The thing with racing is that it’s full of opinions - all different, of course. That’s fair enough as without opinions there would be no betting and therefore no racing of any substance.
But in this column, the idea is to avoid putting up opinions unless they are supported by facts – either our own facts or someone else’s. For example, this next opinion does have quite a few facts to support it. The crux of it is that we do not agree with GRV.
Having just negotiated a handsome increase in commissions, GRV has now distributed the extra cash across all clubs but the big winners are in the city. First, there is the huge jump in prizes for each city club’s major annual event. These now offer between a half a million and one million dollars, depending on how you count it. Second, their prime weekly meetings are expanded from 11 to 12 races. If you assume a 10-race meeting is standard (which it is in most areas of the country) nearly $1.5 million is being paid out each year for the extra two races, twice a week.
In my view, that is bad policy for these reasons:
1. While you may get away with it on Saturday nights, a late finish for the longer meetings – ie around 11 pm – is not popular with customers, and no doubt also with trainers who have an early rise ahead of them every day. The evidence is on the board; turnover drops significantly after 10 pm, sometimes even earlier. For example, on the NSW Win tote for Sandown last Thursday, the last four races averaged 35% less than the first eight races. Note also that the harness folk have for years started and finished earlier than the dogs.
2. Each dollar spent in town is one that will not go to provincial clubs. Yet there we have already seen a steady decline in average field quality as well as a bigger proportion of short races and maidens or restricted win races. These events are less predictable and therefore discourage punters from betting more (although mug gamblers would not know the difference). And none of that is helped by continually swapping dates around between clubs. People like regularity.
3. To add to the pain, the decade long practice of offering Non-Penalty meetings in town has already cut back the demand for spots at the provincials. City NP meetings are a magnet for promising young dogs hoping to go on to better things and for older dogs which know their way around but can’t quite match motors with dogs at the main meetings. Indirectly, this would be another reason for the current high proportion of short races at provincial meetings; their dogs often can’t handle longer trips.
4. That’s now two factors which work against week-round success for the industry. Surely the objective should be to promote daily patronage of greyhound racing, thereby keeping customers coming back for more. Given social factors and intense competition from other recreational options it is important not to leave any stone unturned.
5. The two city clubs are already flat out getting enough nominations for their main meetings (reserves are sometimes missing for the higher grades) and are routinely holding open nominations for the NP meetings. That is, there are not enough dogs on offer in total. When you get that situation, what sort of dogs will top it up? How good, or how fit, will they be, or are they just going into a race to save trialling fees, or to keep a mate happy?
6. As a matter of interest, the first such “big” Sandown meeting last Thursday included one dog with only a maiden victory behind it and two dogs with just two wins. The Meadows fields on Saturday included two dogs with just the maiden win and seven with only two wins. Would they have got a draw 10 years ago? Unlikely.
7. The dog shortage is not a surprise because the industry at large has the same problem. There are weaknesses in Sydney and Brisbane as well. The Australian dog population has been static for 20 years or more, so all the extra racing has, and will, draw starters from the bottom of the barrel. Doubly so for TAB racing, which in Victoria’s case means all racing.
8. The monster prizes now on offer for the Australian Cup and the like will not offer any additional return on the investment. The same dogs will compete, the same betting will occur, the same crowds will turn up. Note that the huge financial success of the Miata-Sandown Cup meeting had nothing to do with prize money and everything to do with good promotion.
9. On the other hand, bigger increases in provincial prize money would offer some hope of developing the industry in those areas, assuming they were accompanied by good promotion, and therefore of achieving higher statewide turnover. Remember that pools on week nights are currently well below the level which would encourage decent betting. Twilights are a little better but still a challenge.
10. On top of all that, many punters (including myself and my own customers) are finding it harder each week to find suitable races and bet types on which to invest. That includes provincial races with potential “bolters”, the heavily biased track at Meadows, as well as Sandown where regular disruptions mean Win dividends have for 20 years been higher than at any other major track – ie everyone finds it hard to pick winners there.
In other words, I do not think GRV has added up all the pluses and minuses. Its vision needs to widen. That may now be an opinion but does GRV have more facts that we do?
As for owners and trainers, they are going to pick up the $36 million whatever happens; it’s just a matter of who is handing it out.