In one way greyhound racing is a lot like the human race – it spends a great deal of time and effort looking after its young. There are precious few opportunities for old dogs, though - no pensions, no seniors’ clubs, no discounts on the trains, not even a senior dogs racing circuit (except in Victoria). But I digress.
Maiden races are very necessary things. You have to start somewhere. But do we need to see so many? To coin a phrase, they are better heard of but not seen. Yet often they make up a third of the TAB program, which seems an awful lot for dogs which barely know their way around a track.
You might see quite a few favourites winning these races but that’s more a matter of insiders knowing what’s been showing up in private trials and betting accordingly. The public generally have no idea because little or no public form is available.
Some of the most problematical are added prize money maiden series at places like Ipswich, Dapto and Warrnambool. Opportunities there emerge either as “prizes” for buying at an organised puppy auction or by nominating (at great expense) at whelping time. The end result is a terrible mix of quality in the fields eventually on offer – some good, some rubbish, and quite a few un-raced starters.
Which then leads to the next stage such as the Young Star series run at Ballarat this week. Age is the only qualifier there (and at other clubs with similar events) so, once again, a wide mix of quality appears.
Every single one of Ballarat’s seven heats contained a maiden runner. In one case, an un-raced one. Yet prize money on offer for each heat was the same as that for the FFA race on the program. That seems a poor reward for trainers who have spent a couple of years or so building up their charges to the higher standard.
Defenders of these policies make two points.
The first is that maidens attract good turnover, often as much as races with well performed dogs. Yes, but that’s the problem. What sort of investor would put his money on dogs he can know little or nothing about? Obviously only a mad gambler. Surely we need a client base which can recognise and support higher standard racing? That’s where the code’s real growth could come from.
Second, some emphasise that top dogs often come out of these auction series. Absolutely - no doubt about that. After all, most trainers would be holding back their better youngsters for the chance to make big money from the start. But that completely misses the point - such dogs would emerge anyway, regardless of the size of the winner’s purse. A maiden win is just the first step on the way to fame and glory.
There are some basic principles to attend to here.
Maidens do not know how to race and therefore do not warrant equal rewards to performed dogs, let alone added prize money. They should learn their trade first and then work their way up.
Next, a conundrum. Why is it that clubs/graders/whoever, when confronted with a list that includes both performed and un-raced dogs, automatically spread the newcomers equally amongst all the heats? Rather than putting them together where they can harm only themselves, they end up posing unanswerable queries in every single race. That is precisely what happened in the Ballarat Young Stars.
Following on from the last point, why continue to allow un-raced dogs to compete in premium events such as Victoria’s Silver Chief series? That’s insulting to serious punters and does nothing to help achieve cleanly run races. However, note that SA has just recently banned this practice, just as NSW insists on first starters having first run in an official qualifying trial. Others should follow.
Finally, how is it possible to justify supporters of big turnover meetings cross-subsidising unpredictable maiden races? Except in part at Warrnambool, connections don’t fund these low standard series, punters do.
Better racing is not hard to achieve. You just have to give it priority over everything else.