The introduction of the TAB in the early 1960s allowed all codes of racing to prosper when it comes to prize money. Yet greyhound racing’s flagship events, the Group One races have arguably been far too heavily favoured in the distribution of that prize money, at the expense of the average participant.
The following figures tell a stark story. Back in 1973 the Australian Cup was the nations’ richest race, worth $12,500 to the winner. An average fifth grade event at Wentworth Park was worth $660 at the same time. In simple terms, the Australian Cup was worth almost 19 fifth grade wins at Wentworth Park.
Move forward to 2005 and the Melbourne Cup was back as Australia’s richest race at $150,000 to the winner. An average fifth grade at Wentworth Park was worth $3,200 to the winner. That equates to nearly 47 fifth grade city wins.
With the Golden Easter Egg worth $250,000 to the winner and an average fifth grade at Wentworth Park worth $4,350, the difference is now just over 57 fifth grade city wins.
From my point of view this is ridiculous. In four decades the richest race in the nation has appreciated by 200 percent compared to an ordinary city victory. The Australian Cup has always been a coveted event, as the Easter Egg is now. Would the leading trainers honestly stop trying to win these races if the first prize was dragged back to something approaching the 1973 differential? Of course not.
The reality of the major races in Australia is that they are won, in the main, by the leading trainers. The so-called hobby trainer or the mentor who operates out in the bush with a small team rarely has much of a chance of competing in a Group One, let alone winning one.
Look through any form guide any day of the week and you’ll see an absolute multitude of greyhounds with what could only be described as dreadful form. And they’re racers who are never, ever going to improve. We’ve all seen them and shaken our heads: one win from 50 starts, with a handful of placings. The people who race with these animals to me represent all that is wonderful in our sport. They are the true believers, the keepers of the flame, the soul, the ones who give greyhound racing its spine. Either that or they’re inveterate masochists.
The truth is, these people don’t race for the prize money. They’re in it because once greyhound racing gets into your blood it’s hard to tear yourself away. Plenty do, of course, but so often you read stories about how, after a hiatus that might last decades, they’re back again. Yet, if we want to keep them in the game for longer isn’t it about time we at least made it financially more viable? As I noted, most don’t race for the prize money, but an extra $50 or $100 earned per victory every time a battler managed to jag a half-decent performer would go a long way.
I would contend a Group One race should be worth no more than $125,000 to the winner. While the saving of $125,000 straight off the top of the Golden Easter Egg, for example, is not massive when looked at across the monies paid out throughout NSW, it could fund an added $200 to no less than 625 country races.
Remember, this is only by halving the first prize money for the Easter Egg. I haven’t mentioned second and third place and the other races which could be pruned to create a more equitable playing field. By the time something like this was done across the board, it should be possible to increase weekly returns for country meetings by up to $1,000 or more throughout the year.
In the overall scheme of things, an extra $1,000 might not seem so much. Yet to the battling trainer who happens to possess a half-decent performer, those extra dollars can make a world of difference.