More Cash But On A Fragile Basis

Racing authorities are putting on a brave face but the underlying movements in profitability are mixed, to say the least. Fixed Odds business from online bookies and the two big totes is still on the increase but racing authorities lose on the deal as they generate smaller commissions than the conventional TAB wagering that they replaced.

Queensland greyhound turnover went up by 18.8% in 2013/14 but only because it ran 34 more TAB meetings. A decline of 2.23% in all Tattsbet tote betting was saved from a worse result only by Fixed Odds volume from all sources rising by 17.3% to now comprise 32.8% of all wagering. That last figure is itself higher than in other states which probably indicates dissatisfaction with what the tote offers.

Nevertheless, things may improve now that the new 30-year deal with Tattsbet has generated a big increase in prize money. The key there will be whether Tattsbet itself – in the long term – is capable of building up its traditional business and can afford to pay up. In recent years it has been going in the opposite direction, something that might be reversed only if governments create a national betting pool.

Results in Victoria were not a lot different. Betting turnover went up by 3.1% but that included a flat performance for the two big city clubs and a huge rise in Ballarat meetings due to a comparison with a previous year when track reconstruction was taking place. Fixed Odds business doubled from the previous year. Racefield fees now makes up just on 20% of GRV income.

Overall, there was a rise of 7.4% in the number of Victorian meetings (based on individual club figures) or a bit less if you count coursing meetings. That’s where the extra cash came from. The good news is that much of that has been applied to promotion and track improvements as well as to IT enhancements.

All this continues a trend dating from 2010 (or even before) of filling holes in the TAB calendar and simply creating an extra meeting here and there. On average, there is no natural growth in patronage on a like for like basis. Given there is also no increase in the dog population, this explains the consequent fall in average field quality, the high proportion of races starting with short fields, and the more recent staffing of boxes in city races by Novice or low quality dogs. This all-round squeeze is a nationwide trend.

IS A LEGAL DOOR OPENING?

Let’s hope GRNSW is watching closely to see how the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission gets on with its court case against Coles supermarkets. According to The Australian (17 Oct) the claims “contain a litany of potentially damning allegations against Coles and some of its most powerful executives, who help decide what products are placed on the shelf and what price is charged to both shoppers and suppliers”

“This is the second time this year the consumer watchdog has launched action against the nation’s second-biggest supermarket chain over its treatment of suppliers, claiming unconscionable conduct in the way suppliers were treated”.

In effect, the case revolves around Coles telling their suppliers to pay back large amounts of money because Coles could not make a profit selling their goods. Whatever the legalities, this must be the oddest practice known in commercial history.

Woolworths has also asked its suppliers to pay a share of their costs of promoting the Jamie Oliver campaign, which is nearly as odd. Some did and some didn’t but what the longer term outcome will be is a matter for the future.

GRNSW has had legal advice about its obligation to continue subsidising the other two codes from its share of TAB commissions, but decided not to go to court. So far, the NSW government has tried to avoid any responsibility. Would “unconscionable conduct” get a ride there? And will the final outcome of the parliamentary Inquiry recognise the injustice? The discussion is not finished yet.

The original commission sharing agreement was signed off by the then-GRA chairman, citing direct advice to do so from the two major clubs, GBOTA and NCA. The gallops and the trots have refused to consider renegotiation.

Perhaps, like in Victoria, this week’s promotion of the Racing Minister to the deputy Premier role will help?

FRANKING THE FORM

Another great run My Bro Fabio throws up real questions about the makeup of the TOPGUN field where it is only a reserve – second reserve at that, so it has little chance of getting a run. Despite a poor start at Sandown on Thursday, My Bro Fabio soon rounded up the field and won going away in a very quick 29.23. It has now won eight of its last 10 races, all in hot time. Two out, there are only a couple of the existing field that would live with it.

While on the Sandown subject, last Thursday’s meeting attracted some unusually strong betting action. Win pools on the NSW TAB were almost half as big again compared with the average. That business was not diverted from other tracks as both Ipswich (temporarily replacing Albion Park) and Dapto had quite good takings. Even so, the usual sharp decline occurred after 9:30 pm as workers went home to get ready for the following day.

WHY DO THEY WRITE THIS STUFF?

Stewards Report Race 10, Sandown, 16 October.
“Sonic Dash (5) crossed to the rail on the first turn checking Satsuki Bale (1) and Simply Elite (8) causing Simply Elite to race wide”.

Not really. If Sonic Dash touched the inside dog it was miniscule and half way round the turn. It had no effect on the race outcome and was not worth mentioning. Simply Elite was not on the same planet. It did get forced wide but by dogs further back. Nothing remotely to do with Sonic Dash.

Victorian Greyhound Industry Worth $315 Million To The State

More prizemoney, an increased wagering market share and a strong focus on animal welfare and integrity are the highlights of Greyhound Racing Victoria’s (GRV) 2013/14 Annual Report, tabled in State Parliament today.

Premier and Minister for Racing, Denis Napthine said the annual report highlighted a tremendous year both on and off the track for Victoria’s greyhound racing industry.

“GRV has done a tremendous job representing the interests of the code, whether it be racing clubs, owners, trainers, breeders or the dogs themselves, particularly through animal welfare initiatives,” Dr Napthine said.

“GRV also strengthened its focus on integrity, including the establishment of the GRV Integrity Council to provide independent advice and recommendations to the GRV Board.”

The GRV Annual Report highlighted some significant achievements during 2013/14, including:

– a 3.1 per cent increase in wagering turnover on Victorian greyhound racing to $826 million.
– greyhound racing’s market share of wagering in Victoria has increased from 17.2 per cent in 2010 to 20.1 per cent in 2014;
– a $4 million increase in stakemoney and bonuses for a total $41.8 million (in 2010 total stakemoney was less than $25 million);
– a 6 per cent increase in attendances at Victorian greyhound racetracks; and
– 1,147 inspections conducted by stewards of kennels and training facilities.

Dr Napthine said animal welfare continues to be a high priority for GRV, with a record 536 adoptions through the Greyhound Adoption Program, a 40.7 per cent rise on the previous year.

“This is a fantastic result for the industry and the hundreds of families who have enriched their lives with these beautiful animals. This is supported by the Victorian Coalition Government’s $1 million investment in the Greyhound Adoption Program,“ Dr Napthine said.

“GRV and all involved in the industry can be justifiably proud of their involvement in the broader community through ongoing support of breast cancer research and the McGrath Foundation and the Great Chase Series that supports organisations helping people with a disability. More recently GRV’s support has also been extended to the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia which is highly commendable,” Dr Napthine said.

Dr Napthine congratulated the GRV Board chaired by Peter Caillard and its staff led by Chief Executive Officer Adam Wallish in realising a net profit of $7.8 million.

“This strong financial position allows GRV to make the sport and industry even better than it is today,” Dr Napthine said.

“In particular, GRV and its member clubs are investing in upgrading racetracks and patrons’ facilities.

“With the financial assistance of the Victorian Coalition Government, major projects are now underway at Traralgon, the Meadows and at the industry Greyhound Adoption Program facility at Seymour.

“The Coalition Government is a strong supporter of greyhound racing. Through our Victorian Racing Industry Fund, we are helping to grow the industry through the building of new and upgraded infrastructure, the enhancement of integrity measures, support for the Greyhound Adoption Program and the marketing of greyhound racing to new audiences.

“Greyhound racing is important to the Victorian economy, providing an economic benefit of $315 million to the State with around 20,000 participants and employees involved in the industry,” Dr Napthine said.

Ozchase Critic Confirms What We Already Know

An amazing thing has just happened. Ozchase, fathered by GRNSW out of GWA, has just altered its standard formguide layout to suit an individual customer.

Racing Queensland, following complaints from its own customers, asked Ozchase to improve the layout because people were finding it too hard to read the tiny print. After some dollars changed hands, Ozchase IT experts deleted some items and then were able to enlarge the print and it now looks good on the screen.

Unfortunately that’s as far as it goes. When you print out the meeting – minimum two full pages to a race – you find that the bigger print does not make it through, at least not on this writer’s system. It is exactly the same as it always was – tiny and near unreadable.

So, will this satisfy the Queenslanders? Probably not. It all boils down to how people use the computer-driven service. How many just want to check it on-screen and how many want to print something to take away with them? No doubt there are a lot of both types but we suspect many would want to take a formguide with them to the meeting or the TAB, or even get hold of one when they get there. In those cases they would need to take a magnifying glass with them, which is hardly practicable.

The same problem applies to races in NSW and the other three states which rely on Ozchase formguides. In total the guides are barely useful for lookers and much less so for genuine users (ie customers).

The Queensland evidence merely reinforces some home truths. NSW did not road test the program before putting it into service. Nor did Queensland authorities before agreeing to join the Ozchase push. Those are basic management errors. The outcome is that four out of five Australian greyhound supporters are discouraged or disadvantaged. What should be a key promotional tool turns out to be hard work.

The original source of the problems lay in the fact that fact that GNSW outsourced the design job some years ago to people who were allegedly expert in racing matters. In fact, following several interchanges with those people, I learnt they were not expert at all. In turn, the vast majority of users they surveyed about formguides were trainers (culled from GRNSW records). Now, while trainers obviously have an interest, 20 years of experience with many hundreds of users of form programs tells me that they essentially do little more than glance through them. It is rare to find one who actually studies or analyses the information in the way a serious punter might.

But, to look at the big picture, why is GRNSW so secretive about the job they do? Why make it hard to view or download the detailed information? And why have other states subscribed to a third rate system? After all, their job is to progress the industry on behalf of the public, particularly those who directly support greyhound racing, and who pay their wages. Yet they have done the opposite.

While on this subject, be alert to claims by racing authorities about the thousands of “hits” they get on their websites. No doubt that is true but there is a world of difference between lookers and users. “Users” are the people who process the information and then bet and boost the code’s income. “Lookers” are doubtful quantities at best.

Ozchase may well have proven useful for some back office functions but for formguide and race results it is a disaster. It needs a complete overhaul. Back to scratch and start again.

There is an irony is all this. GWA previously had one of the best formguides available. It ditched that in favour of the Ozchase option. Can you believe it?

WHO’S IN, WHO’S OUT

Of course there will be a thousand opinions about the selections for the TOPGUN but surely the media release should have nominated who made them. All we know is that it was done by a “panel”.

In fact, there is a lot of historical rather than current form behind these selections. For instance, my view is that a single Group win does not make a champion. Any race, big or small, is heavily influenced by luck in the box draw and luck in running. What counts most are repeated top performances

As I write, Keybow has not raced for two months, which itself creates a poser, and it was erratic then. Four others have not raced for a month. Flash Reality has a fine record at Albion Park but has never won outside of Queensland and the Northern Rivers TAB-tracks. In fact it has never raced anywhere else except for two failures – one each at Dapto and in the Nationals at Cannington. Oakvale Destiny won in a restricted entry big race but is unlikely to match motors in this class, much as it fell short in the Adelaide Cup, mainly because of tardy starts. On the other hand, My Bro Fabio, which is a recent record breaker and in great form, only made the reserves? Very odd.

All told, with four states represented, it looks more like an up and down National Championship field.

What are the chances? Arguably, the slightly better runners are boxed outside so victory at the tricky Meadows track will probably depend on luck going into the first turn. Wide boxes never help there. However, I am suspicious of any dog which has not raced recently, so we will have to wait and see.

The Signs Are Everywhere

There’s probably nothing new about these two events but it’s worth mentioning them anyway.

On Wednesday, in an ordinary maiden at Bendigo, Bramwell Brown was backed in to $1.20 on the Victorian TAB, came out like a dromedary, ran around the field and ended up swamping the leader near the post in a moderate 24.59. Fair enough, but why would anyone back a dog like that into such a prohibitive price? Especially an inexperienced maiden.

A little earlier in the day, Darren McDonald sent the talented Eliza Blanche over 600m at The Meadows in what are now called city “Provincial” meetings (thereby avoiding better fields but also missing out on three or four times the prize money at a Saturday meeting). She started at $1.04 in Victoria, and a bit better at $1.10 in NSW, and romped in.

The question is – what is the point of it all? The first-mentioned dog is clearly not worth that sort of price, never mind how well it might have trialled. Nor is the second case, despite her known good form. At virtually “money back” the whole episode was a waste of space from the betting angle. Doubly so when coming out of a smash and grab bend start. Why would you bother?

While trainers may have had their own motives, these cases make it obvious that greyhound betting has got to farcical proportions. Perhaps punters were doing no more than following the leader and were hoodwinked by higher prices being displayed in early betting? Yet some of them must have kept on when more up to date information was available.

The implication is that far too many gamblers lack knowledge, experience and common sense. That’s not a good sign. The code’s future demands that we do something about it – like educate them, for example. More than just sticking up a wall sheet in the local pub.

The other issue this highlights is the odd nature of our grading systems. Here we have Eliza Blanche winning her ninth race (plus two placings) from thirteen starts at five different tracks, all in good times. All but the last two wins were over the 500s and those seven were all in 5th grade.

Her last two wins over middle distances of 545m at Ballarat and 600m at The Meadows represent the only change to that pattern, the former in a mixed 4th/5th grade and the latter in these peculiar midweek 5th grades in town (formerly Non Penalty) – both of which return winners around $1,500 or so.

Yet this time, a major reason for the crazy prices bet about Eliza Blanche was not so much her own ability, which cannot be denied, but the ordinariness of her opposition. All that has been made possible by the trainer’s judicious use of the grading system – a complex computerised system that I won’t even try to understand as it makes my head hurt. Suffice to say that a major outcome is that it allows dogs to keep on winning in what is the lowest available grade (outside the T3 events for slow dogs).

In other words, that system is bottom-heavy and is therefore the major reason for the relative shortage of higher grade competitors and races – a trend which, for example, has just caused WA to make significant alterations to its own grading policy in an effort to get full fields for its FFA events.

That trend is not limited to WA by any means. Some time ago I instanced the case of a Queensland dog which entered a 5th grade 600m race after having already won five of them previously. All very legal but possible only because of oddities in the way the system worked.

Taken as a whole, the effect of all these rules and regulations is to downgrade the product in a variety of little ways here, there and everywhere, sometimes hardly noticed. But they all add up to an industry which is now dominated by a “be kind to owners and trainers” policy.

The alternative of seeking excellence to better attract customers to regular week to week racing runs a distant second. There is no upside in $1.04 favourites.

The other major issue with Victoria’s grading system is that it has profoundly influenced industry economics. The ability of a dog to do the rounds of the state winning 5th grades as it goes is one of the major factors causing the migration of better dogs from other states – mainly NSW and Queensland. In turn, that tends to promote more betting interest in Victorian racing, thereby allowing prize money to rise, and so the cycle continues.

Even then, it causes complications. The prospect (and the actuality) of top liners with already big bank accounts taking out lowly 5th grades around the bush led to the addition of yet another rule. Qualification for those 5th grade races now includes a proviso that prize money winners over a certain amount are ineligible. That is, a rule on top of a rule.

It is not just good enough to say that Victoria is doing fine (which may be debatable for other reasons) and challenge other states to catch up. Not when its very success also causes those states to weaken their product to a dangerous degree. We have already mentioned higher grade problems in WA but field quality in Queensland have slipped consistently over the past decade to the stage where sub-standard races are needed to fill top city meetings (including Maidens, Novices and short course events). Much the same is true of NSW while SA would be in dire straits without the support of the second ranking Wheeler dogs.

And in all cases, these policies come on top of an industry which has over-reached itself in creating more races than the dog population and punter’s wallets can sustain. Hence all the empty boxes, including in Victoria, and the provision of small and unusable betting pools.

In short, there is nothing natural about this process; it is all a function of artificial situations created by state bureaucracies to satisfy a perceived short term need. None have considered the long term implications which are now popping up as the pressure increases.

In a sense, medicine offers a quirky comparison: the operation was a success but the patient died.

I also noted another illustration in a letter to the editor recently (The Australian, 2 Oct), when a writer was commenting on the hassles caused by clashing government attitudes, no doubt influenced by empire building: “It is time to stop duplicated responsibilities over all portfolios, between State and Federal Governments, including environmental, hospitals, education, etc. When there is split accountability there is no responsibility. Bureaucracy and ineffectiveness thrive”.

In racing, togetherness is not often evident. State rivalries are legion, taxation varies wildly, national consistency is rare, process is more important than outcomes, innovation is absent, control has devolved to other parties, tracks remain poorly designed, customers are relegated to the background, formguides are second rate and industry efficiency is terrible. And so on and so forth.

How about a single national controlling body with real teeth and complete independence? Too hard? No, it’s not; you just have to want to do it.

It’s may be a long way from a lowly Bendigo maiden to a National Racing Commission but it’s always the parts that make up the whole.

Free To Run

A fascinating article on justracing.com offered a number of reasons why a racehorse might be helped rather than hindered by being forced to race wide on the track. It’s able to make its own pace – it can adjust to what the others do – it’s not subject to interference – and so on.

Dogs are similar but different and we had a classic example the other day.

My Bro Fabio had roared around the tricky Canberra first turn to take out its heat in record time and then run away with the Cup final. It railed all the way, both times after a good jump from an inside box.

A little later – Sandown R8 25 Sep – it came out of box 8 moderately but then progressively rounded up a good field, always in the middle of the track, until hitting the lead on the home turn. It then ran away from them to win by 7 lengths in a near record 29.09 – a PB for this dog. It simply kept pouring on the power all the way to the post, even though it had covered much more ground than the opposition.

These were two different sorts of runs but in both cases the dog was free to do what it wanted to do. There was no restriction on its galloping capability. That degree of freedom had greater effect than the extra distance covered at Sandown. (For comparison, Sandown has turns of 50m radius but My Bro Fabio effectively ran at least 3m out. Were both runs around a perfect circle the distance covered would be 5.7% greater).

Horse or dog – they both like to do that. Alternatively, in both codes, many runners do not like to be crowded. That’s a head problem, not a physical one, but it is real and in some cases it is vital to the result.

The related point is that the layout of a track should encourage dogs to do their thing, wherever possible, but also try to keep them apart. This is why Albion Park and The Meadows (amongst others) are deficient as their configuration forces the field to come together on the first turn, thereby giving the advantage to either a clear leader or to a very lucky dog that gets through unscathed.

This is not to say that other circle tracks are good, only that their problems are different.

Track design is a science but it is treated like guesswork. No doubt Logan in Queensland or the new Cannington track in WA will be the same as nobody has ever bothered to do the necessary investigation and analysis prior to finalising the design. For example, horses often start in shutes while dogs never do. Why not?

Giving our top dogs – or any dog – an even chance is critical to the success of the industry. Indeed it is the starting principle for any race as well as the means to the end of better publicising the code. We need more of it and we need to do it better.

Anyway, aside from the top dogs, how many average ones would be better performers were they to miss the bash and barge that some strike at the start of their career?

WHAT WAS THAT AGAIN?

Having just read yet another media release in a long series about drug penalties applied by various state authorities I am little wiser than I was before. Or not until I read up about it on the web. Even then 99% of us are still left guessing.

The latest case happened to concern the Ennis family, Warrior King and Dream It, and the drug Meloxicam, but it could have been any one of a hundred other cases.

The first hassle is that these reports are all couched in legalese or bureaucratese, presumably with the intention of avoiding subsequent legal challenges. But they also fail to inform. You could change the name of the offender or the drug and use the same statement over and over again.

Second, actual details are seldom offered; how much was given; when and why; was it prescribed; if so, what was the veterinary advice; what if any health problems were involved. Failing that information, even knowledgeable trainers would be none the wiser.

Third, is the established ban fully justified? What is the effect of the drug on the dog generally, and specifically how does it affect its ability to compete? Is the size or the recency of the dose relevant? If so, how relevant?

Fourth, why is it relevant that the offender had a previously good record? It is understandable that repeat offenders might warrant harsher treatment but why should first offenders get a penalty which is decided subjectively by “judges” (ie the stewards) who have no legal training.

For comparison, here are statements by experts about Meloxicam, culled from several internet sources.

For humans:

“Meloxicam is in a group of drugs called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Meloxicam works by reducing hormones that cause inflammation and pain in the body. Meloxicam is used to treat pain or inflammation caused by arthritis.”

For dogs:

“Meloxicam is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) prescription medication used to reduce pain, inflammation, and stiffness as a result of acute and chronic musculoskeletal disorders such as osteoarthritis”.

So, am I any the wiser? No.

The drug may well fall into a category that is harmful to the conduct of the industry but it is not obvious from those descriptions. The dog apparently has an arthritic-like condition which justifies use of a drug. That would seemingly come under the heading of animal welfare, of which much is made these days.

As a longstanding, reasonably educated and experienced member of the industry, but not a trainer or a chemist, this sort of thing makes no sense to me. It should. It would make even less sense to an average member of the public. Right or wrong, it is the responsibility of people in charge to tell us what they are doing, and why, in language we can understand.

Authorities might note that it is illegal now for insurance companies or banks to provide policies written in gobbledygook. Plain English is mandatory. That is the community standard. Leave the legalese to the police.

There’s Nothing Like A Good Bookie

It’s not always easy to follow the West Australians. They are now debating whether to privatise their TAB – the last one remaining in government hands. Labor is against it while the Liberals-Nationals want to go ahead. These are the same Liberals that tried to stop Betfair operating in the state, only to be thwarted by the High Court ruling in favour of Betfair. A different Minister is now in charge.

Anyway, the important thing is to assess who would be better off with or without a sale.

Other states were quick to make the change, largely because their Treasurers liked the idea getting hold of big dollars to help with other state demands. Short term gains are always popular with politicians – the long term is someone else’s problem.

In part, there were usually quick payoffs to the racing codes to ensure their support yet that also came at a cost – ie racing lost most of its influence over what the TABs did.

However, all those sales came at a time when the racing scene was vastly different. Betting exchanges and NT bookmakers were either non-existent or not a significant force and life was much more stable. Not necessarily progressive, but more stable.

Today, there is no more dominant force in the racing industry than Tabcorp, by far the bigger of the two TABs. Not just because it controls NSW and Victorian TABs (and also hosts WA for the moment) but because it also owns SKY and most radio broadcasters and it alone decides when races will be run and at what tracks, and which codes get preference. Then there are all the international races that now have coverage, with more to come according to CEO Attenborough. These will shove greyhounds further into the background and there will be no appeal possible.

What we are left with now are two questions; are Tabcorp and Tattsbet efficient and are they helping the industry go forward?

In the power game, TattsBet is hardly relevant at the moment. Its pools are small and declining so its only hope is that state governments will get together and nationalise betting pools. It can then rely on service and marketing alone.

The arrival of NT bookmakers (so-called – they are not really bookmakers at all) has immediately demonstrated that there is a lot of padding in the “price” the TABs charge. That is, their legislated 16% average deduction from each dollar is well above what it costs the newcomers to operate, albeit that the TABs provide more services, particularly the across the counter betting facilities throughout the country. This factor alone produces instability.

One outcome is that the NT people, with base costs of around 6%, have a huge excess they can use to pay for publicity, advertising and sponsorship as well as to shift profits to their mostly overseas owners. They also pay smaller fees than the TABs so the more they succeed the less raceclubs rake in for a given amount of wagering (even after allowing for sponsorship payments etc). There is a counter argument that the NT guys have expanded the market but while that was certainly true at the beginning, it has been more of a once-off benefit than an ongoing one.

Another view is that the NT people provide real competition for the betting dollar yet that is getting to be a thin argument, mainly because they do not initiate price competition but simply copy what the TABs offer – albeit the customers get some help from “best of” payouts.

At heart, the TABs are still monopolists. But is a private monopoly better than a state-owned monopoly? That’s always a doubtful proposition. One acts in the interests of the average citizen, the other in the interests of its shareholders, who will expect useful and continuing dividends. Currently, actions by the TABs to jam more and more action into a small space – ie the racing calendar – and to push more strongly into the mug gambler sector are clearly more helpful to their shareholders than to the racing industry.

Over time, quality has bowed to quantity, thereby contributing to a downgrading of the customer profile. That alone creates some risk to the industry, as has already been evidenced by the massive drop in wagering’s share of the gambling market over the last 20 years – from 50% to around 10% now. While TAB policies are far from the only factor involved there, they are certainly influential.

On balance, it is hard to see what benefits the privatised TABs offer to customers or governments under the current regime. They are growth oriented but only in respect to what their shareholders might like, and then perhaps more short than long term.

Historically, TABs, and later SKY Channel, have provided hefty boosts to customer services and therefore to turnover. But those advantages seem to have run out of steam and are now on a downward slide due to the heavily overcrowded calendar. In any case, who is to say those gains would not have occurred were governments to have retained ownership?

Philosophically, I prefer privatisation of commercial activities, but not to private monopolies. The only other option would be that governments – or perhaps a National Racing Commission – take a much closer role in supervising what the privatised TABs do. That might be more cumbersome but it could also take TABs down a road that better serves the industry and its customers.

Another sensible measure would be to introduce more direct competition. That is readily available in the form of traditional bookmakers who have long been dudded by the same forces that influenced state Treasurers to grab as much money as they could out of TAB sales. That is, the excessive protection offered to TAB buyers as a part of the sale. For example, why not allow those bookmakers to operate shopfronts around the suburbs at their discretion, and to take bets any way and at any time they wish?

It’s as well to remember that the current wagering mess – which is what several high profile people claim it is – is a direct product of arbitrary restrictions placed on oncourse bookmakers by raceclubs and state governments. Out of economic necessity those bookies rebelled and decamped to the NT to ply their trade. All that can be traced back to poorly justified free kicks given to TAB buyers in the first place. In short, free enterprise did not triumph at all. Instead, private monopolies prospered but, in the long term, at some cost to racing.

That’s why I could have no confidence in the WA Liberals flogging off their TAB.

Gondwana Land Reveals Its History

The story by my colleague Molly Haines about WA resorting to six-dog fields for Free-For-All races should tell the industry what is under the rock when you pick it up. So, what do we find? And what are the likely implications?

Few would know that WA has a rule that ensures a race must have no fewer than seven starters. Quite a lot of races in the east have smaller fields than that to start with, and hundreds more when scratchings are included. As another example, this column has more than once proposed that all bend-start races should be limited to six runners to lessen the effect of unpredictable interference. The worst of those are in the 600m category where, ironically, WA is planning to build exactly that at its “new” multi-million dollar Cannington track.

England would be laughing as it has only six boxes anyway, and therefore offers low-interference running – the evidence is there for the taking.

But this is just what’s on the surface. You have to dig further.

Consider the industry climate. For over a decade now greyhound breeding numbers have been flat or in decline. The number of races has been on the increase as state authorities strive to fill (supposed) gaps in the TAB calendar, always with inferior dogs because that’s all that are left. Overcrowded programs have led to a fall in wagering turnover per race, even for major events and at the bigger city tracks. Those volumes are being split amongst more and more operators and the traditional TABs are losing market share. Gross turnover has been creeping up but only because of extra races or better tax deals with governments, not because of internally generated growth. Products are more attuned to mug gamblers who are rising as a proportion of the total.

That’s a pretty messy package.

WA’s conundrum is that it has been one of the main offenders. Between 2003 and 2013 it increased the number of races by 32.2% while the number of starters went up by 28.3%. Most of that change was due to programming more races per meeting. 12-race cards are normal while the odd 13- or 14-race meeting also pops up. In practice, it is demanding more dogs to fill its own races.

Of course, WA has always relied on the flow of decent dogs from the eastern states to replenish its ranks. These are usually well-performed dogs which may have outlived their competitiveness at home and where owners see the potential for better returns in the west. Since WA now finds that flow is fading it has recently decided to attract more newcomers by giving them an easier transition into the local grading system.

But that eastern supply is equally affected by the demand at home – a symptom that comes out in the wash when we find that 20% to 25% of all races are starting with short fields. Simultaneously, there has also been a significant rise in the proportion of short races, many down to the 300m category, which are invariably filled by dogs of dubious quality.

The upshot now is that WA is wondering how it can maintain turnover levels when it reduces the number of runners per race. The short answer is that it can’t, because punters are geared to chasing high-return exotic dividends and invariably steer away from short fields.

On the other hand, trying to squeeze more Win betting out of existing races is difficult for two reasons. First, overcrowded programs offer smaller pools and also leave no time for punters to re-set their objectives to the next race and, second, because the code has steadily built up an over-betting habit caused by sheep-like following of favourites and tipsters’ selections. Value is hard to find. TABs have accelerated those trends by promoting dumb bets such as Mysteries, boxed Trifectas, Big 6 and the like. In all those cases you will lose in the long run and very often in the short term due to the resultant distortion in odds and therefore in dividends. The TAB takeout is much higher in those areas, too. All of which reduces the ability of customers to keep turning over their money.

A solution for WA, or any other state, must lie in making better use of what they have – ie promoting greyhound punting to more and wealthier people. However, to do that requires not only better marketing but also creating more attractive products and better tracks.

So far, there is not the slightest indication that any authority wants to go down that road. Quite the reverse, in fact. WA is trying to patch up a 1960s Holden when parts are scarce and people are not even buying new ones. Queensland is in a similar bind but is not trying to do anything about it. NSW admits it has long term financial hassles but still has difficulty in grasping the nettle. Other states either don’t know the problem is there or are hoping it will go away.

Nevertheless, a problem is also an opportunity, not just for WA but for the whole country. It just needs a national racing authority and a national betting pool to exploit it.

PICTURES WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS

In a revolutionary move, Channel Seven is mooted to shortly do a deal to bring TVN pictures inside its own camp and show live gallops races routinely on its free-to-air network. It already does so for some prime Saturday meetings.

Remember that TVN was created by the leading thoroughbred raceclubs in NSW and Victoria because they were dissatisfied with the depth of coverage provided by SKY. SKY’s two or three-channel operation is wedded to Tabcorp’s already overcrowded calendar (see above item) and therefore allows little time to chat about pre-race or post-race matters.

Probably the key point here is that the change is media-driven, not something that racing bosses thought up. Indeed, TVN has been something of a financial embarrassment. It is further evidence that the racing establishment is unable to come up with decent ideas about advancing the industry. There are plenty of moans, groans and waffle but little attention paid to modern business practices.

My personal evidence would be that as someone with only a passing interest in the gallops I am always an interested follower of the existing Seven coverage of horse racing. Being in my dotage (as are more and more of us), I no longer play football or cricket so Saturday afternoons are usually available for anything interesting. So I now watch the gallops. It even encourages me to make the odd bet.

Surely this is an area where greyhounds could better take the sport to the public. Costs are not small, but it could be worth a try.

Progress Comes Only After Hard Decisions

It’s always hard to know what GRNSW is doing (Brent’s Blog has not been seen for the last three months, for example) but its approach to the four NSW Northern Rivers clubs has always been puzzling.

Of those, Tweed Heads is Non-Tab and will remain so because its Saturday afternoon meetings are in no-man’s land due to Tabcorp’s preferences for the gallops. However, although this club is also by far the most successful Non-Tab operation in the country, it has had its dates cut as part of what we assume to be an economy drive by GRNSW. We don’t know what the savings are but they could not be great.

It is also a mystery because that happened at a time when Queensland lacked a one-turn track following the closure of the Gold Coast. A hole was waiting to be filled. Even now, its replacement at Logan is likely to be a good two years in the making (regardless of what the publicity says). That was an opportunity to better promote Tweed Heads but it was not to be. Opportunity lost!

Elsewhere, the grass circuit at Casino celebrates its Cup meeting tonight. All the usual suspects will be going around, unlike at Tweed Heads’ lucrative Galaxy meeting where numerous dogs come from interstate to compete. But, in this day and age, Casino’s tight, no-straight track does not measure up to modern standards and, in any event, it is much too close to the nearby Lismore club to justify them both existing. If money is tight, why were their efforts not combined?

Lismore, too, needs improvements because of its bend starts but that could readily have been organised at the time of the rationalisation. It is the business, population, educational, cultural and administrative centre of the region. Casino has lots of cattle but they don’t bet much.

The relative performances of these two clubs should also be considered in the light of the fact that Casino has long enjoyed a preferred time slot – usually Friday twilight – while Lismore has been in the deadly Tuesday night position and Grafton has been jumping around all over the place, generally filling gaps here and there.

Further south, Grafton is battling along with half-money racing although it offers by far the best layout available in the area (particularly its 407m trip) and is nicely separated from the other three. In all the circumstances, some rationalisation is called for and Grafton is long overdue for promotion.

It would be no different in principle to what has already happened at Orange-Bathurst – with modest success (apart from building a horrible 450m start at Bathurst).

GOOD TIMES AHEAD?

Following his good win the week before it looked like Starc was disappointing in running second to Ruff Cut Diamond at Sandown on Thursday. Not so. He actually improved by nearly three lengths but had no hope with the winner. And the dog is not yet two years old and smallish for a male at barely 30 kg.

It was no wonder. Ruff Cut Diamond ran the fastest 715m seen in a long while – 41.52 – easily bettering anything ever done by Xylia Allen or Sweet It Is. Miata’s track record is 41.17. Ruff Cut Diamond led all the way but actually ran away from Starc in the home straight.

Both the newcomers were having only their second start over the long trip and both were sired by Bekim Bale, as were two others in the field, including the fourth placegetter, Love Affair, and Allen Wake. Dare I suggest they all could do with a break of at least a couple of weeks now.

Critically, Bekim Bale might be launching a return to glory in the staying ranks. Can it be true?

(See also other Bekim Bale comments in our 15 September article re NSW stayer Space Age etc).

HARD TO FOLLOW

At Sandown in Race 8 stewards deemed the run of Tonk (6) as “unsatisfactory” and demanded a trial before accepting future nominations. I have to feel for the connections, even though the decision is not too dramatic. Here are some excerpts from the stewards report.

“Billy Bowlegs and Tonk collided soon after the start checking Billy Bowlegs”. “Tonk checked off Stunning Ashberg on the third turn”. “Tonk and Dyna Geldof collided in the home straight”.

Observations show that Tonk, a dedicated railer and chancy beginner, came out moderately from the middle box, got barrelled on the awful 595m bend start, got to the rail around the back, and pressed on strongly to pass a couple of runners on the way to the post – still chasing hard all the way into the pen. What was the point in being nasty to it?

A more productive recommendation from the stewards would be to put the club and GRV on trial for creating such a lousy start to a race. Ditto for the 600m start at The Meadows.

By comparison, the talented Dyna Perseus (8) (about which I wrote nice things many weeks ago when it was in sparkling form around the provincials) was in Race 7 just earlier, well backed just behind the two favourites. It came out poorly and ran last all the way, not really interested. Its previous form had been up and down. Stewards said not a word. How can you work them out?

(Note: The writer had no financial interest in either of these dogs).

A Hard Choice For Trainers And Others

Debate about positive and negative aspects of the industry could go on forever, not just in these columns but in the several blogs favoured by some in the industry – mainly owners and trainers. These folk, particularly in NSW, are not happy about many aspects of the industry. They concentrate on fees, prize money and grading, all of which are under the direct control of state racing authorities, each one different from the others.

Their dilemma is emphasised by the actions of the country’s biggest owner, the NSW-based Paul Wheeler, as outlined in his submission to the NSW Inquiry recently. Good dogs go to Victoria, lesser ones to South Australia, and that’s about it. Virtually none go to NSW. This bias is a direct reaction to policies adopted by state authorities – nothing more, nothing less.

With that in mind, I have often written to Racing Ministers, Greyhounds Australasia, state authorities and official inquiries proposing significant changes and improvements to the system. In fact I have been doing that since 1994, starting with the idea of creating a national form database and making it readily available to all, just like the Stud Book. I never had a reply from them, which is par for the course on most subjects,

In fact, good form information is harder to get now than it was 20 years ago. That’s largely due to the secretive way in which WA/NSW set up the Ozchase data system. Whatever else it does, it denies customers access to data-friendly form and results services. Conversely, Victoria, the only state outside Ozchase, is much more helpful.

Anyway, attempting to halt the slide, below I have printed below a copy of part of a letter sent to Greyhounds Australasia over four years ago, hoping that it could spark authorities into action. It never got a reply. I don’t even know if they read it.

This section was titled “The Big Choice”.

“The industry has a choice to make. Should it seek higher quality racing, and with it the potential for better educated and wealthier punters, or should it accept the status quo and run with volume at any cost, any quality and with mug gamblers as the dominant customer group?

With some limited exceptions, the industry has chosen the latter course so far, and all indications are that it will continue that way. In all codes, the top bracket is not the problem. It is the week to week fare that has fallen away.

Indeed, in greyhound racing such a policy is specific and deliberate as administrations and clubs everywhere persist with measures to better satisfy – some might say subsidise – low grade performers. Heavy maiden programs, often with added prize money, events for dogs with limited wins, novice races (ie with a maiden win only) and non-penalty races (ie circumventing the normal grading rules) are routine parts of the effort. No other racing code, no other sport, and no other human endeavour, goes down that path. Well, the Salvos do but do we want to take a page out of their book?”

If anything, these trends have been magnified since 2010, presumably indicating that none of the states have any concern about progress or excellence. Indeed, we should add to the above list the substantial recent shift towards short course racing and the squibs they encourage. In effect, the industry is asking its customers to patronise the equivalent of park football or fourth grade district cricket and to bet on them.

However, they are about to get another poke in the eye. Revenue is at stake this time.

Tabcorp is excited about new ventures into its coverage of international racing, especially from Hong Kong where the season is just starting.  This comes at a time when the wagering scene is in some turmoil as tote turnover is on the decline, while local and overseas-based online bookies battle with authorities and (often) their own customers to grab a bigger slice of the action.

There is no other option but that this move will harm greyhound racing yet not a word has been heard from state authorities, much less from GAL which does not like addressing commercial matters (never mind that its members have to deal with exactly that when they get back to their home states). An already crowded racing program is about to get more so, meaning that greyhounds will get squeezed out the back.

How long can we allow this to continue? And what’s next? The Mongolian marathons are popular in some quarters. And the Kazakhstan races where team members hurl the headless body of a goat from one to the other are very traditional – it’s a bit like a cross between roller derby and horse polo. They could be slipped in between the Swedish trots and the New York gallops, about which gamblers also know absolutely nothing.

 

ON A NARROWER SCALE

There’s a funny thing about the life of a greyhound writer – some readers are happy, some hate you. Such is life. However, I should comment on a couple of matters brought up the other day.

One reader said I was right but negative in my last article (a perplexing comment?). That’s the one in which I congratulated four or five winners, including Zipping Maggie.  I am guessing about the negative bit but it might have been the comments about poor fields at The Meadows and Albion Park being an illustration of the state of the art in this country. In particular, that revolves around the fact that the nation is now running more races but with the same or fewer dogs. Along with other factors, I suggested that we could “ignore this at your peril”.  So far, that has been the attitude of racing authorities.

As always, my articles are fact-based and then often accompanied by opinion or suggestions. Preferably, people who don’t agree should put forward their interpretations so we can get a good balance, but rarely does that happen so you are stuck with me.

Another comment came from someone – apparently a trainer – who suggested I needed to get a dog and a lead and learn properly myself. Now this would be a big mistake, even if I wanted to (and I don’t).  A lifetime of brushing shoulders with trainers tells me that most have very strong opinions but rarely do they ever go into print, which means it’s hard to know what everybody is thinking. Even the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry brought out just a handful.

Anyway, were I to go down that road, I would then become less independent and less inclined to properly evaluate another trainer’s performances. Now, I rarely talk about individual people as such but I do comment on their dogs and what they do. That’s my job.

Two more things: first, having been in the greyhound writing caper for 20 years or so, I must have pointed out a hundred times or more in various articles that the industry’s two greatest assets are its top dogs and the skills of its better trainers.  The problem is that the industry is not taking full advantage of those assets. Second, I cannot claim to represent any one group but if I have a bias it would be towards the serious punter group. They are the people who pay everybody’s wages. They are also the source, potentially, of increased prize money. Consequently, they are more than entitled to express their opinions. In fact, it should be compulsory.

A mix of positive and negative will therefore continue as and when necessary and as supervised by the editor. By all means, keep count if you want to. But please write in, preferably with reasons for your views – there is plenty of space after each article or on the CONTACT section of the website.

Apology

Apology to:

(a) Greyhound Racing New South Wales (GRNSW);
(b) Mr Brent Hogan, Chief Executive Officer of GRNSW; and
(c) All management and staff of GRNSW.

Between about 18 August 2014 and 19 August 2014, Australian Racing Greyhound published an article on its website http://www.australianracinggreyhound.com entitled “NSW Racing Minister Urged To Examine GRNSW Performance” authored by James Dunn which made allegations concerning GRNSW, and its senior management and staff.

Australian Racing Greyhound unreservedly withdraws all allegations either express or implied in the Article and sincerely apologises to GRNSW, and its senior management and staff for any hurt and embarrassment caused by the publication of the article on its website.

Gary Smith Resigns As NSW GBOTA Director

On the 30th of May this year Gary Smith was elected as the Riverina District director for the NSW GBOTA. This election was for a two year period and was the second term for Smith, yet just months later he has resigned.

The amazing part of this story is that under the watch of Smith, the Temora Club has wiped out a $19,000 debt and had massive track upgrades, including a conversion from grass to sand.

“We did the conversion for $50,000 and there isn’t a track in Australia that has done it for that price. It was because we were all involved and did the work, which is something I’ll always be proud of,” explained Gary.

“This isn’t just me that has resigned. There is 14 of us, basically the entire Temora complex has resigned over the shit that’s been going on for years. A lot of these people weren’t greyhound orientated, they took part because it was a fun team environment. These people have busted their guts as volunteers. It wasn’t a leader led resignation, it was done by the 14 of us together and there is a lot more to this than meets the eye.”

“I’m very disillusioned with the sport. There is a minority that just knock everything that people do. Blind Freddy knows there is problems within the industry and if people don’t roll up their sleeves and get involved then the industry is in trouble. The people that are slagging others off for the work they are doing don’t do any work themselves.”

Whilst talking to Gary the passion and anger is extremely obvious. This is a man who had long term visions for the Temora Club and was hell-bent on implementing them, but now his passion for the sport has been disintegrated.

“I have no bones with GRNSW. There have been some decisions I don’t necessarily agree with, but I work with them. I also have no problem with the GBOTA. There is a minority out there that is trying to overrule a majority.”

“We had big plans for Temora. We have wiped out our debt and we are now in the black despite our funding being significantly reduced. The cup was on Sky this year and was a TAB meeting. Prizemoney was to be increased and we were putting proposals together for the track to be a TAB track. The track is in a location that appeals to Victorian’s as well and we thought we had a bright future unfolding.”

“I have five dogs in the kennels outside and I truly don’t know if I’ll ever bother racing them again. I’m just so upset at the moment.”

NSW GBOTA Chairman, Geoff Rose, said that Mr Smith’s resignation had been received with regret.

“Gary has made an outstanding contribution to the Association, to greyhound racing in the Riverina and greyhound racing generally,” explained Mr Rose.

“Gary has worked hard to increase sponsorship and promotion and his pivotal role in driving the grass to sand conversion at Temora is a substantial legacy.”

“His energy will be missed and I, on behalf of the Board, wish him the very best with future endeavours within and outside of the greyhound industry.”

When pressed as to what had caused this decision a distraught Smith laid it all out on the table.

“Some swines are running with bullshit that I took $8,000 out of the place by misappropriation of funds. Look at what happened to Albury, I saw that unfold and everything at Temora has been done by the book and managed strictly. It’s so disheartening after all of the work we have done.”

“To be called a thief is the last straw. I won’t wear that and there will be plenty more news to come. It’s other people within the industry that have seen fit with it and to run with it. When I get the evidence I will deal with it. There will be a small group clapping their hands, but I hope they understand what they have done.”

I’m sure there will be plenty more to come out of this resignation. To use an old saying, “we are just scratching the surface here.”

Is Tabcorp Killing The Goose?

Our entire wagering system is founded on the performance of our two main tote companies. They make up some three quarters of the action but they are looking shaky.

For many years, both thoroughbred and harness tote betting has been in decline. Over the same period, greyhounds have grown simply by adding more meetings but that effort has now come to a halt. Sports betting, a relatively new option, has grown simply because people like to bet on them. They can now do that easily where before it was hard.

The greyhound development was not a response to internal demand or canny management but to calls from Tabcorp/SKY to fill holes in the weekly program. Never mind how, just do it. Since neither horse or dog populations have increased – rather the reverse – it follows that average field quality has fallen away.

Simultaneously, the betting climate changed radically with the rise and rise of the Northern Territory’s online bookmakers and to some extent the intrusion of overseas based operators “illegally” attracting local business (one of which, from Vanuatu, is currently under pressure for failing to pay out winning punters). Both groups are filling gaps deliberately created by the stick-in-the-mud attitude of traditional racing establishments – ie by poor management.

But, regardless of their original purpose, all operators are now basing their products and services on what the totes offer. The strain is obvious, particularly so for greyhound racing.

According to news from GRSA, South Australia’s results for 2013/14 include a slight fall in tote business but a compensating rise in online bookmaker turnover. Roughly, this parallels the position in Queensland, where authorities have just concluded a fresh agreement with Tattsbet that led to the recent announcement of big prize money increases. These states provide Tatts’ two main sources of wagering business.

Tabcorp has already reported significant falls in traditional tote business in both NSW and Victoria. So there is nothing to suggest that the trends will not continue and, arguably, lead to further destabilisation of the Australian market.

Even so, Tabcorp CEO, David Attenborough, in a recent speech advised he is “pleased the company is performing well”. From Keno, perhaps? Or sports betting? And also from its coverage of overseas racing, which is set to grow and further shove local events into the background.

Brave words from these two betting monsters invariably claim wonderful things are happening but ignore the impact on traditional racing. First, the more races they cover, the less customers will have to spend on “normal” racing. Punters’ pockets are not unlimited. It will particularly affect greyhound racing where many meetings are relegated to the less rewarding SKY2 platform. Second, the attractiveness of all greyhound races is reduced because of the relative fall in pool sizes. So, while the tote companies are robbing Peter to pay Paul, the incentive to patronise greyhound racing is also reduced. The product is not good enough financially, and perhaps in other ways as well.

What Attenborough is trying to do, in the old words, is to stuff a quart bottle of milk into a pint container. There has been and will be spillage.

These trends are occurring today but even more important is the likely disturbance to the very structure of the Australian betting market in the longer term. For example, as normal tote turnover continues to decline what will that do to price integrity? The very essence of punting is the attempt to obtain value from your investment. How can that be possible if the price is jumping around like a duck in the bathtub?

Put another way, thousands of poker machines clunk away, day and night, in Australia’s many gambling venues. None is any different from another. They are all just machines, played mechanically by people who will always lose – winning is not an option. Yet wagering, punting, call it what you will, is headed down that same path as skill reduces in importance and the potential for winning, or at least breaking even, is gone with it. What’s the point? Where is the challenge? The elite few may do well enough (not least because they don’t pay full entry fees) but the rest will suffer the fate of the pokie players.

Currently, the impact on gallops pools is disguised by their sheer size, albeit that size has been shrinking for the last 20 years. However, pools which are already small, and getting smaller, are fluctuating wildly – partly due to their size and partly due to the increasing proportion of mug gamblers supplying the cash. That’s where greyhound racing now sits.

In essence, that system volatility is a bigger factor than the variability in the players’ knowledge. The system is more dominant than the person. Even if you have skills, you are less and less able to use them. So why bother?

Already, Attenborough reported that in 2013/14 “about 25% of our wagering turnover was through digital channels” and, of that, “more than half was through mobile devices as the likes of iPhones become more popular”. Yet someone with an iPhone in one hand and a beer in the other is hardly likely to study the form, never mind whether another “app” offers it or not.

By all means capture as much of the mug gambler trade as possible, but if that puts serious punting further into the background it will leave greyhound racing with nowhere to go in the long term. Except to join the banks of poker machines in the local RSL. But, oh dear, we are already there – that’s what Trackside machines are for. They are the final insult – a mechanical race sitting side by side with a real one.

Nationalising the betting pools will help a bit but will not solve the underlying problem. If I can mix my metaphors, the racing industry has a tiger by the tail but no ringmaster to control events.

Am I being negative? Maybe, but these are the facts of life. Ignore them at your peril.

MORE FAIRY STORIES

Stewards report, Race 6 Sandown, Thursday 11 September.

“Warrior King (6) crossed to the rail soon after the start and collided with All Strung Out (3), Ennis Bale (4) and Pappa Gallo (5)”. (Box numbers added)

Not even close. In fact, Warrior King never reached the rail at any stage of the race and never wanted to. It likes to race a couple off the fence. It was three dogs wide and quite happy as they passed the judge the first time. There was no such “collision” worth mentioning. Any interference amongst the above dogs was caused by All Strung Out moving to the right after the jump, but behind Warrior King.

Tabcorp Should Get Its Finger Out

It’s all very well for Tabcorp’s boss, David Attenborough, to complain* about the activities of corporate and overseas bookmakers, but should he try to be more competitive himself?

*See address to American Chamber of Commerce, 28 August, listed on Tabcorp website.

The major example can be seen in Tabcorp’s Fixed Odds pricing, where books of 130% are normal and roughly parallel those of the online people. These are punitive figures which no normal customer can ever overcome over a period. In traditional wagering terms, they are an insult to punters.

Attenborough could well order the figures reduced to, say, 117%, which equates to the deduction he takes out of conventional tote business (an average of $16 out of every $100 or $14.50 for Win bets). He could make the pace and re-take the initiative from the NT group. No doubt the NT companies would follow and customers would get a better deal all round. Turnover and prices would both be better, and there is still plenty left for the betting operators to dine out on.

Another sensible move would be to get rid of the ridiculous Duet bet, which hardly anyone buys, and thereby boost turnover for standard Quinella and Exacta betting, both badly in need of help at the smaller greyhound meetings.

So why doesn’t he?

Of course, part of the answer is that, contrary to Attenborough’s claim that “we have morphed into a more agile, customer-led organisation”, Tabcorp is hell-bent on scraping as much as it can out of every bet made, almost regardless of where that will lead customers and the industry in the longer term. For Fixed Odds, the current attitude is that if they (corporate bookies) can do it, so can we. For Duet betting, they obviously cannot be bothered cleaning up a relic of the ages. The customers are not leading at all, Tabcorp is.

WINNING AND LOSING AT THE SAME TIME

Mind you, state racing authorities are no better than Tabcorp as they are also in the 130% camp when quoting odds on their formguides. What a terrible example to set for the industry! It is impossible to understand their motives in doing that. Their other options are to use a 100% book as a guideline to runners’ real chances or to adopt the tote figure of 117% which would allow direct price comparisons.

Let’s take those comparisons a bit further. As I write, at Horsham (Tuesday) the Watchdog is suggesting books of 125%, 132%, 128%, and 127% for four of the better races. But in real life punters did things a little differently. All four of the Watchdog’s top picks also ended up as favourites but at shorter prices.

 

NSW TAB Watchdog Actual
Race 4 $2.80 $1.80 Won
Race 5 $1.70 $1.40 Won
Race 6 $2.00 $1.90 Lost
Race 7 $2.50 $2.30 Lost

 

This introduces three features of greyhound betting; (a) punters over-bet on the favourite; (b) the Watchdog, as the most prominent tipster, probably influences punters’ selections; and (c) the average punter is not paying attention to value.We have not shown Fixed Odds for these races but they are in fact identical to the final tote payout. Information on what happened during the course of betting is not available.

An even dollar on each of these favourites resulted in a loss of 80 cents, or 20% of your $4 investment. To put it another way, the Watchdog’s suggested odds are more sensible but they never happen in practice. Maybe GRV should take out a bookie’s licence?

A further comment would be that most punters would not be aware of the final odds because only around half of the pool would be evident prior to the time punters had to place their bet. Any later fluctuations are influenced by the relatively small size of greyhound pools – and Horsham’s twilight slot on Tuesdays is as good as it gets for provincial racing, often producing bigger pools than for evening races in town (on the NSW TAB).

The outcome is that maybe half the punters are taking a pig in a poke because they are gambling without real knowledge while the other half may understand the form but is still forced to guess that the final price will be satisfactory – and often it will not be. Of course, this may well be one of the factors which encourage a shift to Fixed Odds Betting. Seldom will that do you any good but at least you will know what you are getting.

From the industry’s viewpoint, it is stuck with a volatile betting structure, one which has grown up like Topsy and is totally out of the control of racing administrators. The real competition we used to have – from on-course bookmakers – has disappeared along with the on-course crowds they once served. Indeed, that change is the real reason why controls over wagering should have changed long ago. (Efforts by RNSW to regulate online bookmakers are belated steps but are unlikely to reverse the trends significantly).

Aside from extra regulation, solutions, or rather assistance of some sort, are available from two sources – the creation of a national pool with greater price certainty, and mounting efforts to better educate punters about greyhound racing.

The Federal Minister for Social Services, Kevin Andrews, is currently looking into online gambling activities and so may well venture into the wagering scene, particularly as many prominent people are complaining – eg Tabcorp, Racing NSW, former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett, and probably Racing Victoria (which often tends to be follower, not a leader).

JOKING, PERHAPS?

Here is one that slipped by me, largely because I take a very low interest in racing at Ipswich due to its disruptive layout.

However, since the recent transfer of form and results data from the local Queensland people to the GRNSW-operated Ozchase system some changes have occurred, not least being the fact that winning box information is missing.

Importantly, they have ended up with the dreadful Tasmanian practice of assigning sectional times for Ipswich 431m races to whatever dog won the race, never mind what actually led. Consequently, future career records will be distorted because they follow only what goes onto the formline.

Queensland is also deficient at all other provincial tracks.

Add to that the more common practice – at NSW Northern Rivers tracks, for example – of not allocating the single sectional time for all short races to any runner at all and you have a dog’s breakfast of data.

Expecting serious punters to support the sport under these conditions is fanciful dreaming.

Help Is Available If You Want It

Not for the first time, a boffin is on his way to radically changing a sport. This time it’s the way tennis coaches can make use of technology to improve their charge’s tactics.

The Australian reports that a USA-based Aussie, Damien Saunder, is collecting data from Hawkeye files to better guide tennis players on where to place their serves, for example. Saunder is a geospatial designer specialising in online mapping and data visualisation. He grew up playing tennis and AFL in Wangaratta.

“Tennis is a spatial game, meaning that the location of the ball or where a stroke or player is and therefore we can begin to understand the spatial patters about the sport”, Saunder said. “Many sports, like football, basketball and baseball have been using analytics for years to explore potential unknown patterns about the game, their players and opponent’s tactics”.

Currently, analysis of this sort is in widespread use by AFL and NRL clubs and the Australian Institute of Sport to check how well their players are doing, where they run, jump or swim, where injuries occur and how much work they do – and more.

Saunder’s technique goes well beyond the data you might have already seen on Hawkeye screens. For example, it not only looks at where the server places the ball but also how well the receiver handles it.

The underlying technology seems ideally suited to working out how best to design a greyhound track. Science will beat opinion any time.

A small example is already here as Tasmanian thoroughbreds carry a GPS marker to allow authorities to pinpoint their exact positions at various stages of the race and then calculate sectional times accurately. (What a pity they can’t move on to local dog races, where existing practices are hopelessly in error).

ANOTHER EXAMPLE

Full marks for GRV in its effort to rebuild the Healesville straight track. I had thought it improved considerably on the previous version – and it probably did. However a review of the heats of the Cup racing last Sunday revealed a great deal of unpredictable lateral movement, mostly from dogs veering over to the rail and the inside lure. Even dogs racing out wide were crabbing their way along, keen to get a better sight of the lure.

Relatively, little of that happens at Capalaba in Queensland, where they use a centre drag lure. So how best to do it?

HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF

At Wentworth Park on Saturday Xylia Allen did what she normally does and won. Sweet It Is did what she normally does and lost. They ran 41.76 and 42.15 respectively.

Xylia Allen gets out quickly and leads. Sweet It Is comes out slowly and has to find her way through the maze, usually getting held up a couple of times. Those have always been their patterns and that’s what happened at Wenty.

And that’s why the result at Cannington in the Nationals was an aberration – a top effort from both but still an aberration. As were their relative starting prices. Sweet It Is may well have improved slightly over the last couple of months but that still does not make her a reliable bet in a top race. Apart from the winner, her opposition in the Chairman’s Cup heat was not too marvellous yet punters paid dearly to see her go down at $1.30. If you put a dollar on her both times, you are now losing money.

It’s not just these two. For years now the majority of top staying races have been taken out by leaders. Their staying capacity comes second. See, for example, Bentley Babe, Flashing Floods, Irma Bale and perhaps Dashing Corsair. Admittedly, genuine staying types have often been thin on the ground but that’s another story again.

It also makes another point. While a change of kennel to a top mentor may well produce good results (as with Sweet It Is), you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Sometimes, the stories concentrate on the successes, and ignore the failures, much as punters will tell you about their wins but never their losses. Essentially, Sweet It Is is still what she always was – a talented but slow-beginning stayer.

The bigger disappointment at Wenty was the poor showing of Dusty Moonshine, which was only a shadow of the dog that ran in the 41.90s three times in a row. It would not have beaten Xylia Allen anyway but a fading 42.54 after a good start tells us it was nowhere near its best form. It simply was not fit enough for this class and will not make the final.

Now to the future. Based on its history, Xylia Allen will not be able to repeat its heat time with the final only seven short days away. Whether it can still win is the hard question. Odds-on, look on!

DOLLARS AIN’T DOLLARS

I refuse to read, digest or believe any more stories about record prize money unless the authors first correct their data for inflation. Just to take one example, Xylia Allen, for all her brilliance, would not live with a former “record” money winner, Rapid Journey, if you put them up ten times in a row. Nor with Miata at the other end of the distance scale. Xylia Allen does score in the versatility stakes, but is probably best served over the middle distances.

That inflation, incidentally, has occurred not just in broad economic terms but it the way the industry allocates prize money. Neither of those other two dogs competed for $250,000 to $350,000 first prizes in relative or absolute terms.

Somebody with the data should set, say, the year 2000 as a base and adjust everything back to that level.

WA Recognises A Problem

WA authorities have recognised a longstanding trend in Australian greyhound racing and have now implemented a plan for “INDUSTRY REVITALISATION” because they are running out of dogs.

We have been banging on about this for some years now, only to see other state authorities go in the opposite direction or, as we suggested in a recent article, “whistling on the way through the cemetery”.

A GWA statement says that “Some of the amendments to Grading Policy have been implemented as part of a revitalization concept for the WA Greyhound Racing Industry; the major issues being the current difficulties being experienced in sourcing quality interstate racing stock and the ever-increasing reliance on short-course chasing in WA”.

Let’s re-state the position; the nation has run out of dogs, or at least competitive ones. Breeding has been on the decline, more races have been added, city races now include Novice or Maiden greyhounds, provincial meetings embrace more short course events, and around a quarter of all races start with empty boxes.

One outcome has been that outgraded dogs in the east are no longer flowing over to WA and those that are on offer are just not worth paying good money for. A longstanding pattern is coming to a halt. The cause and effect is obvious.

This is a natural issue for Greyhounds Australasia to look into, providing it fits into its self-imposed narrow charter. The shortage of starters is of national importance. The basic structure of racing and the strategies the code adopts are now critical to its future, especially if it wants to achieve a degree of excellence.

The WA solution, if it can be called that, is to reduce the entry barriers for imported dogs. Relatively, a higher graded dog from the east will be able to run in a lesser event in WA. That is not excellence but amounts to a reduction in the quality of the average race. But it is no less than has already occurred in the east.

Already Queensland has possibly a bigger problem than WA but the new management seems to think that throwing more cash at the issue will solve all the ills. It won’t. Paying higher prize money will simply put it on a par with NSW, for example, meaning no fresh blood is likely to move north. In any event, as WA is finding out, the other states are short themselves. And in both cases, if we are not breeding more dogs, where can the growth originate?

On a brighter note, the WA government has now approved the allocation of $13 million to finalise the funding for the new Cannington track complex. A sigh of relief for all!

MYSTERY BETS

Dogs were not the only competitors in Perth at the Nationals. With impeccable timing, it is possible there was also a meeting of Greyhounds Australasia Ltd at the same time. We can’t be absolutely sure of that as our national body operates very much in the background, keeping itself to itself.

The GAL team comprises 11 members plus 6 alternates from various states, and possibly the odd helper or spouse. Doing some quick sums to work out what they paid to get there we consulted our favourite travel agent and learnt that four-day trips to Perth from Sydney, including accommodation, go for between $900 and $1,400 depending on the quality of your pub. Economy class air travel and twin share, of course. Those figures would go up or down a bit for trippers from other places, and with or without spouses or offsiders.

Adding in the cost of meals and “ahem”, incidentals, would bump up the average considerably and so would using business class instead of economy.

Even allowing for some locals taking part, it seems probable that upwards of $25,000 of punters’ money was invested in the talkfest. So was it worth it?

Well, we would expect to hear about three things, at a minimum:

(a) The agenda,
(b) A brief summary of discussions on each subject, and
(c) A list of decisions taken.

All that would help us understand how the industry is going and what great plans are in mind for the future. We might even hear about why the 2011 industry statistics have not been updated. It would be a bit like the quarterly statements we get from Tabcorp, Tatts, Qantas, Virgin, BHP, the Federal Treasurer or any company you might like to name.

So, what did we get? Nothing, actually. Zero. Zilch. Not a very good return on our investment, is it? We are not even sure they met, but they do it four times a year.

VIEWING PUZZLES

Sandown stewards are still besotted with the “crossing to the rail” syndrome but continue to get it wrong. See their comments on the meeting on 4 September. (Box numbers added here).

Race 8
“Dyna Beth (4) crossed to the rail soon after the start, checking Jewel Bale (3) and Ozzie Bullet (2)”.

No. If Dyna Beth brushed the slow-beginning Jewel Bale, and I don’t think it did, it was very minor and of no importance. It had no effect whatsoever on Ozzie Bullet.

Race 12
“Praise Chorus (5) crossed to the rail soon after the start, checking Young Hawek (sic) (3) and Big Bad Tom (4)”.

No again. Never touched them. By the time they got to the judge Praise Chorus was still outside another runner. It did not get to the rail until well around the corner.

THE BIG QUESTIONS

How will Xylia Allen’s and Sweet It Is’ relative times compare in the heats of the Chairman’s Cup at Wentworth Park tomorrow? How well has Xylia Allen recovered from the gutbuster at Cannington two weeks ago? If they both get through to the final, how will they take the shortish seven-day break? And will a refreshed Dusty Moonshine scupper them both – it’s in Xylia Allen’s heat and will also have to endure the short break which worried it last time.

And I am still waiting for someone to explain why Sweet It Is started at odds-on against the better performed Xylia Allen in Perth – after opening very short two days prior on Fixed Odds books. And how did Sweet It Is exceeded all its previous form in that near record run?

Let’s also remember that in their previous battle in the Victorian run-off on August 17 Xylia Allen beat Sweet It Is by 3.5 lengths.

The Mystery Of Form Reading

The mystery of form reading

‘This inaccuracy in the form guide was unavoidable due to the need to create a new track for this type of meeting. GRV realises this may cause some inconvenience for punters until such time that there is sufficient history in our system at the SAP and MEP tracks.’

So reads part of the information from GRV about its new MEP and SAP style meetings, which are being held at the Meadows and Sandown Park respectively.

While I can kind of understand what they’re trying to do, I’m sorry to say it but I think this new classification system as it applies to form reading is, to borrow a phrase Winston Churchill used about the old USSR, “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”

So, what we have is GRV telling us they know the form guide will be inaccurate, but it was unavoidable. I beg to differ.

That it ‘may cause some inconvenience for punters’ is an understatement. Arguably the average punter won’t notice. Which is not good in the longer term. Punters are the lifeblood of racing. Things need to be as clear and straightforward as possible to encourage turnover.

Imagine, a few weeks into the future as someone looks at a form guide and sees SAP and MEP and they ask a mate, “What track is SAP? Is that Sale? Shepparton? Shelbourne Park in Ireland?” When informed it’s actually Sandown Park and there are three or four runs marked SAN as well, do you not think our average punter is going to shake his head in wonderment?

Same track, same distances. The only difference supposedly is the ‘quality’ of the competition. And that, is total rubbish as well. Take the Thursday night meeting at Sandown on 28 August. There were greyhounds engaged with such luminary racing records as 38 starts for 4 wins (10.5%), 37 starts for four wins (10.8%), 41 starts for six wins (14.6%), 49 starts for four wins (8.1%), 65 starts for nine wins (13.8%), 94 starts for nine wins (9.5%) and so on. Remember, this is the peak city meeting of the week.

At the SAP meeting on 31 August -and, dare I say I think ‘sap’ is about the right term for this classification- there were a couple of greyhounds with four wins from 10 starts (40%), and another with 23 wins from 72 outings (31.9%), and plenty of others with reasonable racing records. Yes, there was plenty of rubbish getting a start, but regular greyhound punters are not stupid; they can work out the quality, or otherwise, for themselves.

I feel like I’m in a time warp here. Back in 1998, floods in the Wollongong area led the Bulli club to have its meetings transferred to Wentworth Park. The GBOTA hierarchy decided the deFax form guide should read ‘Bulli’ instead of Wentworth Park to reflect the fact the races weren’t full city meetings.

The stupidity of this was soon shown when a greyhound named Judge Smailes won at ‘Bulli’ over the mythical 520 metres trip in 30.41. The early form guide for a standard Wentworth Park meeting came out a few days later and showed Judge Smailes had only ever won a single event at the course in 30.92.

As I wrote at the time in the now-defunct NSW Greyhound Weekly, ‘…deFax form guides are there to help punters find winners; how the hell are they going to do that if there are greyhounds scooting around Wentworth Park with an alleged best time of 30.92 when the dog won just a week or so earlier in 30.41?’

Sense prevailed and the ‘Bulli’ runs became Wentworth Park starts soon after when the classification reverted to what it should have been all along.

A few lines of computer code could overcome this silliness. That is, instead of having a greyhound’s form show, let’s say, five starts at Sandown Park for two wins, best 29.60, when in fact it has graced the course, let’s say, 15 times for six wins, best 29.55, a modification to a few lines of code would make sure all the runs on this course are included as one set.

Punters, the lifeblood of the industry remember, would not then needlessly be inconvenienced. Sure, the graders will have a bit of a hassle, but then the state of the grading situation across Australia is an issue all on its own.

From now on the form guides for The Meadows and Sandown will be forever inaccurate. When a greyhound races at Sandown Park, for example, say 10 times as a SAP meeting and then races five times at the SAN meetings it will actually have had 15 starts on the track. Its fastest recorded time, when winning, say, at the SAP might be 29.59. It’s fastest recorded time when winning at SAN might be 29.85. So, depending on the meeting it’s best time, and the number of wins, will be all over the shop.

Personally I think it’s absolutely ridiculous. I understand the ‘logic’ behind it, I just happen to think it is terribly flawed.

You might get a greyhound which, let’s say, has raced six times at MEP for three wins and three placings. It then ‘graduates’ to a MEA meeting and the form guide reads ‘FSH’. It clearly likes racing at The Meadows, but someone not paying sufficient attention dismisses it because the greyhound is having its first start at this course after competing very well on some mythical track that looks remarkably like The Meadows. Anywhere else this kind of ‘logic’ would bring howls of laughter.

I’ll be really interested to hear from readers, whether they’re punters, trainers, owners or whatever, as to what they think about this change. As I understand it, as with the silliness of the Bulli/Wentworth Park fiasco, the chief reason for the change is to help the graders. In other words, inconveniencing punters takes precedence over inconveniencing the pencil pushers.

Confessions Of A Partly Successful Writer

Mostly we get good reactions to our articles here, but occasionally a reader takes me to task about a comment I have made. I skip some of these as they tend not to make their point logically, or offer facts to back their story. But I do read them when possible.

One case in point concerned Wag Tail’s run in the Nationals at Cannington. My article had said that one starter had trialled over 715m shortly before the actual race, in which it then ran poorly. This upset one reader although I did not nominate Wag Tail and was actually referring to another runner.

Nevertheless, Wag Tail did trial five days prior in 41.76 and then ran 41.84 to take out 3rd spot in the main race. That followed a fairly busy distance racing program over the previous few weeks, so the question then became whether it was in tip-top condition for the Nationals.

My guess would be barely, if that. Its recent background contained a series of distance races with mostly seven day breaks, which is always a doubtful policy. On its best form, it would have been entitled to run a bit quicker than it did in Perth – not to win but certainly to feature in the Quinella. My impression was that it was a bit flat for the final, which is not surprising given that it had run 715m only five days earlier. The lack of strong opposition allowed it to hold on to the placing.

The other runner of concern was Queen Marina, which both trialled and raced poorly over the full 715m.

The point, as always, is that we keep seeing regular examples of dogs which do not handle a quick back-up very well. And the logic of giving a dog a 715m trial just before a 715m race escapes me. A slip or a 530m trial, perhaps, but not over the full distance.

What happened to the other six runners after arriving in Perth is unknown, according to the formguide, but none had a stewards trial.

Change or Lack of It

Another reader claimed that nobody took any notice of what I wrote, so I was wasting my time. They may be partly right, but that’s about all. For example, several years ago I started asking why Victoria had Non-Penalty races/meetings. And I have kept on with that thought ever since. What purpose did they serve? Was the grading system no good?

Well, just the other day, GRV dumped the practice and converted the twice weekly dates in town into what they now call Meadows Provincial and Sandown Provincial – effectively 5th Grades.

It doesn’t happen overnight, but it does happen. Perhaps I gained some support along the way?

Mind you, none of that embraces what I considered the real problem with those old NP meetings. As soon as they started over a decade ago, field quality at the provincials dropped off, thereby giving clubs less to promote if they were so inclined, and weakening their attraction to serious punters. In exchange, the industry got a mixed bag of maidens, novices, more short races, and dogs out of form or just returning from a spell. Not a good swap. It needs action to reverse that shift. Big feature events are all very well, but it’s the week to week strengths that are the key to maintaining customers.

The Good News Publications

Probably the most common complaint is that I am always “whingeing” about something. Well, there are not too many, really, but there are a few and they are quite right. Except for the spelling. Most people wrongly leave the “e” out of whingeing.

Let me make two points here.

First, there are lashings of commentators saying how marvellous things are, especially if they work for a state authority, and almost none saying there are problems. So, do we have a perfect industry? Hardly, according to numerous moans and groans I keep hearing from both participants and punters, or at the Parliamentary Inquiry in NSW.

Second, that’s not a surprise as the industry is still based on 1950s habits and practices, including its ineffective organisational structures. There has been plenty of change around the edges where services are supplied by outside people. Feeds, medicines and veterinary skills have come along in leaps and bounds. Transport facilities are a millions miles away from the old days. Communications are a whiz by comparison.

Yet we are still running meetings in the same old way, hopefully handing out prize money from the same sources but not at a rate keeping pace with inflation or with standards in other sports. States barely talk to each other and there is little national coordination or consistency. To understand grading policies you need university degrees in mathematics, logic and IT. Since crowds stopped going to the track, the knowledge of greyhound racing has declined and much of the public don’t like what we do anyway. Our public image varies from poor to non-existent.

Put another way, I suggest that were we able to modernise our product and services in keeping with standards in the outside world the opportunity is there to raise incomes by 50% or more. We are selling ourselves short. Our assets and our skills are going to waste. We have long ignored views from outside the inner circle. Our tracks are sub-standard. Our income is dependent on mug gamblers. Management is never seriously challenged, never asked to justify its actions and routinely dismisses criticism, whether right or wrong. We are not running a business but processing pieces of paper, and sometimes not doing that too well.

What it amounts to is that a huge increase in profitability is there to be grabbed if we want it. Consequently, what else is there to do but point out where that might happen? To take no action is to encourage a decline.

So keep writing in. That’s the only way we will get better outcomes.

Organising A Rosy Future

The slashing win by Rose of Galo in Friday’s $40,000 Black Top at Newcastle represented a shrewd effort by trainer Albert Kennewell in selecting this race. But there were other stories, too.

This bitch has a very fine record in Brisbane yet nearly all its wins were just below top class and it had trouble bettering the 30 sec mark there as the last 50m were always a challenge. The same was true of its short visit to Melbourne back in February when the heavy hitters mowed it down.

But Newcastle is a different story, as are tracks like Gosford and Angle Park with their tighter circles. Although there is little difference in the distances, these shapes are easier to handle for dogs like Rose of Galo which rely on leading to win their races. Seldom can they get away with wins at Albion Park, Wentworth Park and Sandown if they have a good dog on their hammer.

Funnily enough there were disappointingly few top dogs in the Black Top, suggesting that people with good beginners are not doing it justice.

The second point is that the Newcastle club’s new chairmen, Brett Lazzarini, has indicated he will be looking closely at possible track improvements, nominating a change to the 400m start as top of the list.

He might go much further than that, starting with the basic design of the circuit and the shape of the existing first and home turns – the former often disruptive and the latter too flat. One of many examples could be seen in Rose of Galo’s race which was quickly confined to four runners after the others all speared off at the first turn, much like a fighter squadron peeling off to start a bombing run (and resulting in one fall). Wentworth Park has similar characteristics.

After querying former operator, the NCA, at the start of racing at The Gardens some years ago, the response from the then-GM was that the design had been “created by experts” so it must be good. That was impossible as those designers has little or no greyhound experience and none could be classed as experts as neither they nor anyone else in this country has done the necessary investigation and analysis of factors that go into creating the ideal track.

Anyway, the belated shifting of the 413m start to the current 400m location illustrated the problem (and cost $50,000 of punter’s money to fix).

Almost identical problems applied to the brand new Gosford track when the GBOTA ignored advice about the 400m bend start, only to have to shift it some six months later. Its first turn is also disruptive.

My suggestion is that whenever the industry gets around to creating a genuine expert panel to delve into the track design subject it should employ a road traffic engineer. I have yet to see a freeway where you have to make a sharp turn to get around the corner. Rather, the cambers virtually allow you to use only a light touch on the wheel to stay on course. The road drives you, not the other way round.

Finally, some interesting facts about patronage turned up following the use of the evening time slot for the Black Top meeting. It had swapped with Wentworth Park, which then occupied the twilight slot.

In practice, takings were a little less than normally true at Wenty, averaging $17,500 on the Win tote. But the Black Top race itself barely boosted turnover as minor races 3 and 5 pulled in higher figures. At Wentworth Park the first five races averaged only $14,300 but the last five – from 5pm onwards – averaged $20,700, a 45% jump. All of which suggests betting is dominated by mug gamblers having a beer after knocking off work. That’s yet another sign of the times.

MORE CURIOUS COMMENTS FROM STEWARDS

The Meadows 30 August – box numbers added here.

Race 6
“Raven Pearl (4), Frank Furter (5) and Woodnear (6) collided soon after the start”.

No, wrong. Woodnear (6) was never near the other two and never touched another dog on the way to the turn.

Race 10
“Victa Bale (2) crossed to the rail soon after the start checking Dyna Fulcrum (1). Dyna Yenite (3) and Mepunga Ranger (4) collided soon after the start”.

The first bit never happened. Dyna Fulcrum (1) is just a moderate beginner – always has been. The second sentence is a gross exaggeration. If those two dogs touched it was an inconsequential brush as they came out of the boxes. Completely irrelevant and a misuse of the words “cross” and “collide”.

Race 12
“Hetalia Bale (5) crossed to the rail approaching the first turn checking Bremer (4), Jaunty Bale (2) and Lonesome Pirate (1).

This is nonsense. Hetalia Bale had clear air all the way to the turn, heading straight ahead in front of Dyna Fancy (3). It checked nothing. Any “checking” of the other three inside dogs was minimal and was all their own work, although Jaunty Bale did run off after they passed the judge.

These wild claims (and many others) by stewards would put Hans Christian Andersen to shame. The mystery is where they source them. What are they watching? Did they forget their glasses? One thought is they may emerge from viewing head-on shots, in which case they would get a misleading impression of which did what. A head-on is useful only to amplify the main picture, if necessary, and can never display the relative proportions of the race.

The above three examples come from the four 525m graded races. The other eight races on the program were maidens and mad scrambles at the start of 600m races. Life is too short to bother with those.

NOT SKY HIGH

The wonderfully performed Space Star, with two track records and a great 41.84 debut at Wentworth Park, bombed the start at its second Wenty run on Saturday, then ran into the backside of another dog on the first turn and managed only to finish in 3rd place in very ordinary time (42.81 x 2.5 lengths).

Actually, its run had finished by the time they entered the home straight. Notwithstanding the checks, I can’t help thinking that backing up 8 days after a “gut buster” at its first distance run was not a sensible idea.

Fewer Rules Would Be Better

There was a time when a couple of Rules of Racing were easy to follow. If a dog fights or does not chase, suspend it for 28 days, three months or permanently for 1st, 2nd and 3rd offences respectively. Separately, if a dog is injured in a race stewards could order a stand down period of a few days or more, depending on vet advice.

The only puzzle in that lot was the logic behind restricting the 1st offence penalty to the track where the offence took place. This implies that the track itself caused part of the problem, yet never have we ever seen an argument to support that view. Why should a fighter be allowed to race at another track, irrespective of whether it has trialled somewhere in the meantime? Surely the problem is in the dog’s head, in which case the trainer would be silly not to attend to it properly, as a longer outage is potentially in the offing.

That aside, life has become more complicated, again for uncertain reasons.

Formerly, an injured dog was not penalised as such, only prevented from racing within a certain (usually short) period. Today, it is suspended pending a steward’s trial, in line with an adjusted racing rule. What is the point of that administrative change? It looks like a sledgehammer to crack a nut. All it does is to add to everyone’s clerical workload and force the trainer and other parties to go to extra trouble to organise the trial – i.e. more expense.

The underlying point is surely that any canine athlete will sooner or later be subject to injury, whether
minor or not. A few of these may be detected by authorities, but thousands will not. Post-race checking of his dog and tending to aches and pains is the everyday lot of the trainer. Indeed, many will join the queue at the door of the local “muscleman” as a matter of routine, especially for a valuable dog.

Advice from stewards (and the vet) about race injuries is helpful to explain some performances but that’s about it. Why not stop there? To go further looks like make-work efforts to justify their existence.

In any case, what else is an injured dog going to do other than to pull up, either immediately or gradually?

While all this is going on authorities have yet to come to grips with a Rule that is not there but should be. Relegation and disqualification from the race are not options in greyhound racing (barring drug matters), in sharp contrast to thoroughbred or harness racing where they are an almost everyday occurrence. Consequently, the fighter which destroys the chances of a competitor still gets to take home the spoils, while the victim gets only place money or nothing at all. It makes no sense.

One excuse I have heard (semi-officially) is that the stewards are too busy after a race to look deeply into such relegations. This is nonsense. They already have time to suspend dogs for fighting or failing to chase, or to record 20 or 30 alleged “bumps” during the race. By comparison, serving up justice to all is far more important.

You have to wonder if a serious incident in a $300,000 race will stir authorities to action.

For information, here is an excerpt from the Rule in question.

“R69B Failing to pursue by reason of injury – first time only
(1) Where, in the opinion of the Stewards, a greyhound fails to pursue the lure with due commitment for
the first time only then it shall be examined by the officiating veterinary surgeon or authorised person
at the meeting and
(a) if found to be injured, it shall be suspended until the completion of a satisfactory trial, and the
specifics shall be recorded in the relevant Controlling Body Register, or where applicable, the
Certificate of Registration or Weight Card of the greyhound”.

MATHEMATICALLY IMPOSSIBLE?

It is surprising how often you see this. In Race 7 at Sandown this week the NSW tote paid $56.90 for the Quinella and also $56.90 for the Exacta. The pools were $2,109 and $619 respectively.

The odds against this coincidence must be a squillion to one. In the much larger Victorian pools the dividends were $48.90 and $97.50, which is much more logical.

Whether the sums were correct or not it is yet another argument in favour of combining these pools.

TOUGH AND TOUGHER

On the question of gutbusters – on August 21 Dewana Babe did a good job to lead all the way over 715m at Sandown, recording 6.06 and 42.02. Seven days later it also led nearly all the way (untouched), recording 6.17 and 42.28 – a four lengths difference – but faded into 3rd place behind a 42.19 winner.

Lady Toy won the more recent event and improved her time considerably. Of course, she takes her time at the back of the field in the first half of the race, going hard only when the rest are fading. The contrast with a tearaway leader busting its gut is marked.

The lesson is that if you have an LAW dog in a distance race, do not back it if it is starting seven days later.

EACH WAY BET?

Stewards Report, Sandown Race 8.

“My Bro Fabio and Mepunga Armagh were slow to begin. Buckle Up Mason crossed to the outside soon after the start, checking Skinny Vinnie, Humphrey Bale and My Bro Fabio”.

If My Bro Fabio (5) was slow out (which it was), how could Buckle up Mason (7) have checked it (which it didn’t)? Besides, Buckle Up Mason (7) never crossed to the outside as it was already there, but it did edge Skinny Vinnie (6) towards the rail, which is where that dog wanted to race anyway. And it did not “check” Humphrey Bale either – they brushed but they were both responsible for that.

Stewards score: 1/5 (they picked the slow beginners).

Are Horses, Dogs And Humans Different?

Following our recent mentions of the risks involved in stayers backing up within seven days it was interesting to note some comments by Phil Purser, who runs the Queensland website justracing.com and is long experienced in all three codes as an owner/trainer.

Given the recent rains all down the eastern seaboard Phil made a point of examining the performances of horses in the three big cities, including their likely handling of soft tracks. Also, heading into spring, many were coming back from lengthy spells. Here is part of what he said.

“So this half fit and somewhat overweight thoroughbred – that is resuming from a spell and has had to be pushed out to the line in slow or more particularly “heavy” going – may well have had a gutbuster without the trainer even subsequently knowing that the horse isn’t quite right. The horse may eat up okay, be as bright as a button at trackwork, yet run below par at its next start. I’ve seen that scenario unfold a thousand times in my lifetime of following racehorses. And it’s probably a fact of life that with the drug laws as they are today in thoroughbred racing, in particular to the way that bi-carb use is targeted, that it’s probably harder for the modern day trainer to legally get a horse over a hard run quickly”.

This more or less parallels our observations about greyhounds in staying races. Xylia Allen has several times done poorly the week after a top win. Dusty Moonshine did likewise at Wentworth Park seven days after a series of well-spaced wins. In contrast, Sweet It Is has rarely backed up too quickly so it is no coincidence that it has generally put in very consistent runs. As it happens, it was just awarded Run of the Year by AGRA for its last to first win at Wentworth Park in April in 41.78. However, as suggested here previously, the track was lightning fast over that period – including when Xylia Allen broke the track record (but faded from the home turn a week later).

It was also notable that at least one distance runner was trialled over the full Cannington 715m trip only days before the National race. It ran poorly.

There cannot be much doubt that neither horses nor dogs can be relied upon to put in top runs a week apart over long trips. The odd exception to that rule does not invalidate the principle. Or, as vet Dr John Kohnke warned (see our article on 11 August), be extra careful about “over-exertion on a particular day” or when a greyhound “exceeds its physical limit”.

WRONG FORM A HASSLE

The shortcomings of the Ozchase form system came to the fore again in the Nationals at Cannington, this time due also to our sloppy friends down in Tasmania. Here’s what the Tasracing tipster said about the local hope prior to the distance race:

“Painted Dotty also is suited to box one and should be (sic) begin like she has at her recent starts she will make her presence felt at the business end of proceedings. The Mick Stringer-trained bitch has been arcing (sic) in peal (sic) form of late over the 720-metre trip in Sydney and in Tasmania and will go into the race in great condition”.

Ozchase more or less backed up that claim by printing (ex the Tasmanian race results) sectionals allegedly run by Painted Dotty at its last two starts – ie 5.17 and 5.11 – over the Launceston 720m trip. Luckily the former time was correct as it led all the way. The second is completely wrong as she had to come from well back and ran to the lead only in the home straight. That 5.11 time was the property of another dog altogether, not Painted Dotty.

For reasons which are impossible to understand, all Tasmanian sectional times – but only one per race – are assigned to the winner, not necessarily the dog that led, thereby corrupting career records for large numbers of dogs.

In the event, Painted Dotty got away well from its rails box in Perth, led for a while and then disappeared off the map when it got to “the business end”.

This sort of problem is compounded by the absence of sectional times for the majority of runners in provincial races in NSW and Queensland, as well as for all races in Tasmania.

The point is that if you have no integrity and consistency in the system, then all sorts of predictions can go wrong and people will be misled. Deliberately giving the wrong dog a fast sectional time is a disgraceful practice yet it has been going on for months, despite constant reminders from this column. Even the Tassie tipster was so frantic to get out the comments that he did not bother to fix all his typos. Not a good look.

PROFESSIONAL OR AMATEUR?

While on the subject of formguides, what a pity that authorities can’t make life a bit easier for fans. Here are a few examples of track codes dreamed up by each of the three main producers. “DFS” is the Daily Form Service contracted by Tabcorp to prepare wall sheets for some 2,000 outlets in NSW.

 

Ozchase GRV DFS
W/P WPK WPRK
RIC RIC RICH
AP/K APK ANPK
CAN CAN CANN
MDW MEA/MEP MEAD
S/P SAN/SAP SAND
AP BGC ALPK

 

In addition, DFS readers have to get used to the most recent race being put first when the normal practice is to put it last. GRV still inserts sectional and overall times for handicap runs without noting what those handicaps were. For anyone reading Ozchase form guides, first make sure you have a magnifying glass handy, especially in bad light. The font is far too small. And avoid TAB outlets which feature the new touchscreens prepared by someone called FLEXICOST – mostly they contain only the last three runs and do not show any times or margins unless the dog won. Where installed, these screens have replaced the DFS wall sheets, which mostly offer only three runs, too.

All of which indicates a complete lack of national supervision in greyhound racing. Standards don’t matter, consistency is out the window, just bung it out for the mugs. Well, for no-one, really, because the mugs don’t read formguides anyway.

AND SO IT GOES ON

From the stewards report for race 9 at Ballarat (Aug27).

“Jessie Small crossed to the rail soon after the start, checking Plantinum (sic) Shen, Dyna Zerg and Lagoon Mytye”.

The first bit is right but five viewings of the video cannot uncover the truth of the rest of the sentence. Those three dogs were well behind the fast-beginning Jessie Small at all stages. And “Plantinum Shen” should be Platinum Shen. Are these guys getting paid by the word?

A Way To Bigger Profits

Many years ago, so old-timers would relate, a five pound note pressed into the hand of a local club official would assure you of a good box for that afternoon’s race. Since the common practice then was to gradually build up a dog’s capability in the hope of making a killing in the ring on a given day, that was pretty important. TABs did not exist and your wages had to come out of the bookmaker’s bag.

At the time, the box draw did not take place until kennelling time, sometimes with a steward around, sometimes not.

With better supervision, things improved a lot as the years rolled on. The draw would be made much earlier, usually after the club secretary (as they were called then) sorted through the nominations and made up the fields.

In fact, there was, and is, a good argument that those secretaries could put together more attractive programs, with full fields, and so keep the hundreds or even thousands of patrons happy, nearly all of them from the local area. The dogs were more localised, too, which meant the secretary could always round up a few extras when needed because he was always in touch with trainers. And he knew the dogs.

For 95% of the time that worked pretty well. Unfortunately, the occasional shenanigan gave the system a bad name and eventually “central grading” became the norm. State authorities took over, which meant that producing a quality program took second place to doing the job “fairly” – ie by the numbers. Local initiatives were lost at the same time as the nearby customers were replaced by unknown gamblers from far and wide, doubly so after SKY pictures arrived.

Yet, like laws in every walk of life, those grading systems just grew and grew. Nothing was deleted but new concepts kept being added. “It would be a good idea if … (we did such and such)”. And, since they were all just “ideas” each state had its own preferences and so the current complex and convoluted systems evolved. A tiny handful of national guidelines are overwhelmed by hundreds of pages of grading rules in various state bibles. Now, reading them makes your head hurt.

Often the reasons for the additions are lost in antiquity – a classic example being the use of “Non Penalty” races in Victoria. Why are they there? What purpose do they serve? Is the grading system no good? What are the costs and benefits? No-one knows, it seems, but there are lots of them and they are increasing in number.

Elsewhere, NSW has belatedly introduced a new range of “Masters” events to cater for aging greyhounds. Yet to do that it did not seek common ground with the longstanding Veterans system in Victoria but selected different age brackets and added three Masters Grades, rather than one. More complexity. Not even the same title.

All this came to mind while reading the latest (8 Aug 2014) summary of Grading Guidelines on the Victorian website. Point scores, race times, interstate conversions and lots more get a run when trying to work out where your dog can compete. Words like “algorithms” pop up, suggesting that a lone grader would have no hope of putting a race together. Indeed, only a carefully programmed computer could do the job, and then it needs constant checking and revision as well as periodic audits by an outside consultant to check that all is above board.

This is not to say that there are not some good points about all these changes. But the question that must be asked is “do we need it all?” Nationwide, capital outlays and ongoing costs of labour, equipment and computer programs must be in the millions of dollars now, simply to get eight dogs and two reserves onto the program. That is cash that cannot be allocated to more deserving causes, whether prize money or better tracks or whatever.

There is no evidence that the “product” is better as a result of the long line of changes. Arguably, the average field is less attractive to the customer, probably because the system is less attuned to their needs than to the owner/trainer’s. There are more empty boxes, more slow dogs, more short course squibs, declining numbers of stayers and more mug gamblers to supply the prize money.

Those outcomes are not due just to grading issues but it is a major contributor. The industry has lost sight of its objectives, or maybe it had the wrong ones in the first place. Excellence is present in a few aspects of greyhound racing but not in the way it puts races together. We can do better. How about going back to scratch and rebuilding the system to cater for today’s customers? Nationally, of course. And simpler.

All this is one of those areas where participants keep finding reason to question what their authorities do and why they spend scarce funds on efforts that may or may not produce dividends. The management efficiency of those authorities is never audited. The figures may add up but not the success rate of what they do.

Let me repeat myself. The squillions of dollars that have gone into Ozchase – the be-all and end-all data handling system devised by NSW and WA – may (or may not) have produced lower unit costs for some parts of the work done by state authorities. But it has also resulted in the worst and most unfriendly set of race form and results services seen in the last 50 years. A 1950s formguide from deFax gave you much more readable information more easily. What is the nett benefit, if any?

Consider 2,100 Years Of Experience

It’s noteworthy, and very topical, that today’s headlines are dominated by the world’s two biggest religions, Christianity and Islam, which both got their start from words that came down from on high – with the help of Moses and the angel Gabriel respectively. Hence the preparation and wide publication of the Bible and the Koran.

The trouble is that no-one is sure exactly what they mean to say. Different interpretations are argued, different branches have developed, and battles are ruinous and ongoing. Over time, the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Reformation and the Jihads have confused the public mightily, and done considerable damage to millions of people. More recently, even Sir Humphrey Appleby, talking about the appointment of a bishop, advised Jim Hacker that a solid belief in God was an optional extra. Such is the world we live in.

But is greyhound racing any different?

The word arrived from state governments about 60 years ago that this was the way to run things. Privateers were cast out of the temple and honest amateurs picked to control operations. And it has been so ever since, virtually according to the same book.

Over the past couple of years, the word came down from administrators in NSW, with some help from WA, that Ozchase would provide all things good and wonderful. In reality, that meant that it would be cheaper for everyone to keep their books, and so you should join in.

Of course, the principles are marvellous – greater efficiency, easy references, more consistency, fewer errors in transmission and less need to go to the money lenders. Consequently, bean counters in Tasmania, SA, the ACT and Queensland have joined with NSW and WA in applauding the idea.

Ozchase is now working everywhere except in Victoria, where the local heathens decided they liked what they already had and said no thanks.

The problem now is that while bottom lines may be improved, Ozchase threw the baby out with the bathwater. With the cheaper costs came a disregard for the people who supply the means to fix those bottom lines – the customers. For real racing information – mainly form and race results – Ozchase stinks. Information is restricted and/or laborious to access and is never supplied in data-friendly formats. It deliberately makes life harder for punters, apparently because Ozchase (which means GRNSW) wants to keep secret as much as possible.

This is a major, although not the only, factor which has caused those same customers to either disappear or be downgraded to mug believers. Accept the word or be excommunicated is today’s mantra. Do not query the good book lest you be censored out of existence. All of which makes progress and innovation hard to bring about.

It is also a reason why the infidels in Victoria will continue to thrive (relatively) as they have been doing for the last decade or more. It is extraordinary that the old-timer thinkers in NSW and elsewhere cannot see what they have done and where they are heading – the downturns are everywhere to be seen.

For a few pieces of silver (temporary only) they are risking the industry’s future by throwing the customers to the lions.

In any case, according to census figures, the biggest growth in the West today is not in believer numbers but in the number of atheists.

QUEENSLAND – HELP FROM ABOVE

Christmas will arrive early this year for Queensland greyhounds. Following the new agreement with Tattsbet standard prize money at Albion Park’s main meeting on Thursdays will rise by 54% to $7,500. This now compares favourably with Wentworth Park in Sydney ($6,750) and Melbourne ($7,180). Prize money at other venues will also be increasing nicely.

So far, so good.

What we don’t know yet is how Queensland has set up its budget and what other improvements it has in mind. There are pressing needs.

1. The government has provided capital to create the new Logan complex to the south of Brisbane but
not up-to-date detail about the design of the track. For example, previous drafts showed it included a bend start for middle distance races. (Despite no official announcement, rumours abound that work has already started. Why the secret?)
2. The fate of Albion Park and Ipswich operations is unknown. Both those tracks are sub-standard for purely technical reasons which need attention. Bend starts and poor turns badly need fixing.
3. Never mind the new agreement; will TattsBet – which is currently unable to maintain its tote turnover – continue to provide the cash from year to year?
4. How will Racing Queensland encourage more local patronage in future years when better alternatives are available in other states with bigger betting pools, all easily accessed via a phone or the internet? So far the new administration has done nothing to promote fresh business.
5. The increased prize money will certainly help but will it be enough to attract more and better quality dogs? Possibly, but it might need serious promotion.

In short, it’s not just the cash but the package to be offered to customers that will be the key to prosperity. That package has to include better fields, better tracks and better betting options. Leave out any one of those and progress will be limited.

By the way, all this information is being put out by the chairman of Racing Queensland, Kevin Dixon. Not a word has been heard from the greyhound board – on this or any other subject. Such is the pecking order.

GREYHOUNDS AUSTRALASIA, PLEASE NOTE

Never short of a word, former Victorian Premier, Jeff Kennett, at a function in Melbourne, called for a revamp of the Australian Racing Board, which he described as “useless”. He says it is “imperative that the national racing board comprises people who are independent of racing”.

“I would like to see people who are genuinely independent and not have a background in racing,” he said.
“You need a small, independent board that can bring best practices together to understand that this industry is just not about racing, but it is about setting standard. It’s about ensuring people are fairly treated.”

Nor was he complimentary about online bookmakers, titling them as “a cancer” on the industry.

“And, Kennett admitted that if he could have foreseen what he says is the damage corporate bookmakers are causing then he would not have privatised the Victorian TAB more than 20 years ago. Kennett said if corporate bookmakers were allowed to exercise their will as they currently do, the racing industry would not exist in five years.”

A bit extreme, perhaps, but understandable. However, Kennett might have pondered more about the way in which online bookmakers are allowed to operate, rather than their very existence. After all, the betting sector was nearly moribund before their injection into the system. And their formation was prompted only by the negative way in which the ARB and the major clubs treated traditional bookmakers, and for no other reason.

The Sacrifices Of The Greyhound Opposition

I have little doubt the majority of those virulently opposed to greyhound racing are genuine in that opposition. After all, it must be extremely difficult to never eat any kind of meat, or seafood, or partake of any form of dairy product, or indulge in any alcohol. Ever.

Given the eating and drinking restrictions, I can’t really say much against them. I imagine the opponents of greyhound racing are a rather healthy crew, and that’s a good thing, both for themselves and the country as a whole. These are people who are far less likely to be a burden on the health-care system, having embraced such a healthy lifestyle.

Of course, it almost goes without saying, that gambling in any form is abhorred and avoided. Never a chance that any amount of money should ever be spent on backing a greyhound, a horse, a football match, or invested in a lottery ticket, Lotto, or even a Scratchie. After all, once you’ve taken up the moral cudgels, you’ve got to be certain of being absolutely committed to the cause. Any hint of hypocrisy must be avoided at all costs.

It must be tough making sure that they, and their families, only associate with persons who share the same values. Then again, a restricted circle of friends is not necessarily a bad thing either. Of course, it’s impossible in the workplace to avoid those who don’t share your set of values, but employment may well offer the opportunity to proselytize.

While I am being somewhat facetious, I find it amazing there are people who really believe some of the absolute rubbish written about greyhound racing and its adherents.

Yes, it is not a perfect sport/industry. Name me one that is. In fact, can anyone name anything that is truly perfect? The reality is the absolute majority of people within the greyhound racing industry have a deep care and love for the breed. Indeed, if opponents actually took the time to read many of the stories written in the racing literature about the lesser lights, you would see a constant theme running through them. They are not in the greyhound game for the money. Sure, if they managed to breed or race a champion, that would be the icing on the cake. The majority know the chances of that happening are pretty limited. So, they enjoy the racing. They enjoy the camaraderie of the track. They enjoy the lifelong friendships that often result, especially in the country towns and smaller cities. Most of all, they enjoy and care for their animals.

Greyhounds do get injured. Some are even killed on a racetrack. No one with any sense of feeling can fail to be saddened when such an event occurs. The fact is the world is never going to be Utopia. Even Thomas More, the author of that tome, was executed for being dogmatic (if you’ll pardon the unintentional pun) instead of pragmatic.

I quite understand the good intentions of those opposed to a sport I have loved since I was a teenager. Yet, rather than simply be determined to wipe it out, would it not be better to engage in sensible, reasoned dialogue? By any reasonable measure the administration of the sport has improved in leaps and bounds when it comes to the welfare of the breed.

Imagine talking with greyhound people in a calm and sensible fashion. You might find that not all of those involved in the sport are the many-headed Hydra in disguise. Who knows, you might find yourself making new friends.

Wars are fought because people on both sides of an argument refuse to compromise; they refuse to make any effort to ‘see’ the other side. Reasoned dialogue, without resorting to hyperbole, or abuse, can lead to outcomes which benefit both sides of an argument.

Report Delayed Again And Trainers Unhappy

The troops are grumbling in both NSW and Queensland. Following a private meeting of several NSW club and industry advisory groups a week ago, it seems a presentation to the Racing Minister is being drafted in the hope of achieving improvements in the way GRNSW is running things.

Fine details are not available but apparently a major beef is that costs are up and prize money has not kept pace. That’s hardly news and the subject was well explored in the parliamentary Inquiry earlier in the year. Since the Inquiry’s basic report has been out for some time and is being considered by the Minister you have to wonder about the purpose of the fresh push. In any event, this is one subject that GRNSW has frequently mentioned in its own publications, although it has been very short on suitable solutions.

Whatever the merits of the case, to try to influence the Minister at this stage is pointless. He will simply advise people to wait until the final report is available and he has had a chance to review it.

What is a pity is that the final report – to follow on from an internal financial investigation by the NSW Treasury – is delayed again until mid-October, three months after it was promised.

We have no idea what that will say but I am always doubtful about the competence of the Treasury to come up with useful recommendations in respect to business matters. Their history includes a forced increase in taxes on Win bets, which then caused truckloads of turnover to disappear down the Hume Highway to Melbourne. It was scrapped a few weeks later.

We should also note that Professor Percy Allen, who had a lengthy stint as chairman of GRNSW, himself came from a career as the big cheese in that same Treasury. Yet he was one of the leading objectors to the arrival and legalisation of Betfair and the online bookies from the Northern Territory. At one stage he made an impassioned speech to greyhound followers at the Social Club, calling on them to boycott the newcomers. Bean counting and obsolete traditions outweighed good business sense, and he was far from alone.

To add salt to the wound, the various state Ministers convened a high level group of racing department officials (the Betting Exchange Task Force) to consider submissions and report on the worth of betting exchanges. It seems they came with riding instructions because the group (NT excepted) concluded they would be a fate worth than death and should be banned.

Submissions to that study embraced each state’s own racing department as well as TABs and major racing authorities, all of whom were either emotionally opposed to the newcomers (viz Percy Allen) or had vested interests (viz the TABs).

They did not bother to check the facts and investigate the betting exchange history in the UK, where both The Jockey Club (which controls UK gallops) and various police bodies had found that Betfair was not only useful but had been able to uncover systematic race fixing scandals which had previously gone unnoticed. Rather than constituting a risk, Betfair had proved to be a boon to racing.

The same ignorance was evident in Queensland, where the GRA was then chaired by a prominent local accountant. All these organisations ignored the fact that thousands of customers were deserting the monopoly TABs at the time, never mind whether the newcomers were “legal” or not.

Not to forget the misguided action by the WA Minister to outlaw Betfair’s operation in that state, only to be shot down in flames when the High Court over-ruled his decision.

Or the action of the Tasmanian government to sell off its tote to the smaller and less competitive Tatts organisation, thereby ensuring that much local business would switch (or continue) to the larger Tabcorp system based in Melbourne.

No organised revolution is present in Queensland today but there is a constant barrage of criticism from participants and commentators about the way Racing Queensland operates and how it is structured – “jobs for the boys” is a typical complaint and two members of the initial RQ board have now resigned, apparently in disgust. Greyhound racing in the state is in relentless decline, and has been for the last 20 years, but remedial action is absent.

The fact that some of these incompetent business decisions have now been reversed serves only to underscore the inability of the industry, including those in government, to act appropriately and in the best interests of the various codes and their participants.

In such a climate, what can we expect the two state governments to do? Queensland is clearly hopeless as the motives behind its new governance set-up are peculiar, to say the least, and the individual code boards are effectively powerless where it counts most. In NSW the new Racing Minister is an unknown but nothing has happened since the new government took over, save a recent decision to donate a few million to the gallops to help with their staging of the “Championships” next year. In any event, historically Racing Ministers are low on the political totem pole and may not get to see their preferences satisfied (Victoria is an exception, at least until the next election).

Going back to the NSW Treasury, all we can hope for is a recommendation to reduce government racing taxes on greyhounds, bringing them more into line with those applying in Victoria, for example. The Inquiry will then take a while to consider its position. What the politicians do after that is in the lap of the gods. Whatever, it is hard to see much benefit coming from an attack on the Minister right now. Later, perhaps.

All of which bypasses the real problem with racing organisations – their bureaucratic and unresponsive nature and their lack of business acumen. As one of the current NSW campaigners correctly pointed out – there is no real accountability for the job they do.

FEWER WORDS, MORE FACTS, PLEASE

The great Richie Benaud advised newcomers to the commentary game that “if you can’t add something to the picture then say nothing”. At the same time a group of us used to have bets on how many mistakes Tony Greig would make in each turn with the microphone – two to four was the usual range. Sometimes I think Victorian stewards should have been picking up these clues, too.

After race 11 at The Meadows last Saturday they advised, “My Kinda Music (4) crossed to the rail approaching the first turn checking Velocemente and Sapporo. Velocemente and Dyna Fulcrum collided on the first turn causing Dyna Fulcrum to race wide”.

The first bit was only half right. It did chop off Sapporo (2) but Velocemente (1), a moderate beginner, was well behind and not involved. Then Velocemente ran off on the first turn – of its own volition – something which was unusual since it is a railer. That warranted a comment but it did not get one. Far better to have said nothing so viewers would not be misled. Alternatively, they could point out to those in charge that the turn is too sharp and needs remodelling – perhaps at the same time as they re-position the wham-bang-thank-you-ma’am start for 600m races.

Tabcorp Hedging Its Bets

Following falls in normal TAB business in 2013/14 Tabcorp is looking to increase the proportion of betting done via smartphones and the like, particularly in respect to in-play bets which are currently available only through phone or personal contact. Overall, digital betting rose 18.2% to $2.9 billion during the year.

CEO David Attenborough wants to see punters wandering around ClubTabs and PubTabs furiously thumbing their I-Pads and the like as the field heads up the back straight. TAB licensees would be pleased as the extra business (assuming they get the credit) would help with the economics of running their facilities, and also make their venues more valuable in the long term.

Last year retail betting volumes fell 4.9% in Victoria and 1.2% in NSW, which would have been offset by the increasing Fixed Odds business where the company saw a 37% rise in revenue (the turnover figure was not stated).

The benefits of in-play betting for greyhound races are dubious due to the short time frames involved. In fact, how Tabcorp’s price assessors might operate is also a mystery given the huge advantages accruing to leaders. It would be practical only for longer galloping and harness races.

It would be far more helpful to see TABs set up decent “bookmaking” facilities under their Fixed Odds banner, where punitive books of 130% or so are now the norm. More so as genuine bookmaking is almost a lost art in greyhound racing, certainly at most TAB tracks.

A breakdown of Tabcorp’s racing turnover shows NSW with $3,819 million and Victoria with $2,762 million. Its Luxbet “bookmaking” subsidiary in the Northern Territory showed almost no increase.

However, the declining importance of tote betting places even more pressure on the need to create a national betting pool, particularly for greyhound racing which suffers from too many tiny and unworkable local pools. Both state Treasurers (in taxes) and racing authorities (in commissions) have much to gain due to their higher takes from traditional betting forms.

Added to that is the relatively poor performance of the betting exchange Betfair, which is struggling to maintain a level. So much so that James Packer’s interests have now bought out the British parent’s half of the action. His future strategies are unknown but he has shown a long term preference for gaming rather than wagering, unlike his late father.

This is a pity as the concept of a betting exchange provides a significant alternative to traditional means of betting. That’s worth its weight in gold at a time when genuine bookmakers are becoming thin on the ground.

A CHANGING MEDIA LANDSCAPE

If you get one bad apple, how can you be sure there are not more in the bag?

Readers may be amazed to learn that reporter Natalie O’Brien from Fairfax has just won a media award for environmental investigations (not related to racing this time). O’Brien was responsible for a series of heavily biased reports on greyhound racing around the time of the establishment of the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry. Some of those reports extensively quoted dissenting comments by Inquiry deputy chairman Dr John Kaye MLC (Greens) who has himself been side-lined by his fellow members for his lopsided views.

Both these people have clearly indicated they just don’t like greyhound racing. No special reason, they just don’t like it. Well, that’s their right.

O’Brien’s articles occurred around the time of the strongly slanted and poorly researched ABC TV program about greyhound “abuses” on the 7:30 Report. And, while O’Brien’s articles purported to be “reporting”, in practice their limited views should have placed them under an “Opinion” heading. Clearly the paper’s management is not very observant. Or perhaps they just don’t understand racing.

All have since been discredited by the Inquiry, which reported favourably on the care and dedication of greyhound participants. However, it was critical of the code’s administration. A final report on the financial outlook for greyhound racing is due very soon.

In my view, the lack of balanced reporting in the (now) left-leaning Sydney Morning Herald and the ABC means consumers should take anything they say with a grain of salt. I don’t trust either, and nor do many learned observers far more competent than me. For the moment, I am continuing with my SMH subscription only to keep track of what is going on and because I like to get their crosswords and football commentary.

Meantime, although it is a year since this kerfuffle emerged, no action has been seen from racing authorities to better inform the general public about the industry or the greyhound breed. Our leaders seem to think that if they keep punching out media releases which are read only by industry insiders that all will be well. That will not happen. The public will never come to us – we have to go to them.

Let’s take the words out of Hilary Clinton’s mouth. In an interview on America’s future, reported by the Wall Street Journal and The Australian she advised, “We should take pride in ourselves and make our case to the world. We don’t even tell our story very well.” Exactly.

As for awards, many of these appear to be insiders applauding other insiders. All very nice but hardly objective.

DESIGN TO ELIMINATE CROWDING

At Sandown in race 10 yesterday stewards thought fit to mention that “Sky Fighter crossed to the rail soon after the start checking Yakamov Bale, Kerrigan Bale, Eliza Blanche, Sisco Good, Zipping Snoopy, Dr. Don”.

Well, technically, there is a grain of truth in that, but not much more. Sky Fighter is not a crasher and did not crash on this occasion. It simply moved gradually across to the rail, leading by the time it got to the judge.

What really generated all the interference, and there was plenty, was Kerrigan Bale (1) moving out immediately after the jump, thereby inconveniencing favourite Eliza Blanche (2) and generally squeezing up the field. Therefore it appeared that Sky Fighter did more damage than it was really responsible for.

The point about this is not just to pin-prick the stewards’ words (although they could have done better) but to emphasise how important it is to devise ways of designing tracks so that dogs are encouraged to stay further apart. That may not change anything either of these two dogs did but it may help the rest of them.

As a further illustration, in two other races the inside squeezing led to two very good gallopers but moderate beginners from box 8 being able to whizz around the field on the first turn to record really smart times (Allen Deed, R8 and Shot To Bits, R12). Both deserved to win but other runners were denied a similar chance. The fix? Not entirely sure but Hobart may offer a few clues.

Eyes Bigger Than The Stomach?

When it comes to productivity and profits, more may not be better. Consider how racing programs are put together.

Half way through this calendar year it seems the number of dogs actually racing in Australia is still creeping upwards. Between 2010 and 2013 that figure was actually rising by an average of about 1% a year. The first two quarters of 2014 continued that trend. The average annual figure is now 13,900.

We obtain that figure by identifying every dog starting in a race, and then deleting duplicate names.

What we don’t know is where they are coming from. The latest breeding data from Greyhounds Australasia are for 2011. However, we know that there was a small decline over the previous 10 years while snippets from some state reports indicate breeding activity is still flat at best.

Since there are more races being run, it follows that the extra dogs are from the bottom of the barrel, probably encouraged by the addition of low class races to the program (T3, Class C, etc).

The next step is that some of those slow dogs tend to filter through to normal provincial meetings, thereby lowering standards there and making predictions more difficult.

The positive aspect is that a higher percentage of dogs are enjoying a useful racing life. Even so, the actual numbers involved would be tiny – probably a miniscule percentage of the 15,000 or so whelped annually.

Move along to another aspect of this subject – one that was highlighted recently when the gallops in Victoria decided to add a ninth race to the standard 8-race Saturday city meeting, but offered only 50% of normal prize money. Nominations may not be a problem but quality will be.

This copies steps the greyhound code took many years ago to turn traditional 10-race meetings into 12-race meetings, mainly because the TAB system could cope with the higher number and clubs wanted some extra cash. It’s still working in Victoria and WA and to a lesser extent in SA. But elsewhere they are flat out getting numbers for 10-race meetings. Even in Victoria, one in five races starts with an empty box, while in WA it is noteworthy that one race on the customary Cannington program has been turned in to a country standard 297m event – also due to a shortage of nominations. And Mandurah programs are splattered with 302m events, which are jumping contests rather than true races. In fact, in every state shorter races are making up a bigger proportion of the total. That suits lower quality dogs but generally punters prefer longer races.

The question that arises is whether the gallops or the greyhounds are doing better under the expanded regime.

Short fields are a negative to start off with as they discourage exotic bets. But equally as critical is whether programmers are robbing Peter to pay Paul. The constant overlap in starting times, exacerbated by delayed harness races as well as clashes between SKY1 and SKY2, results in gamblers jumping from one to the other and back again. Even if they wanted to, customers are physically unable to bet on both and will certainly not be able to sort out the prices in time.

There is every indication that the industry supply has already exceeded the demand from customers. Hence the terrible pools for some provincial events – $4,000 or so in a Win pool is certainly unworkable and would turn off serious punters. Remember also that not only are the three racing codes competing with one another but on several days each week with football matches in their four codes, all of which attract gamblers.

Racing authorities may claim they are getting higher overall incomes from all the extra races but that is an assertion, not a proven fact. For example, I watched a delayed dog race the other day increase its Win pool from $10,000 to $15,000 purely because it was sitting up there on the screen for a few minutes longer. People had a few dollars in their pocket and intended to invest in something, no matter what. And what they put on the dog race could not go on another race.

There will be an ideal middle ground somewhere but all the evidence suggests that we have gone past it into an area of diminishing returns. Meantime, the whole process has reduced the quality of the average race and turned off many serious punters. What is the cost of that, and was it worth it?

And will the Melbourne gallops come up against the same barrier?

Only a serious independent study would have any hope of uncovering the real truth and establishing whether the costs exceed the benefits. Meantime, media releases will contain the usual waffle.

SOME VETERINARY ECONOMICS

This information should be seen in the light of the recent Commonwealth change of policy to deregulate university fees. It comes from the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling and AVA, reported by Fairfax Media.

Direct cost of six-year veterinary degree – $57,568 (under current conditions)
Starting salary for graduates – $47,300 (assumed to rise at 3% pa)
Expected HECs debt – $101,470 (with interest at long term bond rate of 5.21%)
Payback period – 22 years.

If universities were to increase course fees by 20% under new conditions, then …

Total debt – $250,330
Repayment period – 31 years.

80% of veterinary graduates are now women.

Note that any fee increases are now in the control of the universities, not the government. Effectively, repayments would rise if the student ends up staying out of the workforce for any reason including – for women in particular – starting a family. Nevertheless, a statement attributed to AVA president Julia Nicholls that “fee deregulation would have a disastrous impact” is quite misleading. It’s the cry of an organisation that wants more taxpayer support at a time when the nation cannot afford it. Anyway, it may not be justified.

It is not the concept of deregulation that is the key, but what universities do under that deregulated regime.
Fees could go up or down and by varying amounts from one to the other. If they charge too much then students will go elsewhere. They must also be considered in the light of future changes in salaries paid to veterinarians.

It’s certainly a field that racing administrators should be watching closely.

The Dogs Website Seems Determined To Maintain The Errors

Sometimes you just want to scream. Regular readers might recall that in early May I wrote an article about discovering the two fastest greyhounds to have raced in the history of the sport anywhere on the planet.

The claim, of course, was completely spurious. Just to recap, what I wrote back then chiefly centred on The Dogs website. As I noted, ‘This is actually quite a comprehensive and useful website, but under the track information for Broken Hill I found the 375 metre track record is supposedly held by a greyhound named Booma Herbie. The time: a sensational 7.19 seconds. Just in case you think I’ve hit the wrong set of numbers on the keyboard, that’s seven point one nine seconds. This superstar ran this time on 11 November 2010, 42 months ago…It gets worse. The track record at Lismore was supposedly obliterated on 6 May this year by Rush Of Power, who ran 6.71 seconds (yes, six point seven one) for the 520 metres. Of course this makes Rush Of Power even faster than Booma Herbie.’

One might venture to think that someone within the Greyhound Racing NSW setup would have been made aware of the errors on their website and made efforts to correct them. After all, we are talking three months since I wrote that article. Sadly, both Booma Herbie and Rush Of Power are still listed as the record holders for their respective distances.

You can also add Never Early over the 453 metres at Cowra and Salford Precinct over 346 metres at Forbes to the above pair. According to The Dogs website, Never Early ran 19.13 seconds for the trip back on 31 July 2010. So, the incorrect information has been on the site now for longer than 48 months. Maybe if I write four years it doesn’t sound as bad.

Salford Precinct is supposed to have run 14.28 seconds for 343 metres on 27 March 2011. Just under that information you can read the average times by distance and grade and the 343-metre trip tends to average about 20 seconds.

What I find simply amazing is that greyhound racing is a multi-million dollar business and while great improvements have been made in the collection and retention of data, there really are far too many simple errors being made. The argument that unpaid or poorly remunerated ‘amateurs’ are keying in the information in the first place (if that is indeed the case) doesn’t wash. Someone should be checking the information at head office to make sure the information being transmitted is as free from error as possible.

The solution is simple. All it is going to take is for somebody at the managerial level to assign someone dedicated and competent to trawl through the various facts and figures and update and correct the information available.

Don’t let the pimply-faced, 16-year-old work experience kid who still thinks a greyhound is some kind of a long-distance bus do it. Don’t let the octogenarian spinster whose sum total of knowledge of the greyhound is that it is the only canine mentioned in the Bible do it. Find someone whose eyesight is reasonable and who is capable of stringing a sentence longer than six words together and understanding the meaning of words with three or more syllables. Maybe, more important, give the task to someone who likes to have a bet, at least then there might be a chance of getting some genuinely useful and, more importantly, correct information put up on what is one of the primary racing websites in the country.

What Can Winning Boxes Tell You?

Many years ago I wrote that “A well laid out track should produce a set of winning box percentages where no one box delivers less than 10% of all winners and where box 6 is the worst of the lot. If that does not apply, look for some peculiarity in track design which might be causing the problem”.

That principle still holds true today. In fact, you could enlarge on it. Three guidelines will quickly identify odd ones out:

1. Box 1 should be at or below 18%.
2. Box 6 (the worst) should not be less than 10%.
3. Box 8 should be around 12%.

All those rules hold good for one country – New Zealand – but not for the USA and not for Australia, where outcomes are erratic.

A survey of the seven main NZ tracks, using long term data, confirms that winners are more evenly spread with perhaps just one exception at Forbury in Otago, where 1 and 8 do better than expected over its 545m distance (which is worth checking).

Considering box 1, six of the nine sample tracks we looked at in Australia produce well over 18% of winners – Albion Park (20.1), Launceston (20.7), Sandown (18.4), Meadows (19.4), Wentworth Park (19.3), and Cannington (18.8). Most of those also had either many more or many fewer winners from box 8 than the expected average. In four of the nine, the worst box was not 6 but either 5 or 7. In total, that’s a disease.

Our underlying principles do not just apply in Australia and New Zealand. 10 year figures for English tracks, where only six runners take part, show the same thing. Here is an 8,000 race sample taken from a U.K. publication (Win at Greyhound Racing, Oldcastle Books, 1977):

Box 1 2 3 4 5 6
Winning % 19 16.6 15.3 14.9 16.7 17.1

 

Certainly, the English track managers seed dogs according to their railing ability. Even so, the wins are nicely spread, indicating a low interference level, and the saucer-shaped set of figures conforms to the basic principles of good design. Irish data is probably similar but their authority does not publish any figures.

So what’s wrong with Australia?

The first clue is obvious – cutaway first turns (the turn within the turn) at Wentworth Park, Bulli, The Meadows, Launceston and Cannington always do two things; they give the inside dog an additional advantage, one that it does not really need; and some dogs cannot handle the more complex turn, thereby causing interference as they move off.

The next clue is that some turns bring dogs together, rather than keeping them apart. That causes an unholy mess: The Meadows and Albion Park seem to be the worst there. Allied to that is the Sandown experience, which does all sorts of funny things, such as causing dogs to bump on the way to the turn and then prompting some inside dogs to dance to the right when they get there.

Horsham and Angle Park are better than most, although some mixing is present on the turn. Both have relatively low but still dominant box 1 figures.

Flat first turns at Richmond and Ipswich cause no end of trouble while Dapto’s boxes are jammed in against the line of the running rail. All generate interference.

In other cases, notably Bulli, a flat home turn throws dogs off and significantly changes the running order.

Generally, Australian track designs display a suck-it-and-see syndrome. In other words, the designs have no backing in engineering or any other discipline. They have just happened.

The foundation of New Zealand track designs is unknown, although their relative young age suggests that they may have learnt from experience elsewhere. Observations suggest turn banking is kinder than in Australia while the big swinger is the use of the follow-on-lure system which appears to offer dogs a wider and higher view.

Indeed, lengthy FOL trials in Brisbane and Adelaide produced lower levels of failing to chase convictions and lower injury rates as well. That outcome is consistent with obtaining a good sight of the lure and also with keeping dogs further apart. It is more than a shame that such experience has been wasted.

So, are winning boxes the answer to good track designs? No, not by themselves, but they are the prime evidence that tells you to look further. They are the red flags.

The trick is to find a solution that meshes the desires of a random and changing mix of dogs with a man-made collection of steel, loam and fluff. That’s not a simple task. To do it well demands some thousands of hours of study. However, we do have some basic principles to work with.

1. Never put boxes on a bend.
2. Make turns simple, even and well banked.
3. Switch to the follow-on-lure. There is nothing to lose.
4. Don’t guess – get the evidence first.
5. And listen to the dogs – they know best.

The above comments all refer to performances over the track’s main distance, where a good run to the first turn is available. Winning boxes for other distances will be more erratic as they are located on or near a turn.

Good data on winning boxes is not as easy to find as it should be. A major problem is that Victoria and Queensland some time ago shifted from long term data to providing it only for the previous 12 months. That means the majority of trips offer too few samples to justify statistical accuracy. A minimum of 400 is needed, but preferably 1,000 or more. In any case, current data for Queensland disappeared when it switched over to the NSW Ozchase system. The same thing happened when Tasmanian data was inserted.

In terms of racing information generally, the switch to the Ozchase system has put the industry back by 20 years.

The only reliable box information comes from National Tab form although even there the odd trip is doubtful as it does always not re-start data collection when the track undergoes a physical change but continues to use the same distance. Such changes always produce different winning box numbers. One example of that is the Maitland 400m trip.

Small But Perfectly Formed

The news that Tabcorp has bought up the ACTTAB – aside from local bookmakers, the sole betting operator in the nation’s capital – is hardly earth shattering in itself but it could be crucial to the eventual makeup of Australia’s wagering system.

The $115 million purchase of a 50-year license includes a guarantee to sponsor local racing by at least $300,000 a year as well as $400,000 to go to local community and sporting groups.

A key point is that the annual license fee will be only $1 million and there will be no betting tax on the tote turnover. That gives Tabcorp a low cost base and a possible weapon to use in negotiations with the Victorian government when that license comes up in 2024.

Meantime, one analyst has pointed out that “the company could effectively shift accounts to the low-cost ACTTAB without any change in experience for phone and internet customers”. Shades of the Northern Territory where Tabcorp already has a subsidiary – Luxbet – but does not run the TAB.

WA now remains the only government-owned TAB in the country but is tied to Tabcorp’s Victorian Supertab for pool purposes.

Tabcorp may well devote more time now to convincing the NSW government to allow it to combine NSW and Victorian pools. A previous application was denied by the NSW Racing Minister on the (unproven) ground that it would disadvantage NSW. That was a big loss for greyhound racing which continues to lose traction because of its small pools.

How that decision was justified is a mystery but more light might be thrown on the subject when the state Treasury finalises its report to the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into the greyhound industry. That is due by the end of the month.

SMALL IS NOT HELPFUL

Patrick Smith in The Australian has pointed out an interesting contrast between the smaller sports such as athletics and swimming on the one hand and the big time operations such as football, cricket (and, we would add, horse racing) on the other. The former lot have little opportunity to grab headlines other than when events like the Olympics, the Commonwealth games and World championships come up.

By comparison, the big sports get massive daily coverage from all the media, thereby providing the heavy publicity that encourages the public to take an interest.

Smith notes that in between Games, the small sports “make many decisions that are not scrutinised by the media”. In contrast, in the big sports “everybody is critiqued from the AFL Commission chairman to commentators and reporters. It happens every day of the year. It is (this) feedback that educates the officials”.

The corollary of this argument is that those smaller sports can get away with less efficient and less relevant administrations, hence the regular blow-ups in swimming and athletics, the latest being the sacking of Australia’s head athletics coach.

Greyhound racing gets no significant publicity unless something really nasty happens. Of course, when it does the media is free to make up its own versions of the facts because the industry offers no fall-back store of information, no regular spokesman, little general support and no authoritative national body to speak for it. Effectively, it has a non-image at best, and a poor one when one-eyed critics appear.

This alone is justification for some major organisational reforms.

SMALL BUMPS WILL DECIDE OUTCOMES

On display in state heats at the moment are most of the better stayers, en route to the National Championships. So far, here is what we have.

Queensland.
Favourite Wag Tail managed only 2nd spot after some battering while Hougenie bolted away with the race in a career best performance of 41.95. Previously it has not run out the distance well. In the other heat, honest plugger and favourite Mullaway could not pull in relative newcomer Rain Stream which ran a moderate 42.29. Only Wag Tail is a potential placegetter in the big one in Perth.

South Australia.
The only two reasonable stayers in the state took out the heats, Psychotic Gold in a fair 43.13, Token Mclaren in a poor 43.58. Hard to have.

Victoria.
The usual suspects greeted the judge in the four heats (all but one with short fields), leaving behind mostly ordinary competitors.
Mepunga Tiara ran a career-best 41.95, leading most of the way, but that will not be competitive in stronger races.
Zipping Rory ran one of its best races with a 41.70 win – only the second time it has bettered the 42 sec mark. Needs more consistency. Dyna Willow finished a handy second to Zipping Rory but it is hard to see much further improvement on its 41.81 run.
Sweet It Is showed it customary blinding finish but 42.12 is as good as it can do, so it cannot figure in the big ones, barring interference.
Xylia Allen did the right thing yet its 41.70 time is generally its peak over the long trip. It cannot afford any interference. The bitch has had far better performances over shorter trips. That pattern suggests it is a bit flat at the moment. Looby Lu had every chance but that was only it fourth distance race and it continues to improve. No chance on that form but you never know what the future will hold.

Some of the above assessments ignore form from last April at Wentworth Park when Xylia Allen smashed the 720m track record in a heat but petered out in the final. Dyna Willow had also done well there. I am inclined to treat those performances and times as an aberration as they have never been repeated and are better forgotten when considering upcoming races.

State finals are unlikely to throw further light on prospects as form is already very well declared. However, the final at Cannington will certainly be affected by the box draw. Inside is a big advantage over all distances at that track.

From Country Roads To Three Lane Highways

Whoops – readers pointed out an important error in Monday’s comment about Xylia Allen. She did not lead in her heat of the state Distance Championship at The Meadows but came from behind, much as happened in the final.

Even so, the main point of that article was that we are asking too many dogs to do too much, particularly when stayers have to back-up after a seven day break. That practice reduced the integrity of Xylia Allen’s race, not just for her but for all runners and the thousands of punters who wanted to cheer them home.

Readers also commented on the effect of interference in those races. There are two main variables there – what dogs do and what tracks force them to do. Ideally, all races would be run without any one dog clashing with another, meaning that speed and strength would decide the winner.

Well, there are no perfect races, of course, but a few get close. We do know that most 461m races at Hobart run with a minimum of interference, especially (and unusually) in the first 100m, so there is an example to study. The WA tracks of Mandurah and Northam are not bad either.

Three things generate interference:

1. Clumsy or inexperienced dogs.
2. Poor track layouts.
3. Dogs boxed upside down or those tiring.

There is not a huge amount we can do about the first group, although early education may well play a big part. Perhaps that’s worth more study as there are many different approaches in play. Some dogs also learn from experience, as when a wide runner progressively turns into a centre runner after it realises it can get closer to the bunny that way, and probably avoid getting smashed as well.

However, experience shows that, by and large, dogs which suffer interference in this way are prone to do it again and again. Why else would they keep running into the backside of the dog in front? Neatness does count.

The boxing question is problematical but could be helped a little by earlier suggestions like the one about building boxes with more space between each runner. However, a runner’s preferred course is also affected by the immediate layout of the track – ie the dog’s position relative to the rail, the lure, the banking and the interaction between all of those. And finally, there is the great unknown – how will the field attack the upcoming turn? It’s a tricky issue and one that can be fully explained only by detailed study of all the variables. Opinions don’t count for much there, although we do know a fair bit about what does not work.

One example is available from the old Wollongong track in NSW where an outside lure demanded some experience at the track. Newcomers usually started chasing the lure directly, thereby losing ground, while the local dogs knew they would be better off staying near the rail because they would eventually get closer that way.

Then there is always the option of taking the English path, where dogs are boxed according to their (claimed) running habits, and they also have outside lures. This is nice in theory but it may produce as many problems as it solves, especially with eight-dog fields rather than six.

Considering all that, it is a reasonable contention that far more than half of all interference is a function of the way the track is laid out and the equipment in use.

We already know that race falls and greater displacements occur more often over certain trips, primarily those where the start is poorly located on a bend, or too close to the rail, or where the first turn is too flat. We have Australia-wide stats and videos to show that. And I believe the great Paul Ambrosoli first coined his signature phrase – “a band of wild indians” – at the bend start for the old 608m trip at Bulli.

Currently, every major circle track in the country sees some dogs running off at the first turn. Yet that does not happen at Mandurah or Northam. Why so? It also seldom happens at Hobart which is a one-turn track, yet a turn is still a turn is a turn. At other one-turn tracks – Maitland, Bulli, Geelong, Shepparton, etc – some dogs commonly lose the turn into the home straight yet that does not happen at Hobart. Why? The camber is an obvious suspect. (At Maitland it’s been suspect for 50 years – on grass, loam and re-built loam).

Going back to the race at The Meadows, Xylia Allen was disappointed for a run on the first turn because Dyna Willow (7) had already cut to the rail in front of her. Xylia Allen had the option of holding up a bit but chose to continue on the rails perhaps hoping that the other bitch would disappear. It didn’t and a check occurred.

Yet a major characteristic of The Meadows is that on the first turn (both main distances) dogs see the bunny disappearing around the corner quite early and quite quickly and it is normal for an outside runner to try to cut across and make up some ground. This is due to the extent of that turn, and its radius. Seldom will they succeed which is why very low numbers of dogs win from wide boxes at that track. Even when they jump with the field, they are progressively pushed further and further back in the running order. It’s all in the geometry.

In any event, the track excessively favours railers and is far less suited to wide runners. So, too, are Albion Park and Angle Park, for example. Sandown, while it has its own problems, does not do that which is why powerful champions like Whisky Assassin and Awesome Assassin did much better there than at The Meadows. = At Wentworth Park, it is all smash and grab – always has been. So some dogs like one, some the other, but it is all due to how the track is shaped – ie most problems are man-made, and therefore man-fixable

A LANGUAGE PROBLEM

GRNSW is currently asking people to complete an online survey to help it better design its website. It is titled CUSTOMER SERVICE VISION. So far, so good.

It is directed to Owners, Trainers, Punters and Others (tick the box) yet the survey is totally concentrated on clerical work that is relevant only to someone nominating a dog for a race. Why would you ask Punters and Others about that?

As indicated in an earlier column here, classifying Trainers as customers is a nonsense, although it does tell you where the focus of racing authorities lies. Trainers are industry participants, not customers. To say otherwise is to mis-use the English language.

Genuine customers – ie members of the public who patronise greyhound racing and bet on races – would no doubt have lots of points to make were they asked about the website. Bad luck, GRNSW is not interested in you.

By way of illustration, meeting results in Victoria can be downloaded in data-ready files or printed out simply in one or two pages, depending on how much detail you want. By comparison, the same information for NSW races (and now for four other states as well, including Queensland) takes up six pages, reducible to five if you spend lots of time editing out some of the repetitive bumpf. No data download is available.

Essentially, the NSW information is for lookers, not real users. Not much “VISION” in that, is there?

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