Greyhound Handicapping: Take A Turn For The Better

Eb Netr

June 20th, 2013

I once read somewhere that, unlike human runners, greyhounds don't need to slow down for turns. When humans run on a banked track, when they get to a turn, their feet actually stay on the ground longer, to compensate for centripetal force that's trying to push them over as they round the turn.

That means that, on turns, humans have to use the muscles that they need for speed, for stabilization as well and this slows them down. But because of the way greyhounds are made it's their long leg bones and strong tendons that stabilize them in turns, so their muscles can just keep working on their speed.

This has a downside though. It means that dogs that are covering about 14 times their body length every second on the straight track are still doing that on the corners. Since greyhounds run in groups, usually there is more than one greyhound on the turn at a time. If one crosses the path of another, or even brushes another greyhound, it's enough to set off a chain reaction that forces one or more dog off the turn and out of the race.

Anyone who has bet on a greyhound program can tell you how crucial it is to pick greyhounds that can make it around the first turn and come out the other side without mishap. Some of us actually hold our breath until they clear the turn. Or, at least, until the dogs we played clear it. I know I do when there's a nice win at stake.

Because of these issues on the turns, especially the first turn, I look for dogs that appear to be able to handle turns without trouble. I prefer dogs that break first and are alone at the head of the pack at the turns, or dog that get out just behind the other dogs and then close in the stretch. The latter kind of dog is tricky though.

You have to look closely at the race setup and figure out if the closer is going to be close enough to make it to the leaders in the stretch. Ideally, you want a dog that breaks to the part of the track that most of the dogs aren't on. A mid track runner in a field of mostly inside running dogs, for instance. That way, he'll break behind the pack and, while they all run up the rail, he'll have the whole rest of the track to himself, so that he can sail past the inside runners in the stretch and give you a win bet.

For breakers, I want to see that it has a clear shot at getting to the first turn before any other dog that runs on the part of the track that it does. One good setup is when one of two fastest breakers in a race runs inside and hugs the turns and the other runs outside and wide on turns or has trouble on turns. I play the first dog and hope that the second dog runs true to form and doesn't get close enough to the inside runner to affect it on the turn.

The worst scenario, and one I never play into, is when there is a lot of early speed in a race and also a lot of dogs with trouble lines. You often see this in the lower grades. This is how dogs stay in lower grades. They may have good speed and breaking ability, but they just can't handle the turns or keep from bumping other dogs. The only time they win is when they're in a race where they're the ONLY early speed.

I usually sit out those races, unless there's a good closer in the bunch and I think it can pick up the pieces after the early speed dogs get tangled up on the turn. You can't depend on that though. It's more likely that one of them will manage to scramble around the turn and hit the finish line while the rest of the tangle is vainly trying to catch up in the stretch. The problem is that you can't figure out which dog will be lucky enough to survive the turn.

Some tracks are more prone to trouble on the turns. The now-closed Twin River or Lincoln Greyhound Track was one of those. Whether the turn wasn't banked enough or was just too tight will remain a moot question. I can tell you, however, that a lot of dogs had trouble with that turn and it was a sad day when the program stopped reporting the first to turn times (FTT) for the dogs.

Two tracks that currently publish First To Turn times in the program are Daytona Beach and Tri State. That makes it easier to figure out which greyhound will reach the first turn and avoid trouble at those tracks. I look at the FTT number and also at their times to get an idea of where each greyhound will be in relation to the other dogs when they enter the first turn.

Of course, you also have to take into consideration whether the dog with the best FTT will have a clear field for the break, because that definitely affects whether it will be able to achieve its best FTT. Being able to evaluate these factors can really help you "see" the shape of the race as it unfolds from the starting boxes to the first turn. And that, in my opinion, is where the finish of the race is determined in a large number of races.