like a standout tonight. But the greyhound could in fact be just a below-average C dog that happened to get lucky a couple of times. Back on nights not shown in the program, he drew into a poor field of C dogs, benefited from some jamming by the others, won, moved up to B—and then repeated the process to move up into A. Even in Grade C tonight, if this is an above-average field of C dogs, he has very little chance.

The people who seem to do the best job of handicapping remember every dog's record since way back when. They know when he last won, against what kind of field and whether the track was fast or slow. They also know his running characteristics—whether he breaks fast or slow, how much closing lick he has, whether he likes to run on the rail or go wide. They pay a lot of attention to post position; they love to catch a wide-running dog that draws the No. 8 box in a field made up mostly of dogs that prefer to run on the inside, or a fast-breaking rail runner going from the No. 1 box in a race where the No. 2 and No. 3 can be counted on to carry the rest of the field wide.

For the casual racegoer the best advice probably comes from Sonny Alderson, a leading Florida trainer. When Alderson goes to a track where he doesn't know the dogs, he boxes four greyhounds in every race. Two of them he chooses on the basis of class; he looks for the two best dogs as shown by the grades in which they have been running and their percentage of wins and seconds in their total number of starts. For the other two he looks for early speed—dogs that have consistently been running on top or close up at the first call shown in the past performances.

Alderson's method makes a lot of sense. A dog that can get to the first turn on top avoids whatever jamming takes place; in fact about 55% of all races are won by the dog that leads at the first call and another 25% by the dog that is running second. It is better to have two fast breakers than just one because dogs don't always get out of the box the same way. Most of them rock back and forth in the starting box while waiting for the lid to pop open, and sometimes the start catches them moving the wrong way, like a runner picked off leaning the wrong way at first base. And natural-born front-runners tend to lose interest unless they break on top.

As for taking the two best dogs—insofar as one can determine which are actually best—this also makes sense. Class does tell. On the average a solid C dog runs .10 of a second or a length and a half faster than a solid D dog, and a B dog has the same kind of superiority in speed over a C dog.

One thing for sure, regardless of how you pick your dogs you will get a fair run for your money. A lot of casual racegoers seem convinced that the races are crooked; on any night at any track you can hear people exchanging tales about sandpapering the dogs' feet or filling them up with water to keep them from winning. Nonsense. Dog racing is without doubt the most honest sport in the world. There is no way to fix a dog race except by giving half the field some pills and betting on the other half. Although this has been tried by betting rings in the past, the security around the kennels and the tracks makes it impossible now.

The dogs have to weigh in at an assigned figure that precludes any overeating or overdrinking, and for hours before the races they are securely segregated in a compound where the public can see them but cannot touch them. And once they jump out of that starting box they are on their own, running without any kind of human guidance, assistance or hindrance. Greyhounds being more honest than people, the races are as clean as a hound's tooth.

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