There was movement at the station, the weather is closing in and the dogs are on the run. (Apologies to Banjo Paterson – it’s always worth a read. If you would like the proper version, click here).
It’s a good time to take stock. We have just started a new financial year. So where is Clancy? Does he exist? How is the industry going? What’s good and what’s not? What are we really chasing? Let’s take a leaf out of the footballers’ book and do some ratings. By all means do your own marking as well.
BREEDING - 7/10
Supervision is strong. Backyard efforts are much fewer now. Everyone has a free choice and the market decides who comes out on top. AI is now legal, unlike the horses. The Wheeler combine is back on top, but not over 700m. Subsidies are widespread but offer no obvious benefits.
But where is it headed? The shortage of good stayers and the rapidly rising popularity of short races parallels what happened years ago with thoroughbreds once the Golden Slipper, Blue Diamond and other big purses arrived to exploit youngsters. Kiwis and Europeans started winning the Melbourne Cup.
Is anybody analysing this trend? What is the impact of a skinnier dog, compared with the more robust one of a few decades ago (not my words but those of experienced insiders)? Are there good and bad strains? Regular independent reviews are needed.
WELFARE - 7/10
Again, this subject has been getting lots of attention – I think. The subject is not all that transparent. There is plenty of supervision and vets are looking into illnesses such as thumps. Rules about temperature effects are firmly in place, and they are policed. GAP is a help but it is far from a massive influence.
As against that, a glance through academic areas suggests that few projects are addressing greyhounds but instead are aimed at other breeds (which are virtually never as pure as greyhounds). The biggest risk to safety is from poorly designed tracks. Anti-racing lobbies are already out in force in the thoroughbred game here. Overseas, greyhound racing is regularly under attack. Are we doing enough?
WAGERING - 4/10
Totals have been creeping up on the back of extra meetings, better shares of commissions in some states and a few government grants. TABs have been actively pursuing mug gamblers but not regular punters, wherever they may be.
All codes of racing have been sitting by, watching their share of the gambling market fall and fall, thereby losing touch with much of the community. Fortunately, greyhounds have done a little better than the others in terms of quantity if not quality. The arrival of NT bookmakers and Betfair has breathed some life back into the game but the majority of greyhound pools are far too small to encourage serious new investors. Declining average field quality and disruptive tracks both need fixing to bring back customers and lift pool sizes. A national betting pool has been avoided for far too long – a victim of Australia’s sometimes unproductive and parochial political system.
TRACKS - 3/10
Few plus factors in this area, save perhaps for the newish Hobart track (which may have been an accident), and perhaps Mandurah as well as improvements at some Victorian tracks. Even there, there are uncertain outcomes. Bend starts are a cancer on the industry.
The vast majority of Australian tracks are crying out for better designs to reduce race falls and interference levels. The absence of serious study of this subject is a ball and chain for the industry. The other two racing codes and all major sports have left us far behind. Worse, old mistakes are being repeated.
RACING - 5/10
Lots of good stuff at the top but the next level down often suffers from small fields. Distance racing is erratic - very few dogs can be relied on to produce consistent performances. Distance subsidies in some states blow away on the wind.
The Grade 5 and comparable levels are becoming a haven for bolters and spectacular dividends, which satisfy almost no-one. Disruptive tracks do not help. The mugs don’t mind. The proliferation of grading classifications has got to the silly stage – races are being manufactured to suit poor dogs and encourage squibs. None of this helps the image of the business.
CUSTOMERS - 1/10
Going, going, gone. The mugs have taken over, assisted by a mechanical TAB, which is effectively in control of racing these days. Promotion and the development of the customer base is miserable, save perhaps in WA where good crowds attend the track. Tipsters have replaced formguides. Is it that older guys have dropped out, never to be replaced? That trend is an issue in the training ranks, so it is fair to assume the same thing has happened to punters. Or perhaps it is not just the old guys, but the community at large.
TRAINERS - 8/10
Our stock of highly skilled trainers is a huge asset to the industry.
A query exists about a fairly common habit of backing up dogs too quickly, thereby putting doubts into punters’ minds about their keenness and fitness.
PROFESSIONAL/TECHNICAL SUPPORT SERVICES - 9/10
This area has come along in leaps and bounds over the last two decades. From drug testing to vet services to medicines, feed and so on, the industry has enjoyed major benefits.
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We will take some time to digest these elements, add them up and consider how they happened and what we did or did not do about them. It’s a good time to do that because two states are in the throes of recasting their controlling bodies and another has done so recently.
And the aim of all this? Better greyhound racing, especially in the long term.
More in a few days – including a summary of the extraordinary goings on in the Group 3 Laurie Helion Maiden series at The Gardens last Saturday - the industry in microcosm.