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HOW TO BEAT THE DOGS
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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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.

The rugged individualism of the greyhound contributes mightily to the excitement of the sport. They are the fastest-sprinting dogs of any breed. They want to get to that rabbit first—even though they know very well that it isn't a real bunny. The idea of slowing down the pace, like a jockey rating a horse, is foreign to the greyhound's nature.

Most greyhounds have their own preferred patterns of running. Some like to stick on the rail, some 10 feet out, some so wide that they seem to skim off the outside fence. Then there are some that hug the rail on the straightaways and go wide on the turns, or their mirror images, who run the other way, outside on straightaways, inside on turns. Whatever path a greyhound chooses—and he usually chooses it the first time he goes around a track and sticks with it as long as he races—he regards it as his own private and heaven-sent right. He will take that path come hell or high water.

Many dogs are not only concerned about their own direction. If another dog tries to pass, they will turn their heads and fight him off as well as they can in their racing muzzles. A dog that gets into the habit of interfering is promptly ruled off the track, but there are no inquiries or claims for rough racing with the greyhounds. In fact, in most dog races there are so many incidents that would be called fouls in horse racing that half the field would have to be disqualified.

The size of the field does not seem to have any effect on the mayhem. Almost all U.S. tracks have eight-dog fields, but there appears to be no more crowding with them than with the six-dog fields abroad or with the nine-dog fields at Multnomah Park in Portland, Ore. As a matter of fact, without the struggle to reach and round the first turn, the races would hardly be fun at all. Greyhounds are so consistent that if they ran down a straightaway in lanes separated by glass panels, the results would be sure as death and taxes. Anybody who knew anything about reading past performances could pick the races 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8 with hardly a miss.

Precisely because greyhounds are so consistent, they are a good bet, even with all the jostling around the first turn. It is not easy picking the winners. It never is in any gambling enterprise—but it can be done with a lot of work. Here are some tips:

The best bet at a dog track is the quinella, picking the first two dogs across the finish line regardless of their order. And the best way to play it is to box three dogs—that is, pick three dogs and tie them up in the three possible quinella combinations that they represent (1-2, 1-3, 2-3). Or better still, if you don't mind doubling the stakes, to box four dogs—buying the six combinations 1-2, 1-3, 1-4, 2-3, 2-4 and 3-4. With a three-dog box you still have a chance if one of your dogs is knocked out going into the turn and with a four-dog box you still have a chance if two of your dogs are knocked out. Trying to pick the winner, or using one dog as a key in the quinella, is too hazardous because there is too much bumping in the run to the turn.

The question is how to find the three or four dogs with the best chances. You cannot pick the dogs like the horses. Running down past performances in the program you might find that the No. 6 dog has run the usual [5/16]-mile distance in 31.15, whereas no other dog in the race has gone faster than 31.50 in the last six races, the only ones shown in the program. Since .07 of a second equals a length, the program would make it appear to a horseplayer that the No. 6 is five lengths better than anything else and thus a mortal lock. Not so. The times that appear in the program do not mean all that much.

Dog tracks are mostly sand and the dogs are in about the same position as a man running along a beach. If the tide has just gone out and the sand is packed down, the man can run his best. If the sand is dry, he may sink in up to his ankles. Like the shoreline, the speed of the track surface on any given night depends on how much water is in it, which in turn depends on how thoroughly it was watered that afternoon, on the temperature and on the humidity. Since the greyhounds are consistent, they will put forth almost exactly the same effort one night after another if nothing gets in their way. But a dog running around the track alone, and doing his very best, might be clocked in 31.15 on a night when the track is very fast and in 32.15 on another night when the track is very slow. There can be that much difference from one night to the next—a full second, better than 14 lengths. In fact, even on the same night the track may slow down half a second between the first race and the last.

Class means a lot in dog racing, but it is not as easy to spot as the amateur handicapper might think. Greyhounds run in five grades, A, B, C, D and E. When a dog wins, it moves up a grade. When it runs out of the money three times in a row it drops a grade. Often a dog that drops down is a good bet; there are dogs that seldom if ever win in A but win almost every time in B.

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