Does Age Matter When Handicapping The Hounds
By Eb Netr
The general rule is that greyhounds run until they reach their 5th birthday. At least, that's what most "experts" have written over the years. However, if you look at a program, you'll find that there are dogs who are more than 5 at almost all the tracks.
As a matter of fact, if you check the dogs' ages at smaller tracks like Pensacola and Ebro, you'll find many dogs who are older than 5. I once bet on a seven year old dog who won and paid $32, but that was back in my wilder and crazier days. The dog was a little female who got out pretty good, but not first, and closed at the end of the race.
It was beautiful to watch, the way she threaded her way through the pack and nipped the leader at the wire. But then, she'd been doing that for at least 6 years, so it was old hat for her. She was an exception. Most greyhounds are ready to hang up their muzzles by the time they're 5.*
If a dog doesn't have any serious injuries, and it's a strong, healthy dog, it can still race when it's over 5, as long as it's legal in the state where it runs. Different states - and different tracks - have different rules. When you're handicapping the races and trying to decide whether an older dog is a contender, there are some things you have to take into consideration.
While older dogs can still run, no matter how good they are, over time they slow down. If they're breakers, they may not be able to outbreak the younger dogs. They'll start getting out second instead of first, and then third and fourth as they slow down. If they're closers, they may not have the same reserve of strength at the end of the race, so they'll close to second, then third, then fourth.
They'll be less consistent. Their win percentage will do down and their place and show percentages may go up. They may need more days between races to recover, but whether they get that or not depends on the racing secretary, their trainers and owners. This is something you can look for on the program when you see an older dog. Notice whether it's had more days off than other dogs.
Of course, there are some outstanding dogs - the dogs who win stakes races with very fast times - who manage to stay competitive longer than most dogs. These are the Mickey Mantles and Babe Ruths of dog racing. They're so much better than most of the other dogs that their decline isn't as noticeable. However, even super dogs reach a point where they either just can't make it in the lowest grade or go to the stud farm before they're too old for that kind of performance.
If you're concerned about age when you handicap, my advice is not to consider it a major factor like post position, running style, pace of the race etc. However, if it comes down to two dogs who are almost exactly alike for other factors, I'd take a close look at the older dog's in-the-money percentages. If they're low, it could indicate that the dog is slipping and not as likely to come in.
We all get old. I'm sure I was sharper when I was younger. But on the other hand, other factors compensate for sharpness as we age. I know I'm a better handicapper now than I was when I was younger. I may not be as fast, but I'm more thorough. Old dogs may not be as fast, but if they're still managing to avoid being graded off, you have to admit that they probably know their way around the track better than some of the younger dogs.