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
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
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.