Who’s on first base?

THE age old Laurel and Hardy skit seems to be getting another run in the beautiful state.

It’s becoming hard to understand how Queensland greyhound racing really functions. Its latest announcement concerning life bans on some trainers sounds fine but is not available on the RQ website. Apparently it has gone only to selected recipients, including some media. Why is that?

The intriguing thing was that all the major points were laid out in the name of Kevin Dixon, who is chairman of the over-riding All Codes Board. No mention was made of the Greyhound Board although its chairman is also a member of the All Codes Board. Dixon is a thoroughbred breeder and all his experience lies with that code.

It is a strange organisation indeed where the people directly responsible for greyhound racing do not get a mention. What are they there for? Were they actually consulted?

Queensland’s cumbersome pyramid shape four-board structure was set up by the previous LNP government.

However, the new Minister has now appointed barrister Alan MacSporran QC to conduct a $3 million review of the greyhound industry with the support the Department of Racing. This time the Greyhound Board chairman, Michael Byrne QC, said his board will “assist and cooperate with it”. All well and good, but I always doubt the worth of having lawyers, particularly barristers, in charge of such reviews. They may be fine people but their backgrounds are invariably concerned with arguments about words, not with the efficient functioning of industries. Let’s also note that the chairmen of the major states’ authorities, and of GAL, are all lawyers, although two of them are now out of a job.

Meantime, the investigation into breaches of rules by racing integrity commissioner, Jim O’Sullivan (a retired policeman), and the Queensland Police Service is continuing, also with everybody’s support.

It is good to hear that everybody is supporting everybody else. But they may need someone on point duty to direct all the traffic. However, they will all plug along without the help of the Queensland steward’s boss, Wade Birch, because he is under suspension following the live bait saga. Birch is widely experienced in horses, but not greyhounds, and is the interim scapegoat.

The new All Codes Board was itself disrupted when two members quit abruptly for unstated reasons only three months after being appointed. However, some claim it occurred immediately after they were shut out of negotiations for a new contract with Tatts.

All this follows a judicial inquiry into alleged improper tendering processes used by the previous administration for some $150 million worth of work. Chairman at the time, Bob Bentley, strongly denies any wrongdoing, although two top executives quit Racing Queensland just prior to the new guard arriving and joined the staff of the big beneficiary of those tenders. Their final payouts from RQ are also under investigation.

While all this is going on, not a word has been heard about the creation of the new track at Cronulla Park, Logan, to the south of the city. It is getting on for a year since the promised start date of the construction. It was to be partly financed by a promised $10 million grant to make up for the government’s resumption of the Parklands track at the Gold Coast.

One interesting side issue thrown up by the life ban on leading trainer Reg Kay is that he was effectively the leader of the push opposing the use of the follow-on-lure. That year long experiment found that the FOL reduced the number of injuries and fail-to-chase incidents. Yet, to express his disgust, Kay took his bat and ball and decamped to the NSW Central Coast together with some very smart greyhounds.

At the end of the experiment, the small but noisy group of trainers got their wish, management gave in and the FOL was shut down for good. Kay then returned to Brisbane. He has now denied any involvement with live baiting, but to no avail.

Somewhat the same FOL process took place in Adelaide where the authority canvassed trainers in a mail survey to which only a minority responded. Just over half of those objected, despite the success of the program, so once again management dumped the FOL.

All these processes beg the question of who is actually running greyhound racing.

Still, both states may have even more to concern them. Rumours abound that Tabcorp is aiming to make a bid for the wagering arm of Tatts, thereby giving the bigger tote complete control of all Australian racing bar WA, where the state is still pondering whether to privatise the government-owned TAB.

Tatts four-state wagering operation is returning shareholders much less than its bigger lottery activities. Since its pools are smaller and therefore less attractive to punters than Tabcorp’s it really has nowhere to go in the long term.

While that may be just a side issue it would divert attention from the more important matter of re-inventing the concept of greyhound racing in the minds of the public. Currently, it is arguable that administrations have got their priorities all wrong, hence the negative positions they find themselves in today.

Whatever happens after the tri-state reviews and investigations are completed, it does provide an opportunity for greyhound racing to recast its corporate priorities. It would do much better, in our view, if it put them in this order:

1. The maintenance of the greyhound breed

2. The customers who finance the day to day industry

3. The owners who underpin its stability

4. The trainers who make it work.

At the moment, the pecking order is the exact opposite, which is partly why we got into the current pickle. Essential as they are, there is no evidence that trainers should be left in charge of the shop. Their skills lie in much different areas to those needed to run a big business.

More Secrets

Stop Press: Tabcorp today has launched a revised format on its website pages. In some ways it is easier to access than the old layout. But, and it is a big but, the results pages no longer show pool sizes after the race is run. They are there while betting is still in progress but have been deliberately deleted when the race is over.

Additionally, there is no obvious way to select either NSW or Victorian prices – but I will keep trying to find them.

Ignorance is no defence

RECENT reactions from readers bring up vitally important points about the nature of greyhound racing and how we deal with both welfare and business matters. Consequently, it’s worth carrying on about a couple of them.

Sometimes it is hard to fathom where people get their stories from. An anonymous reader, apparently with some training experience, assured us he had never known a vet to suggest racing dogs should get a seven day break between races. So I will dig out some specific references for him and publish them here.

Meantime, he might consult writings by Dr John Kohnke or the vet who writes for a well-known Melbourne greyhound paper. Both have written about this. In fact, Kohnke made a point of mentioning that dogs which had put in a lead-all-the-way run, especially over the longer trips, were even more susceptible to a drop in all the usual body fluids etc. This is the “gutbuster” effect.

I can also recall an interview the Greyhound Recorder made with top Queensland trainer, Tony Zammit, where he said words to the effect of “I like to race my dogs only once a week. If circumstances force me to do it more often I will give them a longer break after the second run”.

And here is a bit more general guidance to go on with. This quote comes from the vet at Winning Formula, a producer of feeds and additives for greyhounds. Note the last sentence.

“The stride length of about 5 metres (involves) about 4 strides per second as the dog accelerates from the traps. Each limb touches the ground for about 0.11 seconds only. The forelegs have a flight distance of 1.23 metres, and the rear legs, which provide the power, 2.45 metres (double the distance). The loading force placed on limbs during racing is repaired over the next 7-10 days”.

Of course, cattle dogs can do it all day but then they don’t run very fast, do they? Thoroughbred trainers like to avoid any backups inside fourteen days, while football teams never produce their best when compelled to backup four or five days after their last match. Most animals are the same.

But can stewards handle it?

We now have received repeated claims from an ex-steward, Dave Kiernan, who apparently attended my meeting with NSW stewards 20 years ago. Some of his memories are good but not the underlying reasons for my visit to GRA headquarters – which, I might add, cost me a full day’s lost work for absolutely no return.

He recalls that one steward queried the fact that none of those present knew me. The relevance of that escapes me. Yet he answered the question himself when pointing out that between coming back from the start, going to the office, writing reports and racing down to the video van, all in 15 minutes or so, meant that stewards were rushed off their feet. Me too, as the next race is always coming up and I might want to collect winnings or have a bet. But do stewards know all the hundreds or even thousands of people who attend meetings? That’s a bit fanciful, isn’t it?

Actually, the bloke who asked the original question was Hank van (something), who wore a straw hat and was well known in the Hunter region. I would have needed the speed of a greyhound to catch up with those guys. In any event, I do my assessments after the meeting when I have time to sit down and properly analyse everything that has happened.

However, back to the important point. I did in fact pass on my comments to GRA by writing to them several times – hence the invitation to attend the monthly stewards meeting. Virtually all my comments related to race times and how stewards assessed them. That was all I talked about at the meeting. It was the sole purpose of the visit.

In that era, all stewards had to use was the standard deFax racebook, which itself was not a really complete article. It lacked sectional times, for example, except at the back of the book and for the previous week only, and you could often see only three current runs per dog, four if you were lucky. Also, at that time, many Australian formguides were deficient when interstate dogs arrived to compete. It was almost a carrier pigeon process. The local producer had first to note that an interstate dog was present, or a local dog was returning, then send a request to the other state for updated form. If it did not arrive, tough luck.

Consequently, my own system and database was far more reliable as we had the means to haul in form daily from other states as a matter of routine. This gave me information and comparisons often not available to stewards. (And, no, I was not trying to sell programs to GRA – that is a figment of Dave’s imagination. In any case the GreyBase program was designed for individual users, not for a large entity like GRA).

The aim of my visit was to bring some problems to GRA’s notice, hence my suggestion about laptops etc, which were in common use by that time, and with them the ability for stewards to consult infinitely better information.

Well, it’s taken the best part of those 20 years for the computer/internet age to scramble though to the stewards’ systems, which now include the “eye in the sky” operator back at head office. But are they using it as well as they could, or should? I can’t answer that totally but I can keep pointing out when form assessment problems appear. And, yes, that is still happening.

To that you can add the output of Ozchase, the computerised form and race results system devised by NSW and WA authorities and subsequently adopted by Queensland, SA and Tasmania. It is totally inadequate for customers. It is hard to read, needs up to three pages per race to print out, sometimes has errors or omissions (Tasmanian and some interstate sectionals, for example), and is not available in digital format. It might have been passable 20 years ago but is not remotely acceptable for the 21st century.

In short, stewards’ standards, management performance and industry culture were below par 20 years ago, which is not just my opinion but also that of the ICAC and the police. Recent supervision of trial tracks suggests not a lot has changed.

Finally, I love the quote from mega investor, multi billionaire and the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffet.

“My successor will need one other particular strength: the ability to fight off the ABCs of business decay, which are arrogance, bureaucracy and complacency”.

Stewards on the march?

THERE is movement at the station. For the first time in recent memory Victorian stewards have started querying trainers about improved performance of their dogs. Two or three examples were noted in the last couple of weeks, including on Saturday night at The Meadows.

It will not be a very productive exercise but at least it lets trainers know they are being watched. Of course, dogs are not machines and some variations must be accepted. However, unless they were carrying drugs, not much will happen.

Dogs which perform well below expectations are a different matter. In that event stewards are more than entitled to take action, including suspensions. Again, some examples in that regard have been noted by stewards in recent weeks – but seldom were penalties were applied. Readers might remember I commented on two glaring cases last year when both Allen Deed and Xylia Allen put in shockers but attracted no comment at all. Perhaps the penny has dropped?

(As a matter of interest, Allen Deed fared poorly at The Meadows on Saturday night but was brought undone by a slow start and did actually chase hard).

More interesting is a report from stewards for Race 8 at Geelong last Friday:

“Stewards spoke to Mr. B. Shillington, the handler of Dyna Malaise with regards (sic) to the number of starts the greyhound has had recently. Mr. Shillington stated that it was the intention of the kennel to give Dyna Malaise a short break with the view to nominate (sic) the greyhound in the next 7 to 10 days. Mr. Shillington added that this practice is something the kennel has done on previous occassions (sic). Stewards noted his comments and took no further action”.

Now, what action they could take is problematical as there is no specific rule about over-racing. Perhaps there should be?

The trainer in this case was not Shillington but Jenny Hunt who herself is under the gun following some suspect swabs. That’s not a new event for the wider Hunt/Bate group as Graeme Bate is serving a three year suspension for repeated drug offenses, and Hunt is now the trainer on record for many Wheeler-owned dogs.

But let’s leave that for the moment. The more important aspect is that, so far as I am aware, stewards have not been known to query this sort of thing previously – racing frequency, that is. Dyna Malaise’s last five starts were on February 15, 20, 22, 24, and the above race on the 27th. Five runs in a 12 day period is surely ridiculous and must be considered as tantamount to not allowing the dog to race on its merits. Nevertheless, there was a win and a 2nd in that group, both at Sale, but the last two runs were very poor efforts.

Typically, vets consider that the average dog needs a seven day break between runs to replenish its juices. That knowledge has not really made its way into Racing Rules, although there are some bans elsewhere on racing on successive days.

While Dyna Malaise’s races were all over sub-500m distances, the problem is more acute over longer distances which are outside the natural capability of the vast majority of dogs. Yet quick backups still happen. For example, Lites and Sirens, a pretty hardy warrior, was asked to race over 715m at Sandown on February 26, only four days after a 595m run at Sandown with a very tough win over 699m at Cranbourne four days prior to that. Needless to say, that last effort was a dismal one. By comparison the winner, Tears Siam, not the most consistent dog, was coming off a 12 day break and won handsomely.

More than half the runners in Saturday’s heats of the Superstayers series were backing up within 7 or 8 days, including record breaker Space Star but it had a two week break prior to that. However, another starter (Feikuai Polly) had raced only 3 days before over 699m at Cranbourne (but poorly). Additionally, all those races were characterised by dogs fading on the home turn, if not before.

In summary, stewards seem to be more active at the moment yet there is a case that Racing Rules need attention to cater for excessive racing frequency. Welfare must be an important factor here.

Towards better track layouts

A lowly Maiden final illustrates this point but you could pick out hundreds of examples at other tracks.

Here is what the stewards said after Race 2 at Ballarat on 25 February:

“Kentucky Toy (5) crossed to the rail soon after the start checking Midnight Outlaw (4), Barellen Romance (3), How Bizarre (2) and Wai Nui Lea (1) causing Midnight Outlaw to contact the running rail”.

The expression “…crossed to the rail soon after the start checking …” has become something of a mantra for Victoria stewards. It is often incorrect or an exaggeration as the alleged offender is frequently clear of other runners when it crosses and the listed dogs are involved in other clashes that impact on their progress. Several viewings of the race video suggest that was the case here. But let’s leave that point aside for the moment.

The fundamental reason for such “checking” is not so much the dog crossing but the general crowding of the field. That is, soon after the start many runners tend to veer towards the rail. Only a few stay out in the middle. Instead of a broad approach to the turn, the field forms itself into an arrow shape. Since there is not enough room for all of them, some interference is inevitable. The problem is more acute on bend starts and in races where there is a shorter distance to the first turn.

Naturally, these disruptions will upset punters as well as cause risks for the dogs involved. They are primary factors in allowing bolters to gain placings they don’t deserve.

(Note: as a further illustration of this syndrome, go to Geelong and check the winning box data. In 400m races the 8 dog does best, yet in 460m races the opposite is true, with the rails box being easily the best. The inside dogs are better able to motor up from the 460m start, given the longer distance to the turn. For 400m races the almost instant squeeze tends to make life more difficult for middle and even inside runners).

The solution is easy to nominate but perhaps not simple to achieve. Track designs must encourage dogs to stay apart from each other. So, to those who say that you can’t tell dogs what to do, I say go to Hobart and watch a few races. Generally, the field runs straight ahead after the start. Find out why that is happening and take the lessons back to your own track. (Note: I suspect the outcome at Hobart was an accident but don’t let that put you off. It works).

A note: a recent suggested approach to designing lures for trial tracks showed a picture of dogs chasing a newly created lure style. But the lure was coloured bright red. Numerous scientific studies have shown that greyhounds, or most dogs, are colour blind to red. Back to the drawing board?

Angry stories will never work

AS SOMEONE once said, what we have here is a failure to communicate.

From all points of the compass, what is emerging is that the truth, the real facts, all of them, are not obvious to many people. Sure, the live baiting film is as clear as a pikestaff, and the offenders will be dealt with. But there is much more to it than that.

Plainly, few people understand how greyhound racing is organised and conducted. For that the industry must take the blame. It has a terrible habit of talking only to insiders and then thinking it has done its job. It forgets that people in the street or at the TAB form their impressions from the last thing they saw, or what their mates told them, or they transfer their reactions from an unrelated activity to racing.

For example, Glenn McGrath’s elephant shooting has now grabbed the headlines and, being a nasty and unacceptable practice, it now gets attached to live bait abuses by some greyhound trainers. One embellishes the other. People cement their opinions.

All that is possible only because the industry has never bothered to talk to the public, to understand how they feel and how they look at the industry. Yes, it has done bits and pieces here and there but it has not sunk in the way it needs to. That effort has been narrowly focused – essentially as one-off promotions – and therefore only narrowly successful. It’s not enough and it is superficial..

One particular aspect comes up repeatedly. Amongst many others, reader “Hugh” said this: “If you had genuine empathy for animals you would have done something about this, but you all turned a blind eye”.

But here’s the rub. The industry does not work that way. Of all the people involved in greyhound racing in one way or another, 99% would not have a clue about how the dogs are prepared and trained, or where. The majority of those have probably never been on a racetrack, let alone a trainer’s premises or a trial track. Anything they “know” would have been heard from a mate or perhaps seen on a SKY picture. It would be gossip or innuendo at best.

In the main, the other 1% would be trainers. Many of those claim to be horrified at the live baiting, which is probably fair dinkum. However, their claims of a lack of knowledge of the practice would have to be taken with a grain of salt.

After a lifetime of interest in greyhound racing and thousands of visits to tracks I also have heard many whispers and fancy stories. You never get details because it is always third or fourth hand anyway. Even if you wanted to, what can you do with those?

Trotting off to the stewards to repeat the yarns is pointless and a waste of time. It’s not evidence and you don’t have enough information even to point them in the right direction. But you should not have to do that anyway. We, the punters, pay people to do that work – they are called industry managers and stewards.

As a comparison, I am well aware that our society includes murderers, robbers, rapists and wife-beaters but I have never witnessed such events myself, and probably never will. Yet my worries are eased by the fact that we have an active policing and court system to handle such crimes. The community rightly expects those systems to perform or be held to account. Meantime, individuals do what they can to support those efforts – utilising Crime Stoppers is one example.

In theory, greyhound racing has a roughly comparable office itself – in NSW it is the Integrity Auditor, an independent official. Sadly, it has not worked too well in practice and is now under review together with all other aspects of the Greyhound Act. But it could and should be used by people with an axe to grind or a genuine irregularity to report. Other states have comparable functions available to all.

For my part, since I have no knowledge or competence in the live-baiting context I cannot be held to “turn a blind eye” as “Hugh” and others claim. However, I have a long history of making public complaints about stewardship processes, many of which have been outlined in this forum. Usually, these concern erratic racing form or a disagreement with stewards’ actions about fighting, failing to chase or track layouts – areas where I have some degree of knowledge gained from decades of experience, observations and in-depth statistical analyses.

Indeed, it was over 20 years ago that I remonstrated so persistently with the GRA boss at the time (he used to be called Secretary to the Board) that he arranged for me to present a case to the monthly stewards’ meeting. In the event, my advice and evidence went in one ear and out the other and nothing was achieved. As it happened, that meeting was chaired by Rodney Potter, who ended up in jail on another matter, while the code’s management was roundly criticised by ICAC after related hearings. The culture was suspect even then.

I finished that meeting with a suggestion that stewards should be issued with laptop computers, which they could load up prior to a meeting and therefore have all the information they needed at their fingertips. They all laughed their heads off, regarding it as a Dick Tracy joke. (Is it coincidental that Apple is about to launch a wrist watch computer?). Well, we have made some progress since then in both software and hardware but not, it appears, in the way stewards think and act. That, surely, is the nub of the problem, not the actions of the innocent 99% looking on.

Finally, my advice to “Hugh” and the dozens of critics from animal lover groups is to concentrate their efforts on those who are actually responsible for committing and identifying abuses. Continuing on their present path is not only misguided but will create antipathy towards them amongst the wider greyhound community. They could make a start by throwing out the posters and banners calling for a stop to government subsidy of the industry. That nonsense is a blatant lie and the exact opposite of the actual money flow.

Pots calling kettles black is risky

CUSTOMARILY, I do not address personalities in these columns, rather I comment on events and policies. However, some of the stuff going around is beyond a joke. Yes, the industry deserves strong criticism for allowing the live baiting to take place but final judgements should wait until all the facts are on display.

First, Racing NSW CEO Peter V’Landys dumped scorn on the greyhound code about live baiting when a more sensible approach, as an industry leader, would have been to stay out until all the form was on the board. But shooting from the hip is his habit – as evidenced in the way he criticised greyhound officials at the Parliamentary Inquiry for their role in the original intercode commission sharing negotiations. At the time V’Landys was in charge of Harold Park trots and not very popular, according to inside information available to me. So much so that ABC TV prepared a one hour documentary, mainly about the way the Glebe hockey people felt they had been treated. They claimed they had a verbal agreement that would have given them a new field following the greyhounds’ move away from Harold Park. V’Landys rubbished them several times, including at a public meeting, and turned the centrefield into an expanded car park.

Subsequently, V’Landys presided over a major improvement to the grandstand and dining area, only to then see patronage dwindle away, leading finally to a shutdown and sale of the property, and a move to Menangle (by then under new management). En route, V’Landys had also built a poker machine palace into the Harold Park complex – but, sadly, nobody came and the project ended up a financial disaster. Commercially, the entire operation failed on his watch.

By then, Racing NSW was looking for a new CEO, including via a display ad in the Financial Review. The day after that appeared V’Landys was appointed to the job. Hmmm.

More upsets were to come. When the NT bookies started appearing on the scene in strength, V’Landys effectively led the push for traditional Australian racing authorities in rejecting their advances. He refused to negotiate with them, tried to get the Feds to ban them and abused them several times as “parasites”. That term was not only insulting but incorrect. In fact, they had offered from day one to pay fees, only to be knocked back by both RNSW and the Racing Minister. Of course, events proved the customers right and V’Landys wrong. His salary is now part-paid by the same bookies.

V’Landys’ later move in the High Court to sustain RNSW’s right to set fees as it wished was a sound one and, frankly, the bookies wasted an awful lot of money trying it on. Anyway, given the galloping code’s long term fall in market share, in breeding numbers and in field sizes, and the fact that RNSW bludges on takings from greyhounds (several millions per year), V’Landys is hardly in a position to criticise others. Recent unresolved drug issues in three states only add to the challenges.

The second example is even more striking.

In his privileged position as a columnist for the Sydney Morning Herald, bookmaker Robbie Waterhouse has not only condemned the live baiting, something we all agree with, but then called for a complete shutdown of greyhound racing. This is pointless. It will not happen and would put many thousands of people out of work. It can only divert attention from the real problems.

This comes from a man who, together with his father Bill, was embroiled in the notorious Fine Cotton ring-in scandal. So much so that he was warned off all racetracks for 14 years and later sentenced to eight months weekend detention for perjury.

Wife, Gai, is no stranger to controversy, being in regular conflict with stewards where she seeks to give priority to her rules rather than those of the umpire. Her failure to advise stewards about the illness and treatment of More Joyous did no good to punters on the following Saturday when the mare was heavily backed but ran like a crotchety old lady. Owner John Singleton took all his horses away from Gai as a result.

She did have an amazing victory after a stablehand was charged with cocaine possession. She mounted a spirited defence on the ground that the guy patronised a nearby hotel and had innocently brushed up against a user while he was there. She won the case, but you have to wonder if that would have been possible in a proper court.

I am not aware that Robbie Waterhouse has any special knowledge of greyhound racing although son Tom has dabbled (and now benefits hugely as the local leader of the William Hill bookmaking group). Either way, both are working on limited evidence while proper investigations are yet to get started.

The whole saga now boils down to only two reasonably certain issues. First, live-baiting offenders are on film and cannot escape whatever penalties are dealt out. At least some of those must be lifetime bans. Second, the supervision of kennels and trial tracks is inadequate so heads must roll (indeed, some already have). Meantime, the best thing any racing identities can do is to shut up, sit back and wait for the results of the exhaustive investigations that are already under way..

However, we are left with a critical challenge. While the disgraceful abuse of animals is a clearcut matter, what disturbs me most is that many of the offenders actually enjoyed what they were doing. That is really sick.

This takes us back to how such people could get a license in the first place. Heaven knows how it might be done but it points to a need to first take psychological or psychiatric readings of potential trainers and their employees. That’s probably more important than police checks.

Trainer does the steward’s job

Thankyou to trainer Shane Fleming for providing some more details about the background of Flash Earner (mentioned here on Feb 15 and 23). He says, “She was out with injury for quite some time, then we moved house, then she came into season. Finally I got her back on the track and went to Nowra for some fitness runs”.

However, Shane is missing some points. (1) The bitch’s “fitness runs” prior to the Wenty runs were awful, which is why she started at double figure odds in her next start at Wenty, and (2) the above comments – and more – should have been drawn out by the stewards, not by me. They are not there to be nice to trainers but to protect and inform the public.

I also need to correct the time run at its last start at Wenty – a very smart 29.94, which kinda proves my point.

Stewards need to be a part of the team

THE functions of racing, probably not unlike some other industries, can be roughly divided up into three broad areas; management, stewardship or the more popular term today of integrity, and clerical or back-office jobs such as finance and IT. They all fly under the one banner flown by a single board and CEO.

Yet it is popular today to call for the stewards to be split off into a separate group, and perhaps to combine each such group into one big organisation by state or even nationally. The current kerfuffle has revitalised that theory. Cross-code diversification is also bandied around, and has been tested here and there, notably in NSW where it was recommended after a previous review (by a barrister) but proved an expensive failure. However, Tasmanian stewards do cover all three codes but racing frequency is much lower there.

The idea being pushed is that stewards are the “police” and should be moved away from the rule makers, much as the nation has a principle of the “separation of powers” between parliament, the executive and the courts. This is a misleading interpretation.

In the general society, police are not separate at all. They are directly under the control of a Minister and subject to budget restraints of the day. They can act only via the laws that a parliament enacts. There is always dialogue going back and forth, and also between police and the courts for practical reasons.

But, in racing, there is more to it than that.

Stewards have a role in supervising racetracks (including trial tracks), in implementing rules and proposing changes, in assigning penalties, in assessing form and in watching betting moves. Yes, they keep order at the meeting, but only under the overall direction of industry management. They are the local “managers”, at least for the time they are at the meeting.

Similarly, just as the management sector utilises information supplied by the back office function, so stewards do likewise in respect to registrations, grading changes, form details and so on. In a number of ways the three sectors depend on each other.

If the steward sector fails to produce the goods, the first thing to look at is not whether the organisational structure should be changed but whether the stewards and anyone else are doing their jobs properly. That is precisely where the current reviews will start. Depending on those assessments, so the reviewers will move on to the structural area if they think it proper to do so.

In the current cases, the evidence suggests that the way that supervision has been carried out is not up to scratch, in which case both management and stewardship functions are under the gun. To which I can only add my views – often expressed in these columns, together with examples – that there are currently too many inconsistencies in the way in which some penalties, errors or omissions (for fighting, for example, or in form assessment) are attended to by stewards.

Now, whether I am right or wrong is one thing, but if someone long exposed to the operation of greyhound racing cannot understand what is happening then that is something else again. Either way, there is an underlying problem to add to the uncertain state of affairs to do with live baiting.

To that I would add another risk; the concept of multi-code skilling of stewards might look nice on paper but I would defy any one person to maintain sufficient knowledge and appreciation of the fine points of each of the galloping, harness and greyhound codes to be able to make the best on-site judgements.

Here’s a comparison. I spend seven days a week studying greyhound form but I find that keeping track of what is happening in two, or at the most three, different states is as much as I can handle. Even then, you need to specialise a bit to achieve the best results. Any more than that and I would be making wild guesses. Remember, there are 14,000 dogs currently racing regularly, more than that whelped annually, and additions and subtractions occur daily. And that is in one code, not three.

If I had my way, stewards would be more highly educated, more highly skilled and better paid, but only if they achieved top results. That is more likely to happen if they are part of a team rather than lone rangers.

Could stewards Do Better?

Here is another example to throw light on how stewards operate. In a February 15 article I commented on the case of Flash Earner winning nicely at Wentworth Park on February 13 in 30.45 on a sloshy track. That followed a moderate to fair career in early 2014 and poor recent form in 2015. By any measure it was a form reversal yet stewards asked no questions and made no comments.

A week later Flash Earner did it again with an unusually good start and a strong run to win in 30.34, having battled all the way side by side with a competitor. Stewards again made no comment.

Those two runs were out of character with its recent history but the improvement was ignored. Now it might be that the trainer identified a problem or changed the dog’s routine. But, whatever the reason, punters who backed more favoured dogs in these races were entitled to know more. Flash Earner started at $13.00 and $7.20 in the two races.

This brings up the principle of having stewards in the first place. They must serve two masters – the rules and standards of the organisation they work for and the people of the state whose interests they are bound to protect. Neither was honoured in this case. Justice was not seen to be done. Apparently, they did not know there was a question to be asked.

GRNSW CEO Brent Hogan and entire board stand down

GREYHOUND Racing NSW CEO Brent Hogan and the entire GRNSW board were told by NSW Racing Minister Troy Grant on Wednesday night to either resign or be sacked. The move comes just days after a live-baiting scandal erupted that has left more than 30 participants suspended nationwide, with more expected in coming days.

The GRNSW board included Eve McGregor, a corporate lawyer, David Clarkson, George Bawtree, Megan Lavender and Peter Davis. It is understood the board all agreed to stand down, as did Hogan.

It has been reported Grant started calling each individual after 7pm on Wednesday, telling the board members he was acting under instruction from Premier Mike Baird.

They were told that while it was not a personal reflection on them, it was a decision that had to be made due to the magnitude of the situation and the evidence that has been recently presented on live-baiting activity within the industry.

The RSPCA and police conducted raids last week targeting alleged live-baiting within the sport as part of an investigation by Animals Australia and the ABC’s Four Corners program, which televised the gruesome findings on Monday night.

Ten registered participants have been suspended in NSW alone, with the latest to be stood down trainers Majella Ferguson, David Sundstrom and Bruce Carr.

The suspension of Ferguson and Sundstrom follows raids on the Londonderry property of Zeke Kadir where it is alleged live baiting took place. Kadir was one of six participants stood down by the state authority board last week. Carr was suspended after four live rabbits were removed from his property.

It has been reported Troy Grant wrote to each board member, asking them to stand the CEO aside, appoint a new interim CEO whom they should delegate their powers to before standing down themselves.

Of the interim CEO, Grant said he or she “would continue the day-to-day operations and strictly enforce any breaches of the rules of racing including those that make it illegal to live bait in NSW”.

He continued by saying: “The Government takes the issue of animal welfare very seriously.

“It is clear that self-regulation under the current structure and culture within greyhounds has failed.

“I call upon the board members to do the right thing and agree to my request so that we can fix greyhound racing in NSW.

“The Government is committed to ensuring anyone caught blooding their dogs will be kicked out of the sport for life and we will restore the integrity of the industry.”

The changes to the structure of GRNSW come as the sport tries to repair its image.

Earlier in the week, GRNSW announced the establishment of a taskforce to investigate the practice of live baiting. The taskforce will be headed by former High Court justice and eminent legal practitioner the Hon. Michael McHugh AC, QC, and will examine the training methods used in NSW and will oversee the operation of trial tracks within the state.

It will also ensure GRNSW and relevant agencies, such as the RSPCA NSW, have the necessary powers to fully investigate all actions of animal cruelty.

“The review will develop a new model of governance to ensure the integrity of the industry and the abhorrent practice of live baiting is stamped out for good,” Grant said.

“The Government looks forward to taking the review’s findings to Parliament this year.

“During this time I do not want to tar everyone with the same brush, there are many people working in the industry who are similarly appalled at what has been discovered.

“I make no assertions about the current board members or executive. The actions being taken reflect the Government’s belief that now is the appropriate time to shine a light through the whole industry.

“This is not a personal reflection on the current board members or executive and I thank them for their contribution to the industry.

“Allegations and innuendo have plagued the greyhound racing industry for decades and it is time we ended that speculation and ensure the sustainability of the industry and the welfare of animals are paramount.”

Time for a fresh start: ARG responds to live-baiting crisis

MAKE no mistake, greyhound racing in Australia is teetering on the brink of destruction.

The calls for an end to greyhound racing are coming from far and wide in the aftermath of the Four Corners expose originating from Animal Liberation Queensland’s efforts.

Over the past eight years of Australian Racing Greyhound, we have observed, heard and frequently been on the end of abuse and “requests” to stop the sport.

In the past two years those voices have grown louder and the support base has spread from the fanatical animal welfare “professionals” to those further from the fringes.

In the past 12 hours, those voices have been joined by many sensible, reasonable-thinking Australians who have quickly taken to social media to express their outrage – and justifiably so.

What was shown on Monday night in the living rooms of Australia is indefensible.

There are no words which can placate those assaulted by the images or mitigate the reactions to the vision.

Greyhound racing has reached a crossroad – it can continue on in a whole new form with new leadership and a new set of values; or it can go the way so many have before it.

To survive, greyhound racing will require strong, transparent leadership with a strong focus on integrity and welfare – we do not have that currently. It could be argued all racing codes suffer this dilemma, and recent fiascos in AFL and NRL demonstrate integrity is not an issue reserved for the racing codes, but greyhound racing has suffered from a terminal lack of “backbone” from its leaders who are all too happy to hide behind “incidents” and “ongoing investigations” than to put forward the brutal truth.

In the lead-up to the most destructive media event of the year, our leaders seemed to be more concerned with controlling the message than providing that transparency. It was difficult to extract comment from GRV, and the fact we are the only independent media organisation devoted to the coverage of Australian greyhound racing online should not be lost in the noise. This is the same group of people who invited the ABC journalists in on the pretence they were doing a positive story on increasing popularity and TAB turnover in the sport. The words naïve and inept come to mind.

Due in no small part to the short-sighted dealings of the Greyhound Action Group in New South Wales, who got into bed with the Greens and animal welfare groups to get its facile NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into the sport off the ground last year, the bright light of the animal welfare and anti-racing groups was already shining on greyhound racing. After Monday night, that spotlight has turned supernova and includes many who the sport may have considered allies. The heartland of greyhound support, the blue- and white-collar families of suburbia, have turned on the sport in numbers; and the horse racing crowd and their high-profile names have lent their support to calls to ban the sport.

Clearly greyhound racing is on the wrong path; the vast and overwhelming venom and disgust for the sport are palpable.

Swift, dramatic and conclusive changes must take place, and they must take place immediately.

Those who led us here, whether through ignorance or apathy, must be removed for there to be any hope that confidence in the sport will return.

Australian Racing Greyhound is calling for the chairs of the three boards concerned – Greyhound Racing Victoria, Greyhound Racing New South Wales and Racing Queensland – to stand down or be removed at once.

Australian Racing Greyhound is calling for the chief executive officers of the three racing authorities concerned – Greyhound Racing Victoria, Greyhound Racing New South Wales and Racing Queensland – to stand down or be removed.

Australian Racing Greyhound is calling for the chief stewards of the three authorities concerned – Greyhound Racing Victoria, Greyhound Racing New South Wales and Racing Queensland – to stand down or be removed.

Australian Racing Greyhound is calling for life bans for those identified in the vision as perpetuating these acts of extreme animal abuse.

Australian Racing Greyhound is calling for an end to the revolving door of suspensions and disqualifications being subverted by authorising the transfer of greyhounds from the offending trainer to their spouse.

Only clear and decisive actions such as these will even partially restore faith that our authorities can properly administer the sport.

Australian Racing Greyhound fears it is too late.

First pick a dog in the right spot

THERE are lots of things to think about in respect to tracks and form. At its most simplistic, what dogs do and what tracks make them do are two different deals. There is a strong tendency to concentrate on the former and ignore the latter. That’s a big mistake, if for no other reason than that it skips over the real potential of a given dog – assuming it gets a fair go.

For example, there’s the best galloper and the dog in the best position. Which do you go for? Tipsters with training backgrounds (and there are a few) will go for the dog that can scream around the track in lightning fast time. Serious punters will prefer the well placed dog, knowing the odds usually work that way.

Whichever, it boils down to whether the dog is well placed.

For example, in the Shepparton Cup final last Sunday, multi-Group winner Dyna Villa had to contend with box 6 and a bunch of smart sprinters. It actually began well enough but on the way to the turn it got squeezed out of contention. The figures will show a poor sectional but they were not a true reflection of its ability. It could not pour on the power because of the crowd around it. Meanwhile, Azza Azza Azza (would two of those Azzas have been enough?) motored up from the rails box to run away with the race. It did not begin unusually well but did show great pace along the rail to the turn. It was well placed, Dyna Villa was not.

Perhaps that’s just stating the obvious, but a great many punters thought Dyna Villa could get away with it. They were wrong; $2.60 was poor value in the circumstances.

(In passing, the Aza Aza name is a South Korean slang term and is spoken as an encouragement to competitors, as in “fight on” or “go for it”. The extra “z” may be an optional spelling).

Over in Perth, the question in the Galaxy was whether the improving Lady Toy, nicely boxed on the rails, could run down the favourite Space Star, which was expected to lead, and did. I thought the bitch could do the job but I was wrong. Lady Toy got to the lead marginally on the home turn but Space Star was too strong in the run to the post. However, this was a fine contest; both got a terrific crack at the prize, not least because the rest of the field was not up to their standard and stayed out of the way.

In the Perth Cup, favourite Star Recall, which is not a hard railer, got away well from the inside but fell victim to other runners trying to negotiate the awkward first turn, and got ankle tapped. That allowed My Bro Fabio to run around them, eventually recording a 30.34 win, which is a fairly average time for this class. As with Allen Deed, which bombed out in the Consolation race, this track is not ideal for such dogs.

Then the handicap event at The Meadows on the same night proved an excellent spectacle. It had a full field but the handicaps and the individual dogs’ jumping abilities meant that they spread out very quickly. All had a fair chance and little interference was evident. The better dogs got through and the finish was very close.

The point about all these examples is that when you keep the dogs apart you get a better race. Squeeze them up and any old result is possible. Bolters grabbed the places in the Shepparton Cup and the First Four paid $1470 in NSW and even more in Victoria. The leader was always in the clear, and perhaps also Ronray Spirit (which was disappointing) but anything was possible with the remainder. Aside from Azza Azza Azza, it was a poor spectacle.

In total, stewards mentioned 20 names in the Cup as suffering “bumps” or “collisions”, whatever they mean, on the way to and into the turn. It was not pretty.

So, how do you keep dogs apart? Handicap races are not a solution, just an illustration. And you can’t expect to see too many races where there are big differences in abilities. That would fly in the face of the grading system.

The answer has to lie in the way the track is laid out. More space between boxes? Boxes positioned wider on the track (the opposite of that is a proven disaster). Different sorts of lures (including the follow-on-lure)? Better cambers and turn radii? Who can be sure?

The challenge is a complex one so maybe there has to be a complex answer. Well, a simple answer with complex ingredients. The only way to achieve that is by conducting some exhaustive tests over a year at a variety of tracks. Three very cluey and independent people could do that.

Back to Shepparton for a moment – whatever possessed punters to back Zipping Rory into $1.40 in a five-dog 650m event? Certainly, the dog has done some nice things – notably a 41.75 win at Wentworth Park – but it is one of the most inconsistent dogs racing. Its last few runs have been pretty ordinary so, even in this moderate field, on form and from an outside box I could not rate it better than a 4/1 chance. In practice, it was lucky to grab 3rd spot on the line, four lengths behind the winner in 37.87 (that winner having missed the jump by three lengths), which was slower time than run by a Grade 6/7 lot earlier in the night.

This gets back to my comment at the top of the article about the best dog v the best placed dog. Zipping Rory was not well placed in the circumstances. Stewards did query the run but they were never likely to obtain a decent explanation – the dog’s problem is not in its body but in its head. If it leads it wins, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. In all of its 12 wins it has led or been very close early.

Shepparton, incidentally, had seven short fields out of twelve, perhaps influenced a bit by the hot weather. Punters were a bit “off”, too, in the Sunday evening slot, which is never a good time for feature events. Strangely, the Cup final pulled in the second worst pool of the night – $6,568 in NSW but a healthier $19,362 in Victoria. Obviously, random gamblers dominated the scene.

The competing Sale meeting was also much of a muchness with three short fields and three races with fallers, one of them involving four dogs, all on the 440m turn. GRV would be well advised to start again on re-modelling the circuit.

Accuracy Would Help

I did promise to lay off the ongoing series of misleading stories from stewards but this one was so silly that I had to mention it. It is one of many.

Race 7 The Meadows 7 Feb.

“Lucy Rae, Jindara and Smiley Sam collided soon after the start checking Bronco De Jurer. Bronco De Jurer and Olive’s Gift collided approaching the first turn checking Don’t Be Short. Chrichton Bale checked off Adam Handler on the first turn checking Olive’s Gift and causing Lucy Rae to race wide”.

All three sentences are wrong. The collision in the first sentence had absolutely nothing to do with Bronco De Jurer. It was well clear of the others. Bronco De Juror bumped Olive’s Gift on the first turn but that had no effect at all on Don’t Be Short. Chrichton Bale did get off on the turn but never touched Olive’s Gift. However, it did crash into Lucy Rae.

Provincial meetings are getting belted

THE most interesting thing about Monday night’s cup meeting at Shepparton was that the second- and third-fastest runs of 25.17 and 25.15 were in Maiden and Grade 6/7 races respectively. Once A Drifter and Jodies Knee were the responsible dogs, so there is some promise for the future.

TAB turnover for the meeting was pretty terrible in NSW, but that is normal for a Monday night these days. It’s hard to do much with Win pools of $6000 or so when only half of that is visible before you have to bet. Sunday night’s final will not do a lot better because that’s a dead period, too. What a boon it would be for these events if governments could organise a national betting pool! The greyhound industry should be yelling from the rooftops to bring this about.

Although Shepparton fields were reasonable, it had competition from everywhere, including the Launceston Cup heats on the same night. Elsewhere, the Perth Cup and the Futurity and Derby in Sydney had already diverted many top-liners.

Where it comes out in the wash is in other provincial meetings. Horsham the next day, for example, offered only four races that seemed worth looking at but even those were full of pretty average dogs and short fields which produced a mixed bag of results. I saw no betting opportunities – it was for gamblers only.

Overall, Horsham has seen a marked decline in field standards in recent weeks. This week it managed only 11 races and six of those ran with empty boxes. On the same day Warragul had five short fields, Gosford six, Lismore five and Ipswich two.

It is a difficult task to space all these feature events as there are so many of them now. It is even harder to maintain standards and income when far too many races are short of starters anyway. The industry has overreached itself in an effort to satisfy the demands of TAB/SKY programmers. Tabcorp’s dabbling with more overseas events is not helping either.

Are stewards trying?

I despair that stewards will ever start to improve their observations and reports. Perhaps they don’t read these columns or maybe I am going blind in my old age. However, I had a check recently and everything seemed OK, bar the need for reading glasses.

Here’s a memo to the stewards: Remove all the bumps and the verbiage. The number of words don’t count. There are a thousand bumps every day in races across the country. It’s the nature of the beast with close-running dogs vying for a spot up front. What is interesting is when there are genuine major collisions and then which dogs are significantly checked back through the field – or check themselves. Even more important are examples of dogs which perform well above or below expectations, and what their trainers say about them. Stewards should also be able to comment on track features which contribute to interference and disruptions (but are they themselves trained to do that?).

The following are all a continuation of blatantly incorrect claims by stewards. Feel free to check the videos if you don’t agree (apparently stewards don’t do that). Here I have spread the load a bit by including some examples from Horsham.

Race 3, The Meadows, January 31

“Schumacher (5) and Girthy (6) collided soon after the start. Flash Zoe (3) and Dyna Brainiac (4) collided approaching the first turn checking Flash Zoe.”

The first “collision” was minor. The second never happened. Dyna Brainiac was always well clear of the other dog. The check to Flash Zoe occurred after passing the post and was caused by the red drifting out.

Race 4, The Meadows, January 31

“Tiggerlong Katut (6) and Pedro’s Twist collided (7) soon after the start. Renstar (5) and Angsana (9) collided approaching the first turn checking Angsana.”

Once again, the first “collision” was negligible. The second one never happened as Renstar was always well clear of Angsana.

Race 5, The Meadows, January 31

“Galahad (3) and Zell Bale (4) collided soon after the start. Hilda’s Boy (2), Galahad (3) and Zell Bale (4) collided approaching the first turn. Galahad, Zell Bale and Allen Eryk (5) collided approaching the first turn checking Zell Bale. Kid Maximus (1) galloped on the heels of Hilda’s Boy on the first turn checking Hilda’s Boy.”

This is a terrible fairy tale. There was some minor touching here and there but none of it was significant except for the last bit and there the steward’s comment is arguable. Kid Maximus did not appear to check off Hilda’s Boy – rather, as is its habit, Hilda’s Boy edged out on the turn, thereby interfering with Mepunga Moss (7). Kid Maximus therefore took the run up on the rails into second place.

Race 6, The Meadows, January 31

“Princess Pass (7) and Love Affair (8) collided soon after the start checking Love Affair.”

Never happened. Princess Pass jumped more quickly than Love Affair, which then headed for the rail to eventually win the race after passing tiring leaders.

Race 8, Shepparton, February 2

“Dyna Keitaro (7) crossed to the rail on the first turn checking Dawkins Bale (5), Zambora Magic (4) and Axis Bale (2).”

A typical example of exaggerated comment. Dyna Ketaro did cross and hold up Zambora Magic, However, the other two were not involved at all.

Race 4, Horsham, February 3

“Brazen Bull (8) crossed to the rail on the first turn checking Nice Meeting Ya (1), All Inn Black (4), Dyna Shinko (6), Bomber Osti (7), Stiff Arm (5) and Midnight Osti (2). Midnight Osti and All In Black collided approaching the home turn checking All Inn Black, severely checking Midnight Osti.”

Amazing that one dog checked six others. But it did not happen. Brazen Bull was moderately away, ran around the centre of the track to the lead and never touched or affected another dog. On the turn, All In Black ran on to the heels of Nice Meeting, which affected them and subsequently some other runners.

Race 5, Horsham, February 3

“Future Past (4), Old Jock (7) and Got Held Up (8) collided approaching the first turn checking Old Jock and Got Held Up. Dyna Revy (1) and China Rose (2) collided approaching the first turn.”

This is an extraordinary set of comments. If there were any “collisions” they were inconsequential and certainly did not affect Old Jock. Dyna Revy and China Rose were close early (where else would the 1 and 2 be?) but (a) there was no evidence of a “collision” and (b) by the time they approached the turn China Rose was way out in front. Generally speaking the race was fairly cleanly run except for a couple of dogs drifting off on the turn.

Race 7, Horsham, February 3

“Al Moran (1), Buckle In (3) and Danyo’s Slappy (6) collided on the first turn checking Al Moran, Lumpstar (2), Buckle In and Voight (7).”

“Collided” is a gross exaggeration. Buckle In was marginally affected by Danyo’s Slappy crossing in front of it but Al Moran was unable to match it with the speedsters at this stage (it was returning from a lengthy spell and is better off over a longer trip) and was therefore losing ground anyway. Lumpstar briefly ran into Al Moran but was not seriously affected. Voight was nowhere near any of these at any stage.

Race 8, Horsham, February 3

“Impact Bale and Billy Higgs collided soon after the start checking Billy Higgs. Sir Lenny and Impact Bale collided on the first turn checking Sir Lenny.”

Billy Higgs was vetted following the event and was re-vetted following Race 11. It was reported that the greyhound sustained soreness to the left wrist and left hind medial, a 10-day stand-down period was imposed”.

There is no evidence any of these “collisions” happened. The race was generally cleanly run. Billy Higgs is a talented but highly erratic performer so it is surprising stewards did not ask more questions following its poor display, especially as it was a $2.40/$2.60 favourite in a five-dog field. “Soreness”, right or wrong, is a pretty weak response to the way it ran.

It’s time. In fact, it’s overdue that bend starts should go

LAST Thursday, Trip To Cairns (5), a 26 months old bitch, got out quite nicely in a 595m race at Sandown (R2) but was then sideswiped by another dog as they straightened up. It still had enough pace to lead around to the back straight where it pulled up abruptly with a broken hock.

Last Saturday, Irelands Force (6), a 29 months old bitch, came out in the middle of the field in a 600m race at The Meadows (R9). It was knocked sideways as they turned into the home straight, and then continued on for a while until pulling up as they rounded the main turn. It had a broken hock.

In essence, these experiences were identical. The bumps were perhaps no different, or even less extreme, than those suffered by half the field in many of these bend start races. But this time they had awful consequences.

Anecdotally, a highly experienced vet has noted that many dogs are actually racing with hairline fractures evident in their legs (I do not have his permission to quote him). You might also note the rough similarity between these greyhound experiences and those of young fast bowlers – whose bodies have yet to toughen up – suffering stress fractures which put them out of action for months or years. 19-year old tennis star Nick Kyrgios has the same sort of problem with his back.

In some cases the risk is that extra stress on a dog’s leg will cause catastrophic damage. In all likelihood, that’s what happened to the above two dogs. Both were severely spreadeagled just after the start of the race, as is obvious on the race films, but subsequent pressure caused the final break.

More typically, hock injuries occur as the dog is coming out of the first turn in a 500m race, where entry speeds may be higher. Pressures on the turn light the fire and the explosion occurs as they accelerate down the back straight. It does not even need the involvement of another dog in the field. For example, Knocka Norris broke its hock at Sandown in a solo trial in exactly this way..

The underlying causes of these injuries have to be due to one or more of (a) genetics, (b) early education and racing experience, (c) track surface quality and camber, and (d) the shape of the track, particularly the turns. To be more specific requires considerable scientific investigation.

In one sense it is fortunate that some investigation is going on now, although we have no details. Initially, authorities in WA and SA combined to start assessing the number and reasons for broken hocks. That work has apparently fallen under the purview of GRV’s house vet in Melbourne, who is developing a major thesis on the subject for a higher degree. More information has yet to emerge.

Meantime, to suggest we just wait and hope is not acceptable. Apart from the individual traumas for both dogs and connections, the major effect is to lessen the quality of the greyhound product and also to attract more criticism of the industry’s attitude to welfare – a topical subject these days but one that sometimes gets lopsided treatment.

Because this problem is effectively man-made there are immediate measures which can be taken to improve outcomes.

The first is to actively engage in eliminating bend starts from all tracks. They are a menace and do no-one any good. All need to be moved or replaced by shutes. It is also the height of folly that two multi-million dollar investments are now going into new tracks in Perth and at Logan, near Brisbane, and which include bend starts for middle distance races. In both cases better options are available and, in fact, were formally discussed and rejected by WA authorities. Shame on them!

(Noting at the same time that the Queenslanders have not been able to make up their minds about how and when to start building. Work at Logan was supposed to commence in mid-2014 but the site has not seen a shovel yet. Heaven knows what the new government will do now. It holds the purse strings).

Short of those steps, it is a simple matter to ease the burden by reducing all fields for bend start races to six runners. The big issue today is that there are eight runners trying to get into space sufficient for only four. Bedlam is the only possible outcome. Six would be a good compromise. (That is also the English solution).

Of course, the bigger issue is how to build better turns in any races. Assessing the right track shapes, radii, cambers, surface quality and other matters must become the task of a small group commissioned to study the subject thoroughly and scientifically.

This is a national need which should be funded by all states. We must remove the guesswork and the “she’ll be right” content of track designs. History has served the industry badly in this area. It is time we moved into the 21st century. The dogs will thank you for it.

Incidentally, at the risk of boring readers, donkey’s years ago I was playing fullback for a rugby league team in New Guinea and roared across to cut down a flying winger near the sideline. I got him alright but connected with his hip bone rather than something higher or lower. I felt a bit numb in the arm at the time but it went away. Ten minutes later I had the ball and was cutting through the opposition when an opponent sideswiped me – not seriously but the impact broke my collar bone. Obviously it had been cracked previously. That was all my own doing but it does illustrate the possible effect of collisions. They can affect any athlete at any time.

A Note

The need for detailed study of track designs was well illustrated in the Shepparton Cup heats last night. No winners were affected directly, largely because they got out quickly and led all the way (barring El Grand Seal, which always gets run down over this distance). However, the chances of many runners to earn a place were significantly affected by sideways squeezing on the way into the first turn. In a 450m race you do not get a second chance. This is why longshots got up into the places in most races. Despite favourites doing well, four of the eight First Fours paid over $800.

It is impossible to know exactly which cause has what effect in these cases. That’s why we need a proper study.

Let’s see the last of the non-penalty races

VICTORIA’S recent decision to dump the use of Non-Penalty racing at Melbourne’s secondary meetings each week may be returning dividends. At the very least it shows up the oddball nature of the decade old NP habit.

A better class of runners showed up at Sandown on Sunday. The slowest of seven graded 515m races was won in 29.81. Easily the best was a sparkling 29.41 from the in-form Noosa Rocket, coming to town after winning six in a row at provincial tracks. It led all the way from box 7, recording an equally sparkling 5.02 to the first marker.

Only one dog (My Bro Fabio) bettered that overall time at the main meeting last Thursday..

Some Non-Penalty races are still hanging around at the provincials for reasons that are impossible to fathom. What is wrong with the (recently expanded) grading system that justifies this policy? Get rid of them all.

Sectionals – Not a luxury but an essential

An unannounced change, but a good one, has occurred at many NSW provincial tracks. They have finally started publishing sectional times for all runners, not just for the leader. Previously, you also had to guess which dog was actually the leader because the time was not assigned to any particular one.

Newish TAB-clubs like Wagga and Dubbo are still lagging and none of the non-TAB clubs have taken up the new practice. But the important ones are there and providing valuable form data for punters.

Sadly, Tasmanians still live in another world. Despite constant reminders they persist in assigning the sectional time (one only) to whatever dog won the race – irrespective of whether it led or not. Career histories are therefore distorted for evermore.

To compound the felony, out two major form producers, GRNSW (Ozchase) and GRV, continue to copy the erroneous information into their own guides, thereby misleading punters across the nation. It would be a straightforward matter for their experts to tell their computers to ignore anything arriving from the three Tasmanian tracks, but they have not done that.

A recent classic was the smart time of 5.11 allocated to Above All in a heat of the Hobart Thousand and later copied in GRV’s subsequent guide for the Silver Chief series. The same mob had already called for its nomination as a run of the year (with poor judgement, in my view) because the dog walked out of the boxes, fought its way through the field and eventually caught the leaders in a modest 26.16. Unfortunately, whatever ran the 5.11 will never get the credit but it certainly was not Above All.

The same dog’s record-breaking win in the final was a different matter altogether.

But there is more. If you wade through the Tasracing website you will eventually find a jumbled mixture of videos, form, tips and sectional histories and predictions for local races. The latter includes “Best this Box” and “Average” sectionals, but where does this information come from? Are there other sectionals nobody has heard about?

Well, there have to be, otherwise how could they calculate an average?

Apparently, there is one set of data for locals and another for the rest of Australia. The latter are mostly lies, so it’s best to ignore the lot.

On the same subject but more generally, steward’s trials sometimes include sectional times, sometimes they don’t. Surely it should be mandatory to put them all in. It cannot be that hard. Even without Finishlynx, all you have to do is to look up at the semaphore board.

What money can’t buy

The Lismore club, which now races at somebody’s park, put on a special distance race – the “Distance Challenge” over 635m – yesterday and, following the incentive policy now in place and with some help from the park’s proprietor, offered a $3,000 first prize which is not to be sneezed at. So far, so good.

However, it got only seven nominations but three of those scratched, leaving just the four starters to battle it out. All were well known local dogs of average quality. A similar event on the previous Friday got only five starters.

Short fields are standard fare for longer races at the provincials in both NSW and Victoria, despite all the incentives. That’s a pity because the fans generally like longer races and it often gives the slower beginners a better chance in life.

Clearly, the formula is not proving out in practice. Do we need a Royal Commission to work out why this is happening? There must be a better way to spend all the spare cash.

Distance logic

Back in town, Double Rinse put some perspective into recent results when picking up a standard Grade 5 720m at Wentworth Park in a solid 42.25. This is only fractionally different to the times Space Star ran in heat and final of the Distance Plate worth $40,000-to-the-winner.

Certainly, Space Star has done better than that previously, but by far its better and faster runs have been over the middle distances at Gosford, Richmond and The Meadows. That’s where its real talent lies, although prize money may not be as good in that area. Like many others, such dogs can pull out all the stops over the longer trip on occasions, but not if they are asked to do it every week. Irma Bale would be a similar example.

That’s why heats and finals in successive weeks over the 700s are a hassle for many dogs.

Of course, luck in running plays a part, too.

Lismore or less? Clubs should hold on to tradition

What’s in a name? Quite a lot for a commercial organisation. It’s your basic image. It’s what people know you by. It’s what you advertise to attract more business. It’s what goes down in history.

So why give it away? Why dilute your message? That’s what the Lismore club, or perhaps the big brother looking after it, the NSW GBOTA (we don’t know), has done in selling that privilege to an online bookmaker. It’s not the first time as the NCA did it when they ran The Gardens club in Newcastle.

GRNSW has gone along with the change and printed the new name in all its publications, including form guides and results services. In theory, that means hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of records around the country also need to change, just as they would if you changed the racing distances.

I can recall decades ago shouts of disapproval when a club first sold race sponsorship to an outside organisation (was it Bulli?) and all the traditionalists complained bitterly. At the time, I could not see great harm in that and it has become the norm since then. But to give away your basic title is a risky step. It lessens the importance of your operation. And what happens if the advertiser gets sick of it all and quits?

There is no upside to this practice, apart from a few pieces of silver. What we should be advertising is the greyhound, not the wagering operator.

Run of the week

Never mind all the big shots. The most extraordinary exhibition came in a modest fifth grade at Sandown on Thursday from Usain I’m Nutty (Dyna Tron-Dyna Gillian).

After just an average start from box six, the dog was still only level with the leaders halfway down the back straight. Then it poured on the power and won by 13 lengths in 29.45. They weren’t mugs behind it either, as a couple had previously run 29.6 and 29.7.

Tardy starts and an odd name will be its only barrier to fame.

Trivia (1)

It was almost encouraging to see only 11 races at The Meadows mid-week meeting on the 21st, and again at Horsham on Saturday. I find 10 races are plenty to occupy my time, although you can always dismiss the maidens (two in each case) as betting propositions. Ditto for Novice events, which are just a gamble anyway.

Nominations had been held open for The Meadows meeting so that’s a further indication of a shortage of starters. Only one race had a short field but that was a longer one (600m) which is par for the course.

Ballarat had three 660m heats on the same night, two of which were also short of starters. Ricky Fields lowered the sectional time standard (to 12.42) but faded in the run home, He still won but in slow overall time.

Trivia (2)

According to big bookie Rob Waterhouse at Randwick last weekend “Race times were very slick. The best horse won most races. The punters bet right up on a track they could trust”. (SMH, January 18).

He was talking about the state of the track there (good). Weather effects on greyhound tracks are perhaps not so vital, although wind and leaders kicking up clumps of loam on wet tracks can be issues. However, are greyhound punters sufficiently trustful of the actual layouts, or does high interference turn them off?

There is a case that cutting the interference in half could encourage punters to bet more and more often on the dogs.

Not so trivial (3)

Should we learn from Nike and top tennis players how to make use of Dayglo green, yellow and pink?

All would make it easier to locate rug colours in the back straight or in bad light. Distinguishing blue from green and red from pink is never easy. It’s fine if they are right in front of you but it’s a different story in the heat of battle.

I once saw a race (for whippets) where the five dog wore a bright yellow vest. It worked brilliantly.

Come to think of it, why don’t we see whippet races any more? They used to be an interesting feature of greyhound meetings, just like the Jack Russells. The public enjoyed them. Space in the kennels might be a problem but surely we could find a way around that.

Stewards’ reports

Race 6, 680m, Warragul, January 23

“Opec Bale, Time Dimension and Coulta Rock were slow to begin”

In fact, Coulta Rock began with them, dashed to the lead and was eight lengths in front in the back straight.

“Opec Bale checked off Paris Sparks on the first turn checking Time Dimension”.

Actually, Opec Bale gave Time Dimension a highly questionable shove as they went round the first turn. This dog is talented but is proving a problem for punters as it moves up in class. It starting price of $1.60-$1.80 was far too skinny given its risky starts.

In the same race Zipping Spike, which was well fancied in early betting and started second favourite around $4.00, got way fairly well, raced where it prefers in the centre of the track in third place for a while, and then meandered to the finish in 39.67, 11.5 lengths behind the winner. The dog was coming back after a month off following top performances in the 650m Sale Cup. It was either unfit, injured or just not interested. Stewards made no comment.

Race 4, 600m, The Meadows, January 24

“Olive’s Gift crossed to the rail approaching the first turn, checking Sonic Pirate”.

Never touched it. Olive’s Gift jumped clear at the start and stayed there for half the race.

Greyhound Racing at sixes and sevens

It’s a simple matter but it has far reaching consequences.

The background is that it seems racing authorities are divided into two halves. One lot tries to be nice to trainers, the other tries to thump them for breaking the rules.

The last lot is well illustrated by the high number of people who view reports on this website on fines and suspensions.

The other half concentrate on handing out cash and modifying grading rules to make life easier for trainers – which is their lifeblood. The subject is front and centre again as GRV has just introduced Grades 6 and 7. The obvious intention is to make it possible for moderate dogs to pick up some wins. That’s always a frustrating task for Maiden winners.

The only stated reason for the change is that it will help avoid learners being placed in races with more experienced dogs, which is fair enough. You could say that it the same reason used for creating T3 races but without the accompanying restriction on times. It also overlaps with, or even duplicates, Non Penalty and Restricted Win races.

There are some parallels with other states. SA has a Grade 6 and Tasmania has a Juvenile class, both with some age restrictions. NSW has a “country” class for non-TAB clubs. Queensland has three classes of tracks/meetings so all the rules are tripled there.

Some time ago I believe I estimated Australia offered a total about 123 different grades. Now make that 125. The new Victorian grades are as well as, not instead of.

The first thing this brings to mind is how the old time graders – meaning club secretaries – got the job done before the computers at headquarters took over. Nominations were faxed in and separated into piles for each of maiden winners, winners of two races, and so on. Each pile was then split up according to experience and often age so that like would generally be competing with like. It seemed to work well enough, although the odd questionable practice might have snuck in here and there and interstate runs might not be properly listed. Even so, the prospects were generally clear for punters.

Of course, in those days we had only five grades plus maidens so it was all easy to understand. One memory involves going to Harold Park on Saturday nights and gazing respectfully at runners in what I think was called the Presidents Stake – Grade 1. These were the stars, the peak of the industry. Every week. Often they had Grades 2 and 3 races as well.

Can anyone remember the last time we had a Grade 1 event, or Grade 2 or 3 at your favourite track?

Since the mighty computer took over it became straightforward (but not cheap) to absorb additional requirements and sort out the wheat from the chaff. Mind you, errors still occurred and occasionally races had to be re-drawn. Still, it gave employment to more people and it meant trainers could not argue the toss with anyone. Now, that computer program will get bigger again as they find room for 6s and 7s. That will cost money, of course.

However, the whole subject begs the question of why Australia cannot have one simple set of grades for everyone. That’s the sort of subject which does fit into the purview of Greyhounds Australasia, just as it defines rug colours, box allocations and the like.

Equally, you have to ask why each state finds it necessary to have different grading policies in the first place. They will claim circumstances are never the same but that is an excuse, not a reason. After all, tracks are much the same, dogs are much the same and so are trainers, so why not grading? Cricket, tennis and all forms of football manage to get by with identical rules across the nation. What is so special about racing – remembering that the gallops are just as messy as the dogs?

And what will now happen as Victorian 6s and 7s cross the border to race, or vice versa? How will they convert to local conditions? There is more work for each state to re-write their rules – ie more costs – and more puzzles for trainers to work out or for owners to fathom how best to locate their dogs. In reality, there is no good answer, and so punters who provide the code’s income are therefore forced to fund the extra costs to sustain the more complex systems.

Maybe the good old days were not perfect, but they were a lot cheaper to manage.

Yet there is much more to this than just sorting out good and bad dogs. The complex pattern of rules and regulations developed over the last 20 or 30 years have been accompanied by other major trends. More and more short course events are being placed on the calendar following demand from trainers whose charges can’t manage longer trips. Novice and 300m races are infiltrating major tracks, where previously they never existed. Fewer competent starters are available for distance races. More races in total are being run, staffed by dogs which formerly could not reach the standards for TAB racing, and particularly city racing. While I do not have accurate statistics, anecdotal evidence suggests that dogs are racing more often, but with less consistency.

To cap it all, remotely located customers (the vast majority) now include greater numbers of mug gamblers who have not the faintest idea of what they are doing. Is this a coincidence? Like the average race, they too have been dumbed down.

In short, an industry which once put excellence at the top of the list is reduced to pounding out product of any old quality in the hope of dragging in a few more dollars. It is not really succeeding but it likes to give the impression that it is.

If you are at sixes and sevens it means you don’t really know where you are going.

Still Not Enough Dogs

On the question of the shortage of dogs, mentioned here recently, it was disturbing to note that seven of twelve races at Horsham yesterday were short of starters. One maiden had only two runners, other races had four, five and six (twice) runners. These would have had a terrible effect on betting turnover.

The meeting was drawn with full fields so the shortfalls occurred due to scratchings. But were they fair dinkum nominations in the first place?

Also yesterday, Lismore had four short fields, including only five runners in a (subsidised) 635m race.

And so it goes on.

Wenty Again Provides A Mixed Bag

LAST week’s big races displayed an extraordinary range of performances. In the Paws of Thunder heats at Wenty, Dyna Villa showed a clean pair of heels in a smart 29.64 win. It tip-toed to the line but had done more than enough before that. The unpredictable Shoulders recorded the same time after an uncharacteristically smart jump (5.40).

Others benefitted from skirmishes while three top liners – Allen Deed, Winsome Prince and Anything Less – all fell on the way to and around the notorious Wenty first turn. Apart from Dyna Villa, the only other favourite to win was Whittaker in a modest 30.17.

Paul Wheeler may not like the track but he had 17 runners there for two wins.

Kiltah Magic proved a trap for young players, who expected it to repeat its modest win at its first long distance start the week before. Its $1.80 starting price was based accordingly. Alas, it led easily but collapsed like a house of cards and ran nowhere. Obviously, it did not have enough recovery time. Starc plodded on to grab the prize in an ordinary 42.47, one length slower than Kiltah Magic ran last week.

Space Star accounted easily for an average lot in the other Summer Plate heat but ran well below its best in 42.20. It has done well at times but I suspect its best distance is a shade short of 700m. Former promising stayer Zipping Maggie (which once ran down Xylia Allen) was sent out a very skinny $4.00 second favourite but failed badly, as it has for all its last 11 races since its previous win. Stale? Too much racing?

In contrast at The Meadows, up and coming stayer Opec Bale overcame the second-up syndrome, improving its winning time to 42.45, albeit against very moderate opposition. It’s by Bekim Bale, which provided half the sixteen runners in the night’s two distance races. That must be some sort of record, too.

While punters got that one right, what were they thinking in backing Oakvale Flyer into $2.00 favouritism ($2.70 in Victoria) in a 600m race? The dog had very ordinary form and ran accordingly. Perhaps they confused it with its better performed sister, Oakvale Destiny?

Just as strange was the $1.70 price about Quarterback ($2.00 in Victoria), first up in town after good form over shorter distances at the provincials. All those runs had been from outside boxes, recording moderate sectionals, but here it moved to the rails box and was lucky to run into 4th spot at the end. It’s not a wide runner but does prefer to race two or three off the fence. A terrible price for an inexperienced, albeit talented dog.

Sandown punters also saw another sparkling run from Sisco Rage at a liberal $4.70. It was no surprise to see it record a lightning 29.26 after coming from last the previous week to win in 29.61. The dog is normally a good beginner, which is why it ran 5.02 to the first marker this time. The previous week’s jump was an aberration but its huge run to get through the field was not to be missed.

The week’s best run was probably Quasi Bale’s 33.89 over the Sandown 595m trip. Quite correctly, it started a $2.50 favourite despite its middle box and won by nine lengths. It may go on to better things.

Overall, in the two Saturday night meetings eight favourites started at $2.00 or shorter. Half won and half lost, which would leave anyone placing an even dollar on each losing 20% of their bank. Doubtless the over-betting is due to mug gamblers following the leader, so what can we do to overcome that problem? Better education perhaps?

All told, an interesting if funny mix.

What it leaves us with is a couple of promising distance dogs, a lot more which appear to need time in the paddock, maybe lots of time, and a track at Wentworth Park which is long overdue for a rebuild. Or even a complete replacement.

Meantime, I can understand people finding it hard to read the Ozchase formguides for Wenty, and therefore getting some of the pricing wrong. As a service to customers these guides are deplorable. But there is no such excuse for Victorian races where the formguides are handy and easy to read.

Activity And Outcomes Are Different Things

Following complaints at the NSW parliamentary Inquiry, GRNSW assured us that it would be taking steps to improve the state’s tracks. We then heard casual comments that someone had visited The Gardens to attend to needed work. No announcement was made before or after the visit and no significant change has been observable. The usual disruptions on the first and home turns continue.

Given past experience with work at Richmond, Dapto, Maitland, Bathurst, Gosford, Bulli and elsewhere, there is no evidence that GRNSW has any particular expertise in designing tracks anyway. More often, it seems to allow clubs such as the GBOTA and the former NCA to control changes or re-builds, also without success. The system completely lacks professionalism.

Readers might recall that the chairman of a previous authority ceded responsibility to the two major clubs for setting up the iniquitous intercode agreement, thereby lumbering the state with a 99 year sentence to a life of poverty.

These are some of the reasons why people should take very seriously the current review of the Greyhound Racing Act and the nature of the organisation. History ignored is history repeated.

Voters Needed For Two States And NSW Greyhounds

The five-yearly review of the NSW Greyhound Racing Act is under way. This is a normal statutory requirement but has been pre-empted by the recent “independent” parliamentary inquiry into greyhound racing and will be further confused by the upcoming state elections where both major parties have been playing musical chairs with ministerial duties.

Then there is always the traditional attitude to inquiries of any sort. It was echoed recently by the secretary of Action for Public Transport (SMH, Jan 6): “An old adage of politics is not to hold an inquiry unless you can be certain of the outcome.” That may be in doubt here.

The government has yet to finalise its reactions to the inquiry, which reached much touchier conclusions than usual, but the Premier indicates it is subject to “budget considerations” – meaning, mainly, should it or shouldn’t it harmonise racing taxes with those applying interstate.

Nevertheless, the department (Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing) continues on and has published a useful discussion paper to assist contributors to the review. Apart from anything else, it provides a good history of greyhound administration from WW2 onwards.

Normally these things don’t amount to much as changes are never high on the priority lists of bureaucrats. They prefer the status quo. However, we did have some improvements last time, leading to what the government called a more independent board membership.

Nominally, that was true. No current club members now occupy spots. However, it is notable that every one of the GRNSW board members, including the two just replaced, has previously served in racing organisations of one sort or another. Conversely, there are no members who are completely free of industry experience.

Generally, this is contrary to normal commercial board practice where at least one or two outsiders are considered desirable to have as directors. The aim there is to infuse fresh thinking into the system and to offer a more objective view of the organisation’s performance.

Greyhound people typically don’t like this much. Rather, they keep asking for more representation from participants – “more dog men on the board” is the catch phrase. Indeed, the parliamentary inquiry, following several submissions, also asked the government to consider adding two participants to the five-person board.

Unfortunately, 60 years of experience shows that does not work very well. In reality, it was a specific reason for moving to an “independent” board a few years ago, thereby eliminating the inevitable conflicts of interest. Even electing one or two participants leaves the office holder in debt to his constituents, whether or not their views are also of value to the industry as a whole.

The administration of racing – all codes – is divided into two main streams: economic or commercial development on one hand and regulatory functions on the other. The review is asking if those two tasks should be handled by one or two different organisations.

In that vein, it might be remembered that a previous attempt to split the responsibilities (for harness and greyhounds only) failed to generate any efficiencies. In fact, costs went up.

The other main issue is whether or not the current management and governance structure is good or appropriate. That’s not a hard one to answer – up to a point anyway. Racing – again, all codes – have much the same style of organisations yet it is remarkable that all have continued to lose their way, particularly over the past 20 years.

Market share has been falling steadily, first to casinos, pokies and the like, and now to sports betting. Patronage is also waning as serious customers desert the cause, to be replaced by poker-machine refugees. Breeding is in decline, despite all the waffle about financial incentives. And average field quality is also in decline, pressured by TABs (meaning Tabcorp) insisting on the codes running more races even though there are fewer competitors to fill them. To cap it all, the wagering climate is a mess with all operators trying to grab a bigger slice of the business. Nobody seems to know how to control it all.

The interim conclusion has to be that existing management systems cannot cope with modern demands. Therefore, change them. But, to what? Well, that’s a tough one, but one thing is clear: racing’s normal management-by-committee system is a relic of the ages and should be dumped. To succeed, someone has to be responsible but that will never happen as long as you use a committee.

So get your ideas in to the review. The deadline has now been extended to February 13.

Stewards Still Struggling

Sandown, January 8, Race 2.

“Dyna Norfolk (7) crossed to the rail soon after the start checking Hashtag Selfie (5), Xtreme Gretel (3), Earl Bale (2) and Weblec Rose (1). Hashtag Selfie (5) crossed to the rail approaching the first turn checking Xtreme Gretel (3), Earl Bale (2) and Weblec Rose (1)”.

Steward seems to be having an each-way bet here but they failed to run a place. Aside from a slight brush between the two “offenders”, any problems incurred by the inside dogs were all their own work, mainly because they began slower than the two leaders. They were not checked by the two crossing dogs.

Horsham, January 6, Race 7

“Magic Diva (7) crossed to the rail approaching the first turn, checking All Inn Black (2) and Gitcha Rich (1)”.

Totally wrong. Magic Diva never touched the other two dogs, which never broke stride at all.

Is Allen Deed Now The Best?

THERE is no stopping Allen Deed when he gets the right race. Saturday night’s record 29.38 run at The Meadows was power-personified and well inside Heston Bale’s three year old time of 29.45. The dog now owns a package of brilliant runs in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney.

This time Allen Deed was blessed with an empty box and a slow beginner inside him so had no trouble working into second place in the back straight. After that he simply powered past Musquin Bale to win by an extraordinary six lengths.

The run contrasted with four shockers in succession at Sandown in November, good and bad runs at Ballarat, followed later by smart performances at Sale over the longer trip – where he was badly blocked on the home turn in the Cup final (but was not going to win anyway). He is not easy to pick but is all quality when he gets it right.

Those Sandown runs remain a mystery as stewards failed to query the runs or take a swab.

The same mid-race power was also evident in Above All’s big win over favourites Dyna Double One and Dyna Villa in the Silver Chief final. Although the other two are capable of faster time than Saturday’s 29.78, both were psyched out of the race by the winner. Above All did no more than equal its time in the semi. All three are just under or over two years old so you can’t expect miracles every time they come out. Times are not everything, are they? In fact, Above All’s times in the heat and final of the Hobart Thousand last month were chalk and cheese – the latter breaking the track record.

Both these wins remind us of the obvious: winning runs depend on four things – natural ability, fitness, the circumstances of the race, and good luck. Dogs which get those right half the time are doing very well.

Why Is It So?

Apparently, a few readers find it unimportant to hear that stewards might not be getting things right. That’s their right, but I beg to differ. Not because some of the cases mentioned here are life and death matters, but because they are illustrations of a serious lack of attention to accuracy and consistency.

Indeed, if I had my way stewards would have even greater responsibilities and more pay than they do now, providing only that they do better. For example, as regular supervisors of races at all locations, they should be able to advise on track features which affect the clean running of a race – box positions, turn design, etc, etc. To do that they may well require better education, more training in form analysis, dog habits, betting practices and statistics, etc. So be it.

People seem to be under the impression that stewards are there just to thump errant dogs and trainers yet their prime responsibility is to the public – to ensure racing is fair and above board, that the rules are followed, and to do so in a way that the public understands. Establishing the facts, the truth, is a vital part of that job. If they cannot do that, their purpose is lost.

But doing their job well also serves to better promote the sport and enhance its profitability. This is an under-rated bonus.

One suggestion I would make is that administrations should introduce supplementary guidelines on what actually constitutes failing to chase or fighting (use of the politically correct but oblique term of “marring” has never impressed me), and which sort of offence would attract what penalty. The basic racing rule is clear but it does not go far enough and needs what government law makers describe as an “explanatory memorandum”. That might avoid the confusion which we have commented on here previously. It could also contribute to national consistency.

Anyway, here are two more examples of basic errors.

Stewards Reports

Race 5, Geelong, January 2.

“Bally Sleek (8) crossed to the rail soon after the start checking Benzo Bale (5), Aston Dima (4), Francesco (9) and Chappy (3). Spring Collete (10) checked off Bally Sleek approaching the first turn.”

Bally Sleek was well clear of the four dogs mentioned and had no effect whatever on their progress. The second part of the comment is correct but it might also have been true just after the jump as Spring Collete was coming out of the 7 box, adjacent to the leader.

It is noticeable that the steward at Geelong stands to the left of the boxes and on the track proper. He would therefore have an oblique view of what the 8 dog is actually doing. Why are elevated positions not available to greyhound stewards, as occurs at the gallops?

Track Comment: On average, coming over from outside boxes is not particularly easy for Geelong’s 460m trip unless the dog is a really smart beginner. However, the trip’s major peculiarity is that a significant proportion of runners lose the turn into the straight, thereby changing the running order. Clearly, the track camber is at fault. Occasionally, you may see dogs get alarmingly close to the outside fence or even to the 596m boxes.

PS: Geelong’s track map on the GRV website badly needs updating.

Race 3, The Meadows, 3 January.

“Little Pookie (5) crossed to the rail soon after the start, checking Cincinnati Lee (4), Dyna Vikkers (3), Run Sophie Run (2) and Stetson Quamby (1)”.

This never happened. Little Pookie was always well clear of the other four dogs and did not reach the rail until well around the turn. The other dogs did their own mixing.

Your Taxes At Work

Out of the blue, a new distance has suddenly appeared at Bulli. I can’t find or recall any previous mention of this but the club (which means the GBOTA) now offers a 590m trip to go with 400m, 472m, 515m, 659m and almost any other distance you like because the club has a drop-in box facility which gets regular use for two of the above starts.

This time, however, the boxes are permanent, presumably costing many tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy and install. That might be OK for a rich state but the shortage of funds in NSW is already the source of much angst at headquarters, so that makes it a strange investment.

Is it necessary? Well, the history is that the original 604m start was dumped after a track rebuild, and replaced by the above 515m and 659m starts, which was fair enough. Those 604m boxes were the source of Paul Ambrosoli’s magnificent description that they used to come out “like a band of wild Indians”. True enough, they were terrible.

But now the 590m boxes have appeared in almost the same spot – to what end? Even now both 515m and 659m trips get very limited use, despite the fact that the 515m trip is one of the better runs in the state. Obviously we can expect that use to decrease even further as the demand will now be split amongst three distances, rather than just two. Is that worth spending a big pile of scarce cash for?

It is a reminder of some of the criticisms of GRNSW that emerged during the parliamentary Inquiry – that is, it is not just a matter of how you spend money, but also whether the investment returns a dividend.

It is even more galling that nothing has been spent on fixing the flat home turn at Bulli, which routinely sees dogs veering almost off the track proper – including during the inaugural 590m race – and thereby losing their places in the running order. Without doubt, it is the worst home turn in the country.

Stewards Reports Puzzling

Race 5, Sandown 1 January.

“Allen Malik (7) crossed to the rail on the first turn checking Eyeful Of Bling (1), Frank Furter (4) and Flame Bale (8), severely checking Hello Good Bye (5) and Zipping Ryan (6) which both raced wide as a result”.

It is hard to believe that anyone could write such rubbish as this. Allen Malik did no such thing. It never went near another dog and moved to the rail only when well around the turn. The worst of the ruckus occurred when Dark Jameson (3) moved to the right at the first turn, as is its habit, hitting Hello Good Bye, which then hit Flame Bale.

Eyeful of Bling had also moved off the rail passing the judge, possibly ankle-tapped by Sign of Snow (2), and then cannoned into the favourite Frank Furter. While all this was happening, Allen Malik was long gone.

Many of these problems are affected by the peculiar nature of Sandown’s turn, where some dogs unpredictably shift off the rail as they pass the post. I call this the “Sandown Two-Step” and it has been going on for 15 years. It is a design problem.

Four stewards were on duty for this meeting. Did none of them actually review the film?

Race 6, Sandown, 1 January.

“Bad Boy Sniper crossed to the rail soon after the start and collided with Senor Socks”. There was no “collision” – both headed for the rail after moderate jumps and there was little interaction.

“Senor Socks checked off Bad Boy Sniper approaching the first turn”. Perhaps, but Senor Socks often moves out in its races and certainly did so here, which is always a sensitive point at Sandown.

“High Class checked off Jubilea Bale approaching the third turn checking Bad Boy Sniper”. Yes, High Class was not neat in finding a way past Jubilea Bale – and never did. That had no effect whatever on Bad Boy Sniper which continued pressing on three off the fence to win the race.

What is hard to fathom is why stewards make up these stories when even a quick glance at the film reveals the lie. (I have been challenged that the steward behind the boxes actually has a better view of this sort of interference. This is completely illogical as (a) his view is partially blocked and (b) he has no perspective of the actual positions of runners).

Still on Sandown

Let’s not leave Sandown without recording the extraordinary performance by Sisco Rage in Race 3. Normally a good beginner, the dog fell out of the boxes, four or five lengths behind the next runner, and then proceed to rail up and up until winning by three lengths in a smart 29.61. Amazing!

But don’t try this at home.

New Year’s Celebrations

It seems that gamblers were still getting over festivities of the night before. Takings on the night of January 1 were, at best, half the usual size. That made it hard for Win punters but the exotics were also all over the place. Nights like this make you wish for a national pool.

Power Corrupts, Etc…And History Repeats Itself

The stoush between SKY and TVN is unlikely to do much good for greyhounds, save for a few extra dollars here and there from gamblers momentarily diverted from their preferred horse races.

It’s a power battle, initially between two broadcasters, but in the end between NSW and Victorian galloping interests over how they see their wagering income affected. Underneath it all, the mighty Tabcorp is looking on bemusedly as its product suppliers squabble over the crumbs. Tabcorp will lose a few dollars while it goes on but will come out on top stronger than ever.

The genesis of the saga lay in the hunger of the big gallops clubs for better – ie longer – film coverage of the before and after goings-on of each race. More discussion of form and fitness, more tips, more post mortems and other publicity.

SKY was skimping on that detail so the raceclubs created TVN with their own money (which they are now bound to lose) to offer exclusive thoroughbred viewing. No dogs, no trots. The big city types convinced the provincials to join in but threw in a deal which guaranteed simultaneous SKY coverage to satisfy the many people who were unwilling or unable to pay for TVN subscriptions via Foxtel or whoever.

Now that has broken down, TVN will probably collapse and SKY will get the lot, perhaps hiving off some rights to Pay-TV or even to Free-to-Air, as is now occurring with Channel Seven, Either way, SKY’s owner, Tabcorp, will have a win. More so because Racing NSW already has a long term agreement with Tabcorp to be its preferred betting operator. This extended Tabcorp’s existing monopoly over all NSW TAB activities. That stranglehold effectively extends into Victoria where the racing codes refer to Tabcorp as its business “partner”.

However, the reason for the original dissatisfaction with SKY coverage will continue. While the gallops have always obtained preferred treatment, the continuing rise in meetings covered by Tabcorp, and therefore SKY, leaves no space available to indulge in lengthy chats (as Channel Seven does for major meetings now and TVN once did). The addition of extra international meetings crams even more races into a finite space.

Many greyhound meetings have long since been pushed onto SKY2, costing them turnover, and that is a trend that can only persist or even grow.

The paradox is that while all these measures are reducing the average greyhound turnover per race, the greyhound code is a golden goose for Tabcorp because it serves to fill all the available gaps in the broadcast program. That keeps all the gamblers, the machines and the staff working hard, thereby generating enormous economic efficiencies for Tabcorp.

Even more curious is that while SKY is paying a fortune to the gallops clubs for rights to film their races, greyhound clubs get nothing and are forced to cover their own hook-up costs.

It is also worth remembering that, to keep punters busy, GRNSW scheduled extra dog races during the equine influenza epidemic, but then promptly gave away 87% of its income to the other two codes (per force of the intercode agreement). Operating costs would certainly not have been covered.

How did all that happen? In part, it evolved way back in the early 1990s when SKY boss Warren Wilson (later CEO of TAB Ltd and now head of the Penrith Panthers gambling and sporting complex) scooted around NSW signing up clubs directly, using a use-it or lose-it approach with clubs which had little idea of the tiger’s tail they were grabbing hold of.

SKY was aided considerably by the eagerness of GBOTA clubs to hop on the bandwagon before it was too late. Possession (of a broadcast slot) was nine points of the law, mainly because once SKY coverage started betting turnover more or less doubled. Unfortunately, no-one thought to negotiate a mutually satisfactory deal with SKY – hence the current lopsided financial arrangements.

All through that era, the NSW GRA (as it was then) was no more than a spectator – an attitude that carried through to the signing of the intercode agreement that is now a ball and chain for the local industry.

Call it naïve or just commercial ignorance, it became the benchmark for all future processes involving betting and especially TABs. The outcome is that today, despite greyhounds’ highly valuable contribution to Tabcorp’s bottom line, it has no bargaining power. The two giant thoroughbred authorities in Sydney and Melbourne have it on their own, notwithstanding the fact that they continue to lose market share.

Isn’t it about time we made a noise on our own, starting with the creation of a powerful national authority to do battle with the other giants of the industry? The current structure allows states to be picked off one by one, just as small clubs in NSW were 20 years ago.

In parallel, the need for state governments to join together to better look after consumers has never been greater. A carefully regulated national betting market is essential to bring that about.

Not This Time, But Maybe Next Time?

How is it possible to understand what stewards do?

Stewards Report, Race 10, Sandown 28 December.

“Stewards issued a warning to Ms. A. Langton, the trainer of In Black Gear regarding the greyhounds racing manners on the home turn”.

In fact, the dog turned its head and had a nip at the dog outside it. Both it and the victim lost ground as a result. A casual observer might find the “offence” more serious than, for instance, that of Deadly Boy in a heat of the Sale Cup recently. Deadly Boy got 28 days. In Black Gear lives to fight again.

Sale Cup Reveals Much

HOW did Sweet It Is get through to 3rd place in last Friday’s Cup final? The answer to that question tells the story of the layout of the Sale track – or part of the story, anyway.

The best part of that race was the meritorious win by Star Recall, jumping out well and leading all the way. This is a very professional dog with a large bunch of wins over 500m-650m in both WA and Victoria. The 37.15 time was identical to its heat time. It beat probably the best collection of middle distance dogs seen in a long while.

The strangest thing was that punters in both NSW and Victoria sent out Sweet It Is as a $2.60 favourite against five dogs which had run faster time in their heats and were better suited to the trip. How often have we seen Sweet It Is reach the front at the 650m mark in long distance races? There may be others but the only one I can recall is four starts ago at Wentworth Park in a short field against moderate dogs – ie not top class middle distance racers.

Even its 3rd placing was fortuitous and brings up a major point about the Sale track. The 650m has a long clear run down the home straight, then a tight first turn, usually accompanied by interference. The back straight sorts out men from boys until they hit the main turn – or at least the second part of it – when strange things can happen, and did in this case. Behind the leader, four dogs were battling for the places, only for it to turn into a mad scramble as different dogs tended to find different ways of going forward. Some got through, some didn’t. That is not unusual but common at this point, irrespective of the distance of the trip.

In the Cup, Allen Deed, which was looking a certainty for a place, got into trouble while Sweet It Is got a saloon passage along the rail. That’s the answer to the first question above.

Why is this so? Remember the Sale track was re-built fairly recently, but it is hard to see what changes occurred, save for the 511m distance changing to 520m, but still with a nasty bend start. The home turn poses just the same problems as it did before.

My theory is that Sale is one of several Australian tracks where the topography is all wrong. It is compromised by the placement of the 650m boxes on level ground while the turn leading up to that area is cambered and at a higher level. Dogs moving from the turn into the straight therefore meet a kind of corkscrew effect – a change of gauge – which some handle differently to others. Hence the uncertain bunching that occurs regularly.

Other tracks which have similar design issues to that are The Gardens, Angle Park, the former Singleton, the old Gold Coast (which once had 732m boxes) and the old Geelong. All have, or had, boxes located abeam of the home turn and those fields got preferential treatment from the track builder – ie runners from other starts ended up hitting flat areas as they came out of the turn. Some dogs can hold those turns, some can’t, but which ones will they be?

Contrast that with the new Gosford track, which has an excellent home turn, despite the presence of a nearby 600m start. Its levels are correctly balanced in that area, although its 520m first turn is a horror.

Digressing a bit from the Sale issue, many other home turns are affected by poor (flat) cambers, notably all the newish one-turn tracks in Victoria as well as Maitland and Bulli in NSW. Both those NSW tracks have had the same problem for 50 years to my knowledge, whether grass or loam, whether re-built or not. The outcome is that many dogs fan out across the track, thereby changing the running order and the placings. Interference is also more likely at this point. This is essentially a man-made problem which could be readily fixed. The design flaw is that the steeper lateral camber on the turn does not continue far enough into the home straight.

The underlying principle here is that dogs can handle an even turn but when you make that turn more complex it is all too much for an animal hell-bent on chasing a lure at high speed and dodging competitors on the way.

Aside from home turns, a similar flaw appears at tracks with cutaway first turns such as Wentworth Park, Bulli, Launceston, Cannington and more recently Maitland. These have the “turn before the turn”. The change at Maitland was accompanied by a media release from GRNSW claiming that such a turn had proven “successful elsewhere”. It did not nominate the tracks but all the evidence shows that to be a completely false statement – ie box bias and interference levels were always increased. At Maitland, for example, more winners started coming from boxes 1, 2 and 8 while middle boxes suffered. You will not find that information on GRNSW files because they did not re-start their winning box data after making the change. Oranges are mixed in with apples. (I counted them up manually from mid-2010).

Hopefully, the penny will drop before too long and racing authorities will commission a genuine scientific study of cause and effect in track design. Facts are always better than opinions.

Working in the Dark

The Australian Racing Board, publisher of the very valuable Fact Book, has put out its 2013/14 edition but it is incomplete. It may have the GA disease as it has not been able to locate all the betting data it needs. Its wagering data covers all three codes. It is now six months since the end of the financial year (three years for GA data) so this is a pretty poor state of affairs for the industry. All sorts of upheavals are occurring in the wagering area so both managements and governments are short of vital information. I can’t see that happening in other industries where submitting performance numbers is usually compulsory. To have a voluntary system in place in a multi-billion dollar industry makes no sense at all.

Let Them Have A Bet

Let’s give Ballarat stewards a small credit for trying to look into what they regarded as a below-par performance. There should be more of it.

But again they got it wrong. It reminds you of the time some months ago in town when they hauled in the (previous) trainer of Sweet It Is and asked for an explanation of its improved performance to win at 50/1. In fact, it had not improved at all, but just run pretty much as it had been doing at its previous several starts. The others just ran poorly. So much for their ability to assess form.

Anyway, here is what they wrote after Scintillating failed at $1.70 in a Mixed 4/5 Grade race on Wednesday night. The case is not life threatening but interesting nevertheless.

Race 5, Ballarat, 24 December.
“Scintillating which performed below marked (sic) expectations was vetted following the event. It was reported that there was no apparent injury”. (Do they mean “market”?)

The major issue here is that the market was wrong. Certainly the dog had fair form but its best recent run was over the shorter 425m trip at Bendigo in 23.95 coming out of box 4. At Ballarat the dog had box 8 and could have been expected to begin no better than several other runners. In practice it recorded 6.70 when its recent form suggested an average of 6.71 – pretty right, eh? Given the similar form of the others, there would always be a big doubt about it being able to cross before the corner. That aside, it is very doubtful Scintillate could have got down to the 25.41 recorded by the winner, Don’t Be Short, even with a clear run

So it turned out. Scintillate was stuck wide, outside three or four dogs all the way to and around the turn. Effectively, it covered nearer 500m than the actual 450m of the race. But all of that was predictable – not certain, but a major possibility in view of the nature of the track and the form of its competitors. The Watchdog said it was a $2.20 chance, I made it $5.00. In fact you could name five runners that warranted prices between $4.00 and $6.00. But, as often happens, the market just blindly followed the tips and the favourite, and forced the price down to a ridiculous level.

The winner, incidentally, Don’t Be Short from box 2, was big overs at $20 considering it has just run a smart 25.43 at Shepparton and was helped by having only average beginners either side of it. Still, none of these were champions so a range of results was possible.

Anyway, stewards should have been querying the market, not the dog, which performed more or less as expected but was unable to get the breaks it needed.

The big question we are left with is whether stewards are sufficiently competent to analyse form? Supporting evidence is weak. For example, apart from the Sweet It Is incident above, I have recently queried why they ignored poor runs over the last few months from Allen Deed and Xylia Allen, both of which have put in shockers when well supported. Xylia Allen is now off to be a mum while Allen Deed recovered top form to run a very quick heat in the Sale Cup series (final tonight). This is basically a top quality dog so its earlier poor efforts in town remain a mystery.

I do have one helpful hint for the stewards and their bosses. Rather than banning them from punting I would make it compulsory – on racing in other states, that is. They might then learn more about form and betting. The only way to do that is the hard way.

I might include GRV publicity people in that classroom, too. They called for Above All to be nominated for run of the year when it came from last (its own fault) to win a heat of the Hobart Thousand in a modest 26.16 against equally modest opposition. Having done that, how would they classify its record-breaking run in the final – 25.52? Run of the century? The millennium?

Who Is Responsible for Wagering?

Many punters will be pleased that the NSW Racing Minister has now formally endorsed the Fixed Odds betting rules put in place by Racing NSW last July (which begs the question of who actually runs racing and wagering). Conditions apply, but basically online bookies are now compelled to accept any reasonable bet.

However, so far as we know, Tabcorp is still able to play fast and loose. Its state-approved rules still include these limitations (for this purpose “TAB” means Tabcorp):

“3.1.3 Subject to Rule 3.1.4, TAB may refuse to accept any fixed price racing bet at its sole discretion and without stating reasons”.

“3.1.4 Subject to 3.1.1, TAB may set any minimum or maximum stake or payout for fixed price racing bets”.

These give the impression that they were all written by Tabcorp rather than the government. (So we ask again; who actually controls racing and wagering?) And how is “payout” defined? At face value, these rules imply that Tabcorp can pay anything it likes, regardless of the size and nature of the original wager. (A loophole that was used by Bet365 in the Brunker case about an alleged “fixed” race at Ipswich dogs).

The Minister’s announcement on December 23 made no specific mention of this although it addresses “any fixed odds wager on NSW thoroughbred races”. In that event there is a legal clash. And what about bets made in NSW on an interstate race? Online bookies are based outside NSW, but have agreed to Racing NSW conditions, not the state’s laws, while Tabcorp is legally responsible to NSW laws for what it does in that state, including taking bets on any race, anywhere.

Additionally, it seems that dogs and trots got lost in transition. Why didn’t the Minister include them?

Bravely, the NSW Minister assures us that because “some bookmakers have refused to express unqualified support” (ie to Racing NSW) he has now made regulations to enforce the new rules. How exactly would he do that for a company based in the Northern Territory where he has no jurisdiction? What a pity all states do not assign wagering powers to a single national supremo? There is plenty of legal precedent for doing that and the Productivity Commission thought it was a good idea, too.

Maybe the NSW racing department is overworked because its current website still shows the GRNSW chairman as Professor Percy Allen. Eve McGregor would not be pleased.

Tales Of NSW Greyhound Racing’s Glory Days As Gov Launches Review

BARRY Colless pines for greyhound racing’s good old days.

The New South Wales based trainer, who is a welfare officer with the Greyhound Breeders, Owners and Trainers Association, misses the characters of the day.

And, at 75, with “42 or 43 years” in the business, he’d know a thing or two.

“I grew up with some of the characters in Sydney and you don’t see them today,” Colless told Australian Racing Greyhound.

“They looked after their greyhounds, they did things with their dogs that they don’t do today, you don’t rub the dogs down and massage ‘em and brush ‘em these days.

“Back then, they always looked a picture.

“There was the old saying: you always picked the old bloke with the hat.

“You always backed his dog, any old bloke with a hat who walked onto the track with a dog that looked the picture, you backed his dog.

“And sure enough, up he’d get up.”

With the New South Wales Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing announcing plans to review the Greyhound Racing Act 2009 to ‘determine whether the policy objectives of the Act remain valid and whether the terms of the Act remain appropriate for securing those objectives’, Colless says there is plenty of scope for change in the industry.

“They need to make changes, I know that, but what changes they’ll make is another thing,” Colless said.

“I’ve read about the inquiry. At least the government is taking a look.”

Mr Colless said issues with grading and lack of prize money had hurt the industry in New South Wales, forcing many trainers to send their dogs south.

“It’s a very good sport, and it’s a shame the way it’s going,” he said.

“Grading’s the biggest issue.

“I used to do a bit of grading in the non TAB stuff and I thought that was pretty fair, but I think it’s a personal thing.

“I think now they just sort of set the guidelines, put it through a computer and forget it, but equal opportunity is what you are after.”

He said Greyhound Racing Victoria set the benchmark.

“We just want to improve our sport and get better prize money,” he said.

“I think Victoria, they’re going (ahead) in leaps and bounds. They get a lot of money from the government.

“And now we’re trying to get the government up here to do the same thing. They take so much out of the dollar and they take too much out.

“Vic dogs get a better deal than we do.

“Lots of our guys (New South Wales trainers) send their dogs down there because there’s more prize money.

“No wonder we’ve got a shortage up here.

“I remember when all the dogs used to come up from Victoria to Wentworth Park, you’d back the Victorians. And I can’t answer that one now, because they never come here.”

You could sit and listen to Colless talk for hours.

His aging voice tells tales of yesteryear, like they happened yesterday.

“I’m glad I got introduced to it (greyhound racing) by accident,” he remembers.

“I met a lady – who I later married – and my father in law got me interested in dogs.

“I’ve had no disappointments whatsoever.

“You get good ones and bad ones, but you’ve just got to put up with that, you can’t all have good ones, but you can always have one at the track, you can always compete.

“It’s all money now, there’s too much greed today.

The most dogs he’s ever had under his care is four.

He now has “just the two”, as arthritis in his hands makes it tougher to look after the dogs, and he does all his own vet work on his animals, picking up the tools of the trade over the past four decades.

“I learnt the hard way from old trainers and I still believe in it,” he said.

“I’ve only got two. You can’t spend the time with them if you have any more.

“I can’t understand blokes with 20 dogs.

“They just don’t have the time to do it right.”

Snow Shiraz is his darling at the moment, with two wins at Wentworth Park and a recent second at Gosford.

“He’s a very honest dog and he’ll make a bloody good pet when he eventually retires,” he said.

“A beautiful dog.

“I’ve had a hell of a lot of winners, I can’t complain.

“I’m not making a million, but I’ve got a little bit of money put away.”

Barry Colless with wife Judy

Next time you’re at the track, and you see the old fella with the hat, with a dog that looks a million bucks, it’ll probably be Barry, ready to send his next winner home.

UPDATE

More details have emerged about the review into the NSW Greyhound Racing Act, 2009.

A spokesman for the New South Wales Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing said the move was a five year statutory review.

Under the legislation, the Minister for Racing is required to review the Greyhound Racing Act to:

  • Ensure objectives of the Acts themselves remain relevant.
  • Review established governance models to ensure that mechanisms to control and supervise greyhound and harness racing are best practice effective and fit for purpose.
  • Reviewing mechanisms for stakeholder input.

The spokesman told Australian Racing Greyhound the reviews and any recommendations would be tabled in the NSW Parliament by May, next year.

The spokesman said the OLGR had produced a discussion paper to help people make submissions on the review.

We previously reported it was available on the OLGR website, but it is set to be published in the near future.

“The discussion paper poses questions about matters of specific interest, however comments or suggestions may be made on any aspect of the industry,” the spokesman said.

“Advertisements seeking suggestions to improve greyhound racing are also scheduled to be placed in the media to widen the recruitment of ideas.

“OLGR invites individuals and organisations interested in the review to make submissions.

“All submissions will be treated as public and may be published as part of the review report, unless advised by the person making the submission or it is determined during the review that all or part of a submission should be treated as confidential.”

The closing date for submissions is January 31, 2015.

 

  • Australian Racing Greyhound has contacted the New South Wales Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing for comment on the review.
  • In a statement on its website, Greyhound Racing New South Wales wrote the Act under review “principally provides for the constitution of Greyhound Racing NSW as the industry’s controlling body, the functions and the powers of that body, the constitution of an industry consultation group (GRICG) and the appointment of a Greyhound Racing Integrity Auditor.”
  • The full Act can be viewed at the NSW legislation website legislation.nsw.gov.au.
  • A discussion paper prepared to assist submitters with the preparation of their contribution to the review can be accessed at the OLGR website olgr.nsw.gov.au or a copy can be requested via email at greyhoundreview@olgr.nsw.gov.au
  • OLGR has invited interested individuals and organisations to make written submissions to the review. Submission should be sent to: The Coordinating Officer, Greyhound Racing Act Review, Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing, GPO Box 7060, SYDNEY NSW 2001 or  greyhoundreview@olgr.nsw.gov.au.
  • All submissions will be treated as public and may be published as part of the review report, unless advised by the submission maker or it is determined during the review that all or part of a submission should be treated as confidential.
  • The closing date for submissions is January 31, 2015.

 

Are Racing Rules In The Eye Of The Beholder?

Sometimes it is hard to fathom racing rules, or at least the way they are interpreted. Steward’s reports tell all.

CASE A: Race 9, The Meadows, 20 December

“Optimus Bart was vetted following the event. It was reported that the greyhound sustained injuries to the right quadriceps and right biceps, a 14 day stand down period was imposed. Acting under GAR 69(B)(1), the stewards charged Optimus Bart with failing to pursue the lure with due commitment (by reason of injury). Mr. A Debattista pleaded guilty to the charge, Optimus Bart was found guilty and stewards directed that the greyhound perform a Satisfactory Trial (all tracks) pursuant to GAR 69(B)(1)(a), befiore (sic) any future nomination will be accepted”.

CASE B: Race 4 Sale, 20 December.

“Acting under GAR 69(A)(1) stewards charged Deadly Boy with failing to pursue the lure with due commitment. Mr. L. Walsh pleaded guilty to the charge, Deadly Boy was found guilty and suspended for 28 days at Sale and directed that the greyhound perform a Satisfactory Trial (all tracks), pursuant to GAR 69(2)(A)(a) before any future nomination will be accepted”.

In Case A, a 600m event, Optimus Bart was racing well after a moderate start and led into the back straight when, without warning, it turned its head and fought the dog outside it. By any measure, that was not “fail to chase” but fighting. It then continued on with the race quite normally, albeit now well behind. The dog was was not suspended, only sidelined for two weeks due to the injury.

In Case B in a 650m race, Deadly Boy first did everything right, leading until near the post. It then turned its head (contact was not obvious) and allowed the winner to get past it. You might also argue that the dog was fading at his point anyway. It got suspended for 28 days for failing to chase, which sounds pretty right.

Without doubting the vet’s post-race word about Optimus Bart, there was no obvious indication of injury before or during the contact with the other dog. The incident happened in isolation and it involved a deliberate move to its right to meet the other dog. That is, it changed course significantly. Would an injured dog do that? Not sure. A further point is that, while the vet’s observation may well be spot on, we cannot be sure where the injury occurred. Was it before, during or after the offence?

Anyway, given that it galloped on normally for the remainder of the race Optimus Bart could not have been too badly inconvenienced. More importantly, while Deadly Boy’s error was minor and changed little in the race (the winner was finishing strongly) the Optimus Bart incident was blatant, extreme and destroyed the chances of itself and the dog it fought.

By all means treat sympathetically a dog with an injury but in this case the penalty did not appear to fit the crime. Nor did the stewards have the right crime.

That aside, from an administrative viewpoint, stewards may consider they followed the rules correctly. On the other hand, the sport might be better off were Optimus Bart to get the full 28 days in order to sort out both its injury and its head.

Bringing Governments to Account

This column is under attack from readers who want the author to declare his political preferences – in particular to admit his Liberal tendencies (the word Tory is neither accurate nor modern). Although they appear to be using rose-coloured glasses – should that be red-coloured? – I will attempt to make some comments.

First, my personal politics is none of their business. In any event, my writing concentrates on facts wherever possible. If I offer an opinion, that will be made clear and comments will be welcome, especially on an important subject like this one.

Second, this is not a political site but a racing one. However, since politicians make the rules and appoint all the authority board members it is necessary to comment on what they do.

Third, I had another look at the article that attracted the criticism (Politics and Racing are not Mixing) to see how it was slanted. The scoreboard was … Coalition, one good and three bad comments; Labor, one good and two bad. A victory on points for the red corner.

Fourth, what has Howard ever done, they asked? Apart from new gun laws and replacing lots of inefficient taxes with the GST (something Keating previously wanted to do), Howard/Costello took over a large debt and turned it into a huge surplus, one which was soon squandered by the Gympie Twosome, Rudd and Swan, on pink batts and school halls, etc, measures which had almost no effect on the Global Financial Crisis problems as they came too late.

Fifth, readers did not agree with the incompetence tag for Whitlam’s government. Yet it was turfed out in 1975 by a large majority of Australians, not least because it was sending the country broke. Labor lost 30 seats and the Coalition won by a 91 to 36 majority. Names like Rex Connors and (the Iranian) Khemlani come to mind. Numerous skilled commentators, including those from the Labor side, agreed with my statement – and still do (power broker Graham Richardson for one).

Sixth, Kirner and Cain sent Victoria broke, only to have Kennett return things to normal. Bligh failed in Queensland, so was swamped in the next election. Labor was decimated. The current Liberal mob is still to recover the position and prove themselves, and yet to overcome the much-criticised job being done by the current LNP Racing Minister. In NSW, Carr and company were thrown out by the largest landslide seen in recent history. Baird is doing OK, but racing is still open to question.

More currently, both Victoria and Queensland have benefitted financially from government-sponsored but unearned changes to the way TAB commissions have been parcelled out, not from initiatives from industry managers. NSW admits to severe cash problems for the medium term, while the four TattsBet (Utab) states are looking at declining tote figures offset in part by a rise in online bookie turnover.

They key point is that while Labor manages poorly it is well experienced in making reforms, should it wish to do so, particularly when the little bloke is getting screwed. Sadly, no-one from either side has done anything about the failing structure of racing in the last three decades. Nor have racing authorities themselves done anything, but then they were put there by the same politicians, weren’t they?

The default position is that big business – read Tabcorp and English billionaires – is doing whatever it wants to do, mostly at the expense of Australian consumers and the racing industry in general. Meanwhile, state governments sit back, rake in taxes and do little else. It amounts to a cargo cult mentality.

That’s why political influence is important and why it has to be viewed objectively.

Merry Christmas.

Politics And Racing Are Not Mixing

I finally learnt that my old man knew a bit more than I gave him credit for. He reckoned that government worked best when you had two Liberal lots followed by one Labor, repeating indefinitely. He wasn’t far wrong. In recent times, both Howard and Hawke/Keating did well but they were probably there one session too long. Whitlam and his incompetent group fitted the formula, while the equally poor management of Rudd/Gillard/Rudd lasted much longer than was helpful.

But the problem for racing is that the Liberals are useful in keeping things on an even keel but not much value in bringing about needed reform. Labor, on the other hand, will often bring in reforms but is not so good at administration. However, so long as the states are half and half, it will be difficult to make changes nationally.

The Feds are not much concerned with racing, although they are now looking into the operations of overseas betting organisations which horn in on local racing. However, that will concern the legalities, not their regulation.

The states are a mixed bag, but a hungry one because racing contributes more than one dollar in every ten to their treasuries. Even so they dabble where angels fear to tread. All initially failed to grasp the nature of the betting environment when, stirred along by their respective departments, the TABs and the major gallops clubs, they tried unsuccessfully to ban online bookies and Betfair.

The WA Minister even passed a law banning betting exchanges. That did not last long after the High Court chucked it out and the Minister later lost his job.

Queensland ended up with a Minister whose competence must be seriously queried after he returned to the dark ages when he established an inbred batch of interacting boards to cover each of the three codes, with another in charge of the lot. So far, results are poor but are momentarily disguised by a big financial boost from the new agreement with Tattsbet (soon to change its name to Ubet). As in Victoria, that bonus was not earned – it just happened.

NSW may have some hope now that the new boy is also the Deputy Premier, but that has yet to be demonstrated. The Premier has indicated any change (following the parliamentary Inquiry) will be a “budget consideration”, whatever that means. Of course, past Country/National Party Ministers (for they “own” the racing office) have proven to be ineffectual, which is par for the course with that crowd.

Generally, Racing Ministers are low on the political totem pole, which means they lack the leverage to combat Treasurers and Premiers, or to introduce reforms. Victoria has been an exception since the Premier took on the job himself and made sure funds flowed freely to all codes. What will happen under Labor now is up for grabs but there is little left to hand out anyway. Racing is doing OK.

Regardless of all that, and despite some occasional urging, no state has shown signs of addressing the crazy and rapidly changing nature of the betting market. It is almost at a Rafferty’s Rules stage as tote business declines, genuine bookmakers fade away or emigrate to the Northern Territory and the uncontrollable and generally unregulated nature of the Fixed Odds sector becomes more dominant.

Equally important is that the major TAB – Tabcorp – is far more interested in expanding its overseas coverage at the cost of reducing the quality of services provided to local meetings. The racing codes, should they wish, are powerless to do much about that because they long ago gave away their influence over such “service providers”, which is what totes are supposed to be. Indeed, once upon a time they were hired by the individual clubs, usually under competitive bidding.

Missing from the equation is that none of the three racing codes possess a national body with the authority and responsibility to mount a defence or, better still, to initiate a strong campaign to control their own destinies and more effectively deal with everyone from TABs to customers. The effort is split eight ways by three codes and agreement is hard to achieve.

But how can you talk effectively to your Racing Minister when both of you know real power can come only from the weight of a national organisation? You don’t have much leverage. Somehow, racing has to re-establish its power base before things get completely out of hand.

Politics has become more about appearances than about outcomes. Let’s hope racing does not fall into the same trap.

Don’t Believe What You Read

I have been mentioning peculiarities with steward’s report for some months now, not because they are life and death issues but because they illustrate a significant lack of attention to detail and to more important matters. One example of the latter is the up and down form displayed by Allen Deed at Sandown and Ballarat recently – all of which attract no comments or questions at all. Here are two more amongst many that I have not bothered to list.

Race 10, Sandown, 18 December.

“Dyna Fatbob (2) and Bunga Bunga (1) collided soon after the start.  Dr. Des (1), Dyna Fatbob (2) and Bunga Bunga (3) collided soon after the start. Polly Bale (6) crossed to the rail soon after the start checking Rumero Reason (5).  Strange Wish (4) crossed to the rail soon after the start checking Bunga Bunga (3) and Dyna Fatbob (2)”.

In fact, Rumero Reason jumped awkwardly – Polly Bale had nothing to do with that. Strange Wish also had nothing to do with Dyna Fatbob and Bunga Bunga. As the first sentence above states, the latter two did their own colliding, largely because Bunga Bunga wanted to get to the rail..

Race 7, The Meadows, 17 December.

It was interesting that stewards belatedly reviewed the film for this race and then issued an updated report which found that experienced racer Morningside eased in the final run to the post, which is fair enough. At the same time they might have reviewed another comment.

“Our Shiraz (4) crossed to the rail soon after the start checking An That (2) and Dyna Inca (3)”.

In fact, while Our Shiraz may have brushed Dyna Inca on the way to the turn, the impact was minor and it had no effect whatever on An That.

Too Tired?

On a related matter, the danger of stayers backing up too quickly is a no-brainer although authorities have taken no action since I have brought up the subject over the last few months. However, the point was emphasised just the other day when the connections of Tears Sam volunteered the information that perhaps its poor run at Sandown on December 18 was a reaction to its slashing performance on December 14, when it bolted in at good odds, recording 41.91. No doubt, but tell that to the punters who backed it in to $1.40!

Meantime, just as an example, I took a close look at the four 460m races at Geelong last Friday. Do you know that 13 of the 32 runners had raced during the previous six days, some only four days earlier. How is it possible for fans to judge how they will back up? Some do but some don’t.

What You May Have Missed

Greyhounds Australasia Details National Welfare Strategy

Greyhounds Australasia has released initial details on the National Welfare Strategy to be implemented from 1 July 2015. The strategy focuses heavily on the breeding side of the sport, with several restrictions to be introduced including:

  • All broodbitches are to be registered with the controlling bodies as a “breeding female” before they whelp their first litter
  • Broodbitches over eights years of age won’t be allowed to continue to whelp litters, unless a veterinary certificate detailing their health and fitness is provided to authorities
  • Creation of a National Breeding Review Panel who will be responsible for deciding is a brood bitch who has whelped three litters is allowed to continue for a fourth or any subsequent litters that may follow
  • Individual brood bitches will only be able to whelp two litters at a time, during an 18-month period.

These changes will aim to combat unnecessary breeding with bitches that haven’t produced any successful chasers within their first three mating’s, improving welfare of brood bitches and ultimately reduce the number of greyhounds that never make the race track.

Greyhounds Australasia is currently calling for feedback on their proposed changes and this should spark great debate amongst participants in the coming months.

Compression Suits Approved In Victoria

The popularity of the compression suit for greyhounds has grown in leaps and bounds of late, with Greyhound Racing Victoria approving the use of the suits made famous by champion horse Black Caviar.

Introduced as an approved mechanism from 1 December this year, trainers can use the suits whilst their greyhounds are in the race kennels and can reapply them after the event, provided the greyhound has left the kennel block area.

Social media has been flooded with pictures of custom made suits for an array of trainers, illustrating another positive initiate of greyhound racing welfare.

New Cannington Bunny Cam

Cannington greyhound track introduced a fun concept at their weekly trial session last week, with a GoPro attached to the lure and the launch of bunny cam.

The short-term aim of this concept is to give participants a new and unique insight into the racing patterns of greyhounds, with plans to upload race footage after the completion of each meeting and the possibly of bunny cam footage being broadcast live in the future.

Worth A Second Look:

23-year-old Victorian trainer Bethany Dapiran claimed her first career group victory at Wentworth Park, after Zipping Rory sizzled over the 720m journey in a time of 42.08. Dapiran’s father Peter finished second in the Group Three Summer Cup Final with Zipping Maggie, giving the training duo and renowned owner’s Martin and Fiona Hallinan a sensational quinella.

AGRA Rankings Fail To Inform

Are the AGRA national ratings useful, or even true reflections of ability? Figures to the end of November are just out and that order will be pretty close to the final 2014 count.

They allocate points from first to eighth for all Group races – supervising Group racing is AGRA’s main purpose in life – but are otherwise unrestricted or unqualified.

Consequently, a Melbourne Cup winner and a maiden final winner get the same credit, just so long as they are Group races, meaning they pay a certain minimum amount of prize money.  Running last in the Ipswich Maiden series still gains the dog a point. Other fields vary wildly in standards because the Group classifications are not earned but bought by the club responsible for allocating the cash.

They are also limited to what happens in a single calendar year, so performances for dogs which straddle two different years may not be represented accurately. Luck will also play a part, as when a prominent dog is off the scene with injury for a short while and misses a big race or two. Even more luck is needed in drawing a suitable box in each Group race. A string of 1s and 2s may well distort outcomes just as much as a succession of middle boxes.

Another measure – that of prize money – is equally problematical over time as inflation, changed priorities by clubs and the rise and fall of champion dogs all influence the figures. Being on top does not necessarily mean best.

Back to the actual AGRA rankings; please consider these oddities.

While Sweet It Is is fair enough in the #1 spot, what about Dyna Willow as the 9th best dog in the country? It did have a short winning patch earlier in the year, but against moderate opposition and in times which were just fair. It has done little since.

Queenslander Are Ate, a fair but not always consistent performer and not really top grade, gets the 20th place while the brilliant multi-winner Zipping Willow wallows in 53rd spot. Even sillier is that Zipping Willow shares that ranking with Gradence, an honest and consistent dog which runs a lot of placings and not much else.

Going down further, Queens Esther and Space Star share the 74th spot. The former has a few handy sprint wins at Wentworth Park, but has no great depth to its career. On the other hand, Space Star has busted two track records and done well against top level stayers at different times – including running hot times at Wentworth Park.

In other words, AGRA rankings are a misleading measure of the quality of the dogs. Something better is needed.

Neil Brown, Howard Ashton and the rest of the AGRA group have the right idea but need go no further than the gallops to see how better to do this job. Thoroughbred’s formal rankings are based on the quality, not the quantity, of performances. Here is their official guide.

“The ratings are compiled under the auspices of The International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA) by racing officials & handicappers representing the five continents who compile the ranking order by agreeing on the rating for each horse. The ratings are based on the performance of horses in elite races held during the designated period which takes in account the quality of opposition and achievements of each horse. Throughout the year the Longines Rankings are published at regular intervals and the consolidated annual rankings are released in January. The annual rankings denote the champions in the various distance categories for example sprint or mile, surface either turf or dirt/artificial and also the fillies & mares category”.

That may or may not be more detail than greyhounds need but the principle is indisputable. You want to know which one was the best, not just the one that was in the right place at the right time.

The other benefit of the thoroughbred-style rankings is that whatever position the horse earns will stay with it forever, making is easier to compare one generation with another. It also influences major clubs in organising fields for their peak events.

These sorts of guidelines would also help normalise AGRA’s breeding rankings – probably even more so than the racing stats. Restricting a sire or dam’s position to a single year makes little sense when performances of their progeny stretch over several years. In today’s annualised system a flash in the pan can come out on top in any one year.

As an aside, while Sweet It Is may well deserve top spot on any measure (primarily because it has run near record times at two tracks – Wentworth Park and Cannington), the uncertainty of racing is well illustrated by the fact that its supporters will never end up making a profit. As regularly advised here, its hit rate and the way it races mean that it is never better than an even money chance. Taking odds-on is a sure way to the poorhouse, as backers found out last Saturday in the Summer Cup at Wentworth Park. It started at $1.50 in NSW and $1.30 in Victoria and ran 6th. That was not bad luck, just bad odds.

No Stopping Victorian Stewards

At the Laurels heats at Sandown, 7 December.

Race 3

“Ousai Bale crossed to the rail approaching the first turn, checking Reiko Bale, Photon Jewel, Footluce Diva, Oakvale Flyer and Fratelli Fresh”.

What a huge effort – one dog checking five others! The problem is it never happened. Ousai Bale did go across to the rail but never touched these other dogs, which were well clear of it from the start.

Race 8

“Call Me Hank crossed to the rail soon after the start, checking Cool Mikado”.

That never happened either. Never touched.

Why do they bother?

Questions could also be asked of Racing Radio (NSW version). It failed to broadcast some or all of that Sandown Laurels meeting on Sunday afternoon. There appeared to be time available as they waffled on about other stuff and ran plenty of ads. The trots – a declining code and ranking well behind greyhounds – got plenty of coverage, though. On top of that, the station persists with AM frequencies in some areas, which is deadly in times of lightning and thunderstorm conditions, or at night.

T3 Betting No Gold Mine

Some time back, a reader told us that he found Victorian T3 races good to bet on – presumably meaning better than normal graded races. So we thought we should run a few quick checks on the results of those races by comparison with normal Grade 5 races.

To do that we used examples over the last three months for the main distances at Ballarat and Bendigo (450m and 425m).

Both clubs run quite a lot of both types of events. (Statistically, the sample is still fairly small so treat the figures as broad indications only).

Here are the average winning times and average winning dividends (in Vic) for each.

TrackTier 3Grade 5T3 Standard
TimeDividendTimeDividend
Bendigo24.26$6.8023.99$6.1624.30
Ballarat25.66$6.1825.48$6.66 ($5.59)25.80


We show two dividend figures for Ballarat – the first includes two extraordinarily high dividends (unlikely to be repeated) while the second figure excludes them.

This tells us a number of things. First, Grade 5 races are faster by three to four lengths, which is only to be expected as the T3 starters are restricted to dogs which have not previously beaten the standard. Second, however, more than half of all T3 winners do beat the standard in the actual race, suggesting that in their earlier career they may not have had the opportunity to show their best.

Third, there is a large drop in dividends when moving to the better class of race, in turn indicating that punters found it easier to make the right choices there. That’s pretty logical as the dogs will be more experienced and more consistent than the up and comers.

Fourth, there is a large difference in Ballarat’s favour in the dividend area – ie lower. Put another way, results at Bendigo are much less predictable. If there is a difference in class of dogs which contributes to this, it is not really obvious.

However, the longer Ballarat trip is a more demanding one, leading to the probability that more Bendigo races are won by flashy beginners which lack a little strength. Again, this is to be expected as the difference between the two trips is a critical one amongst the general dog population. The average greyhound’s speed peaks at about the end of the Bendigo 425m distance, after which endurance plays a bigger part.

Apart from that, the conclusion has to be that the bloke concentrating on T3 betting will be worse off at the end of the year than someone favouring graded races. Class does count.

Looking at the bigger picture, is T3 racing (or “C” Class in NSW) a good thing? Well, possibly, as the industry is then catering for a bigger proportion of the dog population. However, the scene is blurry because their introduction came at time (mid-2010) when the supply of racing opportunities began exceeding the demand from the total number of starters available, hence the increase in the number of empty boxes. In turn, this meant that a lot of moderate dogs popped up in normal Grade 5 races, not just T3 races, and so lowered standards overall.

Those mathematics worked out nicely for owners and trainers, who could split up a bigger prize money pool over the course of a year. However, punters were not so fortunate because lowering race standards makes picking winners much harder. Racing being what it is, more bolters appeared in the placings. This has to be a significant factor in the loss of serious punters and the rise of mug gamblers as a proportion of the total. The more crowded calendar has also meant a decline in the size of the average TAB pool, which simultaneously has had to withstand the diversion of cash to online bookies, who now attract perhaps a quarter of all bets .

So it has not been 2 and 2 equals 4 – it’s much more complicated than that. The trend needs to be closely watched.

Mystery Remains

We have seen no announcements from GRV about two issues we raised in connection with the form reversal by Allen Deed in its Ballarat Cup heat and, quite separately, the oddball flood of cash in the NSW TAB which distorted all the prices for its heat.

We can only hope that they are still studying the evidence. Both are significant matters which the public are entitled to hear about.

As Predicted

The Ballarat Cup final turned out to be a one-act affair as favourite Luca Neveelk made full use of its rails box. After jumping on level terms it streaked away from the field to record a smart 25.06. It now has the amazing record of 24 wins from 30 starts over 10 different distances at 9 tracks. By comparison, that 80% hit rate easily outpoints the 58% earned by Paw Licking in its 53 start career.

The only surprise was that Blue Giant (a brother to Nockabout Aussie) began better than usual and took a lot of ground off the winner in the run to the post. This dog is in fine form but is probably better suited to a longer trip, much like Allen Deed which was always in the ruck.

Not Just In The City

Peculiar stewards reports appear all over the country, not just in Melbourne as we have been highlighting recently. Are they getting paid by the word? Here are some examples from Ballarat last night – 3 December.

Race 3

“Soho Rhythm (7) crossed to the rail soon after the start checking Xtreme Knocka (5), Connor’s Rocket (4), Pason Sander (2) Nubian (Princess) (1)”.

Any interference caused by Soho Rhythm was negligible, if that. It jumped well clear.

Race 9

“Elite Diva (5) crossed to the rail soon after the start checking One Dee (4) and Matt’s Entity (3)”.

As far as I could see Elite Diva jumped well in front of these two, who were simply slow out of the boxes.

Race 12

“Tammy Baxter crossed to the rail soon after the start checking Mr. Fox (5), Aston Dima (4)\ and Le Luca (3)”.

Rubbish. Tammy Baxter jumped smartly and was well clear of these three or any other dogs. The others were slow out or checked themselves.

Staying Bits And Pieces

In summation, comments about the habit of backing up dogs too quickly in staying races generally favour a ban on the practice. Some disagree, saying trainers know best or that past years contained dogs which could do it without a problem.

In reality, the evidence is not on the side of trainers “knowing best”. It reminds me of two stories. Once, after writing in another paper, a trainer was furious when I was critical of him racing a bitch on both Saturday and Monday, each over 720m at Wentworth Park (the racing dates were different then). He was cranky because he said he had stayed up all Saturday night massaging and caring for his dog to make sure it was in good nick. It failed the second time but the real point was that he would have no way of properly assessing the dog’s actual condition. Looks are one thing, the insides another.

And he missed the big point. Even if he knew, the dog’s fitness would still be a query in the minds of punters (and stewards), who should be the main priorities in these cases. After all, industry success rests on the public having confidence in trainers’ abilities and integrity.

The other example involved the practices of a veteran trainer in another state with a kennel of a dozen or so dogs, including one very smart and successful bitch. The good one never raced more than once a week. The others normally started at least twice a week, occasionally three times, nearly always running 6th, 7th and 8th. What was he seeking? Petrol money perhaps, but who knows?

As for old time dogs, I always remember a comment made by the late Bill Pearson. “They are not as robust as they used to be,” he said. Of course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg as there have been major shifts in breeding patterns since then, obvious even to an amateur like me. The follow-up question to that is “what are we doing about it?” Is it a good thing? If not, what might happen to the breed if nothing is done? Runners fading at the end of staying races is just one illustration.

Are Dogs the same as Humans?

The Wanderers soccer club, recently Asian Champions, has yet to win a match in the A-League, following what The Australian called “their recent murderous travelling and playing schedule”.

AFL and NRL teams are notoriously unable to show their best after a short 5-day break.

Also from The Australian.

“Acupuncturist Ross Barr … describes the body as running off two batteries: a general, day-to-day one and a reserve battery powered by the kidneys. You can charge the first one with good food, rest, sleep and a healthy lifestyle. But if you’re feeling run-down and don’t manage to refuel, then you can slip into the reserve battery. This is your adrenal system, which takes more than a bowl of pasta and a good night’s sleep to recharge”.

Vets might be able to convert that language to dog talk.

And a Note about old time Sporting Clubs

Roy Masters in The Australian, talking about a former top player and administrator.

“When John Quayle was a footballer, Sydney rugby league clubs were ruled by committees, consisting of ex-players, shoe sellers and railwaymen whose knowledge of geography was confined to the location of the boardroom fridge. Each committee was headed by a secretary who did all the work, while the others talked about him, absolving themselves from decisions made, telling all those standing around the bar, “It’s got nothing to do with me.” There was always someone plotting to depose the coach, while another leaked stories to the press”.

That movie about the Collingwood football club comes to mind.

Youngsters of Note

In yesterday’s second grade (provincial) Sandown meeting all ten of the 515m races, including the maidens, were won in times below 30 sec. The best was 29.33 (Vapour Lee) which would have won five of the eight Melbourne Cup heats on the previous Thursday.

The future promises much.

Stewards Report, The Meadows, 15 November

Race 7
“Dyna Synch (7) crossed to the rail approaching the first turn checking Polly Bale (6)”.

No – never touched. Dyna Sync actually moved a little to the right at the jump, leaving plenty of room for Polly Bale to do as it wished.

Race 8
“Dyna Geldof (8) crossed to the rail approaching the first turn checking Jordan Allen (7), Quantum Bale (6) and Maximum Lil (5)”.

Gross exaggeration. Jordan Allen was actually bearing left at the start, hampering Quantum Bale, but still led Dyna Geldof in the run to the post so the latter could not have “crossed” it. Dyna Geldof overtook it only going around the turn. (Strange price, though. Dyna Geldof was always likely to lead so 33/1 was big overs. On the other hand, $1.30 for Size Does Matter was ridiculously short given that it was never likely to lead. Who did all that?).

This looks like more guesswork from the stewards as they watch from behind the boxes – not a good viewing spot.

Count Your Marbles, Lest You Lose Them

Do we really know what is going on? The greyhound numbers game is moving on in bits and pieces. Of the two main measures – dollars and dogs – only the former seems to rate well with racing authorities.

Of the six major states, only one has bothered to include breeding statistics in its most recent annual report – NSW. The other states – SA, WA, Tasmania, Victoria and Queensland – say absolutely nothing. This would be one of the reasons that Greyhounds Australasia has not produced any statistics since FY2011, meaning the national picture varies from blurry to non-existent.

At the time of writing, SA, NSW and Queensland have yet to publish an annual report for 2013/14. Other states’ information is current.

What we do know is that, Australia-wide, Litters and Names registered eased off between 2003 and 2011. Recent guidance from NSW, the largest greyhound state, suggests that the decline is still present. The stats do fluctuate a lot but between 2004 and 2013 NSW litter numbers dropped from 1,310 to 1,148 and dog names from 6,218 to 5,689.

These changes have occurred despite all states introducing or expanding breeding subsidy programs. Notably, Victoria has done that twice in recent times, with the Premier announcing more grants which he claims will lift both breeding numbers and employment.

The Premier might be desperate for votes but a rational observer would find it hard to see how a breeder would add more staff just because his stud activity rose by a point or two if, in fact, that were to happen. But, based on national trends, it won’t.

In any event, you can bet odds-on that such results will never be announced in years to come – they certainly never have been in the past – and, failing careful study, we can’t sure what prompted any movement anyway.

Let’s also compare falling breeding numbers with the dog population. Here are the results of our own surveys of the number of dogs actually racing in Australia – taken quarter by quarter from scans of racebooks and after deleting any duplications.

Numbers of Greyhounds Actually Racing

201013,236
201113,094-1.10%
201213,564+2.50%
201313,904+1.40%
201414,098+1.4% (Extrapolated from the first three quarters)

Ideally, we would compare those figures with the number of meetings and races held. Sadly, none of that information is to be found at GAL. However, individual state figures show both up and down movements – for example, Victoria is up, NSW is down.

A further guide is that there has been a small overall decline in the average number of starters per race. This is particularly noticeable in the proportion of empty boxes – around 20% or so of races in both NSW and Victoria – while WA has recently been trying to overcome a shortage of nominations for higher grade races.

So a squeeze is taking place. Fewer pups are being whelped but more of them are ending up in race programs. Even then they are still not sufficient to fill all the available spots. Nor are they specially competent if the increase in short races is any guide (ie 400m and below).

Simultaneously, most states have been creating new low-standard races to fill slots made available in the TAB calendar. Victoria limits “T3” races to slow dogs while NSW has simply rebadged country Non-TAB races as TAB races, which has much the same effect. SA has added a Grade 6. All these further complicate an already overloaded grading system. Major city meetings everywhere are being padded out with maiden and novice runners.

Practical situations means that the low-standard dogs are not confined to low-standard races which can be parked away out of sight. First, there are nearly always spots in normal graded races for them to occupy and so they filter through. Second, some of the poor races are scheduled at prime times – eg provincial meetings on Thursday and Saturday nights – which means the competition is too strong for them to pull in punters, and therefore the TAB pools are also too small to accommodate reasonable bets. Third, the presence of empty boxes is a deterrent to optimal betting interest, especially for exotic options.

In the short term, extra races have enabled some racing authorities to announce increases in incomes. But it comes at a cost because once you reduce the quality of the product you start losing serious punters and have to rely on mug gamblers. It’s a false dawn.

The future will present serious challenges to viability because there are no more rabbits to pull out of the hat. There are no more TAB slots worth touching and there are no more dogs anyway. Tactics have helped a little in recent times but the strategy is highly suspect or, indeed, non-existent.

Here is another indirect piece of evidence from Queensland gallops, as recorded in a recent editorial on justracing.com.au: “So the circus that finished up being Race 2 at Doomben showed yet again how you can increase prize money if you so desire, but it doesn’t mean that you’ll get a better class of horses racing, as the winner of the event, Darci Be Good, hadn’t won for over 23 months before he scored at Doomben on 18/10/14 by a neck”.

You could add that half the program at Randwick last Saturday contained field sizes that could have fitted in to the Wentworth Park boxes, so to speak. In other words, all racing is facing similar challenges.

Anyway, the lesson is that to ignore statistical analysis to back up management decisions is fraught with danger. The lowering of standards is obvious but, apart from anything else, it makes it hard for the industry to cater for “unintended consequences”.

IT WAS TIME AFTER ALL

On 26 October following Xylia Allen’s dreadful last two runs we wrote; “None of these runs attracted steward’s attention or comments. Is motherhood indicated?”

Apparently, yes. It would be presumptuous to claim that owner Paul Wheeler reads these columns, but he has just sent her for a rest prior to entering the breeding barn. Seems like a good idea. If any pups ever come on to the market they might be talking in Black Caviar figures. Probably won’t happen, though.

The Mother Country Has A Lot To Answer For

Two things got to me recently. The first was when I was relaxing with a cup of tea in the late afternoon and the TV came up with a series called Upstairs Downstairs, a drama about a high profile family in 1939 London. The “Ups” were titled folk while those who served them worked and slept in the basement. Each had different entrances, different clothes, different accents and vastly different ambitions. But the key was that both halves seemed perfectly happy with their lot, neither wanting to be anything else. And they took pride in what they did. What a world many of our forefathers came from! Still, I suppose you had to be there to understand it.

Secondly, it has been impossible to miss the celebration of Gough’s reign, one which will probably never end. Fair enough, too, despite the problems he met on the way, partly his fault, partly due to the dunderheads around him. They listed most of his achievements, some accurately, some not, but none more impressively than in Noel Pearson’s moving address at the memorial service. No matter what your allegiances, a DVD of that ceremony would be a worthwhile addition to the family archives.

However, one event they missed was the ending of legal appeals to the UK Privy Council. That move had started earlier but was tidied up during the period of the Whitlam government. Genuflecting was no more. Australia would decide for itself.

Of more interest personally was the contemporary elimination of the entry on Australian passports of the term “British Subject”, following immediately after “Australian Citizen”. I had never liked this much and, while travelling, had long refused to write on my immigration card that I was anyone’s subject. Airport officials never seemed to mind.

Youngsters reading this will never know what they missed, limited as they are to watching their aunties wave flags as Princess Someoneorother drives past (most of whom are not Royals anyway).

But they should, because our entire racing system emerged from the green fields of England; from Epsom, Ascot, Newmarket and so on. 1856 saw our first race club – a forerunner to the Australian Jockey Club – formed up in Sydney’s Hyde Park. A few chaps in top hats had got together and had side wagers on the prospects of their horses.

Nothing has changed since. They are still doing the same thing today, as are the Poms.

Sadly, Gough was never interested in racing, although his offsider Lionel Bowen was. So was Hawkie, Robin Askin, Andrew Peacock, the late Russ Hinze in Queensland and many other politicians, more recently Victorian Premier Napthine. Yet none of them ever queried the way racing was put together although they did give them a hand from time to time. Hawke even part-owned a Vanuatu bookie at one stage. That would not have pleased the establishment but they pretended it was not happening.

(Ex-Premier Jeff Kennett has queried the system in no uncertain terms but he is an ex-politician and did little when he was in charge – something he now regrets).

Traditional raceclubs rolled on regardless, the biggest always pointing the way for state authorities to go. Their leaders were dominant and usually had the ear of the heavies in government, if not the support of the hoi poloi who supplied the wherewithal to fund their races.

So, in effect, 156 years of thoroughbred racing and 87 years of mechanical hare racing have led to nothing more than a repeat of 1856. Modernisation was mostly confined to off-track technological developments sponsored by private firms and individuals who found it necessary to make a decent living, somewhat like the “Downstairs” mob. Even though the birth of the internet and online bookies in the 1990s shook up the industry, the status quo generally continued.

Is it any wonder that in the last 20-odd years, racing’s market share has dropped remorselessly? It is still happening although newcomers have siphoned off trade from the traditional TABs and oncourse bookies. Basically, it is now a game of musical chairs. One pinches from the other while the size of the pie stays the same or declines. The establishment just watches.

This sort of non-progress would be completely unacceptable in any other industry. Directors and management would be out on their ear just as quickly as the Australian public dismissed Gough. But at least he left some good ideas behind.

The tragedy is that talent is always available somewhere. No better example could be found than Noel Pearson himself. His speech out-Goughed Gough but unfortunately he had long since left his rewarding lawyer’s post in Melbourne to look after his own communities in Cape York. He might have had to clean up his act a bit but what a Prime Minister he might have made!

Can racing find a comparable leader? Someone who speaks a modern language and who doesn’t own a top hat? It is time.

Paul Kelly in The Australian captured the theme when he picked out Pearson’s comment that “this old man’s vision” was unique among his generation in pioneering the long delayed but epic changes needed to make Australia full and inclusive. He went on: “(Hawke and …) Liberal prime ministers such as Howard and Abbott know they must operate as successful reformers. In a fast-changing world there is no option”.

* * * * * *

Incidentally, horse racing has never really been the “Sport of Kings”. The present Queen perhaps, but her old man was not fussed. And I can’t imagine the next King – the Prince of Wales – nicking down to the local TAB for a bet. In practice, greyhound racing has a better claim to the title, from the time of Richard II through to Henry VIII who demanded that members of his court first complete a three months apprenticeship in training greyhounds. Then all the way on to Prince Albert (Queen Victoria’s consort) who commissioned paintings of his greyhounds (some by Lucian Freud) and had a statue of his favourite dog, Eos, mounted in the grounds of Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.

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