Screwing The Bush – Quietly
Written By Bruce Teague Monday 30th July 2012
Some people may have enjoyed those 12th races at Sandown and The Meadows over the last two weeks. Not too many, though. Only one of the four races run so far has reached the $10,000 mark on the NSW Win tote, and that one just barely. That’s about what a moderate midweek event at the provincials pulls in. It’s a big drop on takings for earlier races, so obviously punters think the 11pm start pushes them way past their bedtime. (For comparison, how many of you stayed up to watch Roger Federer claim his Wimbledon victory – or did you read about it next morning?)
It may have some consequences. While these figures are not really new, it is instructive to see what happened around the traps in those weeks.
In the week commencing July 9 we already know that 23% of surveyed races in the three eastern states started with a short field (see July 26 article). In the following two weeks the score was not a lot different - 19% for the week starting July 16 and 17% for the week starting July 23. Victorian races were responsible for half of all those empty boxes. A few were just bad luck – ie late scratchings – but most were due to a lack of reserves, fields with insufficient nominations (mostly higher grades) or perhaps dogs that did not want to be there in the first place.
So, does an extra 16 (or 32) spots in town affect those provincial fields? It’s hard to tell exactly but when combined with two dozen Non-Penalty races in town each week they must be having some impact.
Whatever the figures, the principle is that the more dogs that race in town, the fewer will race at the provincials. But these days, especially in Victoria, there are not so many dogs to choose from. Between 2003 and 2011 the number of litters registered in Australia fell by 5%. In Victoria the drop was 19%. The number of dogs named fell by 5% (Victoria -3%). However, there was a small increase in “Starters”, which means the available dogs were racing more often, not necessarily a good sign.
The upshot is that Victoria, amongst others, is deliberately downgrading the quality of provincial racing. Despite spending millions on provincial trackworks and the like, GRV is giving those clubs less to work with. And that decline is showing up every week when you do the form. The chickens are coming home to roost.
For example, just in the main provincial meetings last week last week, Geelong ran two maidens and four restricted win races, Warrnambool ran three maidens, Horsham ran three novices and one maiden, Warragul ran six maidens and one novice, while Cranbourne ran two maidens and five novices. Traralgon ran two maidens and four 298m squibs’ races (one of which was also a maiden). Some of the fields at the lesser meetings don’t bear thinking about for betting purposes.
These trends are coinciding with the decline in serious punter numbers and the rise of mug gamblers as a proportion of the total. They are not limited to Victoria as SA, Queensland and NSW are suffering the same way for slightly different reasons. (Next time we will outline further chapters in the maiden saga at The Gardens).
Even the peak events – in Victoria’s popular Cup circuit - are suffering from what has become a common GRV habit of switching the day and the timing of big provincial races. Previously, we listed the shortfalls arising from the move of the Horsham Cup heat and final meetings away from its standard Tuesday twilight slot, but the same thing occurs everywhere. Others have suffered the same fate. Sure, sometimes attendances are good but, outside the main race, overall betting is average to poor. People get used to a particular time and like you to stick to it, just as occurs with trains and planes or your favourite TV program.
This is getting really serious now. How long can you degrade the product and get away with it?
CUSTOMERS RUN LAST
In the next week or so both SA and Victoria will follow Tabcorp with a big website change. The score so far is minus two with one to be decided.
SA will be sending out form and race results in the NSW format, which are the worst in the country. They are so long that forests need to be cut down to print them all, and they include a nifty device which deletes all the box numbers when you try to download them or print them out. No other state does that.
It seems GRNSW is worried about the mafia getting hold of its data which, incidentally, is owned by the people of NSW. But who cares?
All this is part of the Ozchase program, which is designed to harmonise computer programs around the country. That’s a fine principle but the execution is flawed. Besides, Victoria is not taking part.
Meanwhile, Tabcorp, in its customary ivory tower mode, has not bothered to cater for people who may not own the fancy gear Tabcorp IT people are now playing with. (Roughly similar to the one GRV has been using to display its hard-to-read reports). I run Internet Explorer 8, which is next to the most up to date version, but it hates what Tabcorp has just done. Content runs way off the page and, when you zoom it back, it deletes the right hand third of the page. Fortunately, you can still access “old tab” which is fine, if a bit slow, but how long that will last we don’t know. And, no, I can’t upgrade to IE9 for technical reasons that are not relevant here. Anyway, I have no idea if that would work. Nor will thousands of others. Nor, apparently, does Tabcorp.
It seems Tabcorp is now besotted with sports betting and is not too fussed about racing fans, especially if they are not also registered Tabcorp customers.
We live in hope that we can still talk to the Victorians. At the moment, its formguides are the most informative and concise – ten pages for ten races, compared to 35 pages in NSW, perhaps 15 or so elsewhere. Yes, Queensland also provides a 10-page guide, but there is nowhere near as much information in it, so it can’t be compared. Besides, up north (and in SA) they do not work on weekends or public holidays, so information can run behind.