What You May Have Missed

Greyhounds Australasia Details National Welfare Strategy

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

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

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

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

Compression Suits Approved In Victoria

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

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

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

New Cannington Bunny Cam

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

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

Worth A Second Look:

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

AGRA Rankings Fail To Inform

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Stopping Victorian Stewards

At the Laurels heats at Sandown, 7 December.

Race 3

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

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

Race 8

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

That never happened either. Never touched.

Why do they bother?

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

T3 Betting No Gold Mine

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

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

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

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

Track Tier 3 Grade 5 T3 Standard
Time Dividend Time Dividend
Bendigo 24.26 $6.80 23.99 $6.16 24.30
Ballarat 25.66 $6.18 25.48 $6.66 ($5.59) 25.80


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mystery Remains

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

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

As Predicted

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

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

Not Just In The City

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

Race 3

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

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

Race 9

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

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

Race 12

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

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

Staying Bits And Pieces

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

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

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

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

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

Are Dogs the same as Humans?

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

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

Also from The Australian.

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

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

And a Note about old time Sporting Clubs

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

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

That movie about the Collingwood football club comes to mind.

Youngsters of Note

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

The future promises much.

Stewards Report, The Meadows, 15 November

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

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

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

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

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

Count Your Marbles, Lest You Lose Them

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Numbers of Greyhounds Actually Racing

2010 13,236
2011 13,094 -1.10%
2012 13,564 +2.50%
2013 13,904 +1.40%
2014 14,098 +1.4% (Extrapolated from the first three quarters)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IT WAS TIME AFTER ALL

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

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

The Mother Country Has A Lot To Answer For

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * *

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

More Incentive For Premier Baird

The company police are pressing ahead.

Current speeches by Rod Sims, chief of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, call into question the spate of state government decisions distorting the market. The Australian today offered examples where scrutiny was insufficient to stop poorly priced sales of port facilities at Port Kembla and Botany and also giving the Macquarie Airport people right of first refusal to operate a second airport “for no good reason” (except a bigger buyout price at the outset).

They might also have mentioned the sale of the state owned TAB with accompanying conditions that prevented oncourse bookmakers (which was all we had at the time) from competing on equal terms. The Treasury did better in the short term but consumers got the worst end of the stick. That 15 year agreement has since been renewed but now it has to work in an environment where things have got out of hand.

The irony is that the declining turnover now going through TABs is costing both government and raceclubs hard cash. Online operators and Betfair occupy an increasing share of the market but pay smaller commissions than TABs and the states have relatively little control over either. Consequently, both revenue and taxes per dollar bet are going down. On top of that, the newcomers have served to split the pie up into smaller pieces. That makes betting pools less attractive and so the cycle continues.

It’s taken 17 years but the chickens have come home to roost. This should serve as a salutary reminder to the current Premier, Treasurer and Racing Minister that a genuinely competitive field will make that pie bigger, giving everyone more to play with. It has another opportunity now to reduce tax levels to those applying in adjacent states. Failure to act can only ensure a continuing decline in income and more diversions to other states.

Passing Comments from the Stewards – Sandown 6 November.

Race 5
“Jayney Bale, Access and Dyna Villa collided soon after the start. Speed Series checked off Access soon after the start. Access and Dyna Villa collided approaching the first turn. Access checked off Dyna VIlla approaching the first turn. Joey Veldez and Access collided on the first turn, checking Joey Valdez, Access, Speed Series and Hawk Alone”.

All of which misses the point that most of the interference was caused by Jayney Bale (3) moving sharply to the right after the jump.

Race 9
“Veyron Bale (4) crossed to the rail soon after the start, checking Scenic Shot (6), Weston East (5), Veyron Bale (?) and severely checking Cosmic Angel (2) and Crackerjack Rose (3); which both stumbled”.

Veyron Bale did none of this. It actually went straight after a poor jump until elbowed by Scenic Shot after they passed the post. All the damage was caused by Dyna Ostrander (7) crashing towards the rail, thereby leaving lashings of room for the winner, Secret Spell (8), to run around to the lead.

Race 12
“Dream It (8) crossed to the inside soon after the start, checking Tyra Giselle (6)”.

Dream It checked nothing and did not reach the “inside” until well round the turn. After the start, Tyra Giselle was edging to the rail anyway and lacked the pace to move up.

Note: Sandown’s first turn has an annoying habit of causing runners to move out suddenly between the post and the early part of the turn. As a result the hittee often gets blamed instead of the hitter. The track has long needed remodelling – since 1998 actually, when it was completely rebuilt.

This was the precise reason for Awesome Project and Allen Deed being put out of play in the SHOOTOUT. Oakvale Destiny from box 1 moved out at the magic spot. Anyway, as suggested here previously, even without the knock, Allen Deed would have had a huge job to pull in a leader running 29.27. Odds on, look on.

We Still Don’t Understand

I may be missing something here. If you study Race 12 at The Meadows on Wednesday, Lobo Loco (2), the $1.40 favourite, rocketed out of the boxes to lead comfortably into the back. It then eased, turned its head sharply to the right and snapped at another runner. By the time it got going again it was a distant 5th. It then poured on the pressure to gain 2nd spot on the home turn and then easily ran down the new leader to win going away in a pedestrian 31.08. Rarely do dogs go as slowly as that in any race. The next slowest on this program was 30.49.

What next? According to the stewards, “It was reported that the greyhound sustained injuries to the left shoulder and left monkey muscle, a 10 day stand down period was imposed”. Well it’s not for us to argue with the vet but how could an injured dog make up something like 12 to 15 lengths in the space of 200m or so? Obviously the opposition was not strong but it is still extraordinary, injured or not.

Then it got stranger. “Stewards charged Lobo Loco with failing to pursue the lure with due commitment (by reason of injury)”. That poses three more questions. Did the injury occur immediately prior to the head-turning? What constitutes fighting? And how could a supposedly injured dog go like a bolt of lightning for the last half of the race?

These days, the definition of “fighting” is apparently in the eye of the beholder. Once it involved turning the head and making contact with another runner. Alternatively, failing that contact, it could be penalised for failing to chase. Either way, it meant a month on the sidelines – no ifs or buts.

An injury is always an argument for the defense, of course, but the prosecution would then insist on an explanation for the brilliant finish over the last 200m – an impossible one to counter, surely.

This time, all it got was a requirement to trial satisfactorily. Hard to work out, isn’t it?

In any event, given the disruption, it adds weight to the need to alter the rules so that fighters are disqualified, not suspended or just rapped over the knuckles. In which case, they would also lose prize money which they are not entitled to. For comparable offences, that’s what would happen in thoroughbred and harness racing. Failure to adopt such a policy means that victims are penalised. In this case, whatever your definitions, the “fighter” clearly interfered with other dogs but got away with it.

Fame Spreads

It’s long been fashionable to name greyhounds after footballers, mostly AFL and NRL types. But now the practice has gone international with 109kg Pittsburgh Steeler quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, getting his name in the racebook. His namesake picked up a nice win over 699m at Cranbourne this week. So did the Steelers on the weekend (replays on Channel Seven-Two Monday mornings). Previously, Roethlisberger has been an MVP in the Super Bowl.

Clayton Barr Calls For Serious Action In NSW

HUNTER Valley politician Clayton Barr lit the fuse under GRNSW’s Rhodes bunker following a scathing interview on community radio last month.

Barr, the incumbent state member for Cessnock, claimed a “blower vac” needed to be put through GRNSW’s personnel and the ALP member did not back away from the controversial reference when ARG caught up with him last week.

“It’s (NSW greyhound racing) a dysfunctional set-up, with so many bodies pulling in different directions,” Barr said.

“There’s a decided lack of willingness by the GRNSW board to get involved and roll up the sleeves.

“I say, if you haven’t got the time or the inkling, step aside and let somebody else have a go because the sport is on life support.”

Born in Cessnock, but with no links to greyhound racing heritage, Barr has developed a keen interest in the sport through his constitutes concerns and from the fallout following the Parliamentary Inquiry.

“Nobody wants to see the industry fall over but the danger signs are on red alert and they are just not financial concerns,” Barr added.

Barr has identified critical areas through the Parliamentary Inquiry submissions, where GRNSW has simply ‘dropped the ball’, that desperately need to be addressed.

*Lack of vision and or planning
*Poor decision making
*Lack Of transparency

“It’s David Copperfield-stuff – now you see it, now you don’t. We need action, not lip service at the top,” Barr said.

“I’ll continue to call for genuine change but unless the Greyhound Act is changed I have legitimate concerns about GRNSW taking this whole process seriously.”

ARG asked GRNSW for comment and received the following response from GRNSW Chairman Eve McGregor:

“I met with Clayton Barr this week. Based on those talks it appears many of his comments refer to the historical structure of the industry.

“I have encouraged Mr Barr to enter into constructive dialogue with GRNSW and to that end we intend to meet again soon.

“GRNSW is focused on working with the NSW Government on implementing the recommendations that were supported in full and in principle following the parliamentary inquiry. This includes improvements in the area of animal welfare, increasing the number of swabs undertaken and greater resources being put towards the re-homing of greyhounds.”

A Sad But Timely Warning

There used to be a time long ago when horses failing, or even doing well, in the Melbourne Cup were never much good any more. The tough 3200m was too much, especially for the majority which had no experience over the trip. Those days are no more, with trainers and jockeys obviously better attuned to their horses’ capabilities and the sort of preparation they need. Yet still, many are struggling by the time they hit the home straight, and some break down.

Even so, the tragic aftermath of this year’s Cup will have shocked everybody. We don’t know the reason for Admire Rakti’s demise and it may have to be put down to one of those unpredictable events which could happen to any athlete – horse, greyhound or human. Nevertheless, it is a sober reminder that all have physical limits which can be approached or exceeded only at the runner’s peril.

The symptom is even more obvious in a greyhound where the chasing gene is sometimes too strong for its own constitution and it continues on past its apparent deadline, drawing on reserves which were not meant to be used up that way.

One spectacular incident occurred at Albion Park in the 2002 National Distance Championship when Boomeroo, well-conditioned and not over-raced, broke the track record (41.61) but then had to be put on a drip for days after the win, hovering between life and death. It was never the same again.

Not quite so dramatic are the repeated examples of stayers fading when backing up within seven days of a gutbuster. None has been clearer than in the career of our greatest ever stake winner, Xylia Allen, which continually faded the second time up over the long trips yet has been asked again and again to repeat the effort.

In April it broke the Wentworth Park record then faded a week later in the final.

In May it broke the Traralgon record then faded at Sandown a week later.

In June at Albion Park it ran 41.55, 41.71 and 42.07 in successive weeks.

In July at Sandown it ran 41.70 then 41.90 a week later.

In September at Wentworth Park it ran 41.76 then 42.11 the next week.

Following that heavy program, it failed miserably over 515m at Sandown on October 9, then ran a poor 6th in 34.94 over 600m on October 25 at The Meadows, where it hold the track record. Each time it was a hot favourite but looked like it wanted to be somewhere else, rather than chasing the elusive $1 million prize money target. Despite all the evidence, stewards asked no questions and demanded no veterinary checks.

A natural stayer like Sweet It Is might be able to get away with this, perhaps because it takes its time for the first half of the race and only after that does it put its paw on the pedal. Xylia Allen is a leader, probably best suited to middle distance racing, but still goes flat out for the entire trip. Sometimes, that’s too much.

All this can’t be doing the dogs much good but it is just as bad for punters who can have little idea of how some of these dogs will perform when backing up. That contravenes every principle of racing as we know it. It’s time to change the rules.

A DEAD SHOT

Since readers wanted to hear my thoughts before the race, not after (I offered both for the TOPGUN), here is how the SHOOTOUT might be run.

Thursday’s race at Sandown, in sharp contrast to the TOPGUN, boasts four inform racers but no really flash beginners. All three have recently run around 29.40 or the equivalent. At different times three of them have run a fraction faster, while Iva Vision has had just the one run at the track.

I love Allen Deed and he may be marginally the best dog in the race. But he will need luck to win this. He will be no better than 3rd early and will have to run around them. Not impossible but difficult. Its current odds-on price is ridiculous.

Iva Vision will not be far behind early and is suitably boxed. Again, it too has to run around the others to win. If Awesome Project jumps it is hard to see how it can run it down.

Awesome Project is a bit up and down at the jump but at its best should be able to sneak to the front.

Oakvale Destiny will have to rely on collisions to get through. It’s honest and finishes well but may be a notch below in class.

In top class races like this one, it’s rare to see leaders run down. The odds are with Awesome Project.

So there you go. The jump will tell.

TRUTH BEATS FICTION

Another terrific win in the Hume Cup on Monday by My Bro Fabio. As I have written before, this is a really classy dog.

But what was the scribe at GRV on about when he wrote “only greyhounds of the highest order” do this – that is, winning by 14 lengths? He likened the dog to “former greats Miata, El Grand Senor and Brett Lee (which) spring to mind as greyhounds capable of such dominance at this level, but they are few and far between”.

My Bro Fabio’s 34.29 was five lengths outside Xylia Allen’s record, mostly because it began last but fluked a rails run to lead at the judge the first time. It then scooted away while the second dog busted a hock and the remainder pushed, shoved and scrambled around, losing ground all the way. Every dog in the race is capable of 34.20 to 34.60 but the actual second placegetter ran 35.20, a time usually bettered by Maidens and Novices.

The record book will show My Bro Fabio’s running numbers as 1111. In reality, it was 8111. And the 14 length margin was rubbish and should be ignored, together with the form of the remaining six runners.

Anyway, when will someone grasp the nettle and construct a decent start for 600m races? This one is a disgrace.

Will Government Take The Plunge?

The last word for the moment on the NSW Inquiry must go to the most critical question; if the current system is not working, what sort of system will?

There is no easy answer. We know what doesn’t work but where can we look for a better solution?

In this modern age, the ideal approach would be to create a company owned by and reporting to its shareholders, run by a competent management team and overseen as to major strategy by a group of mostly independent board members.

To bring that about, the government would have to sell off greyhound racing to the highest bidder and allow the buyer to set up his own organisation under whatever conditions are specified, much as the NSW TAB was sold (but better).

That is not likely to happen any time soon. So, how then can we get something close to that?

There is a view that current participants – which means trainers and the like – own greyhound racing. This is another example of muddled thinking. While their professional contribution and dedication is vital, in practice they are no more than highly skilled operators in a factory, or doctors in a hospital. You start with a breed, you get a potential racer and end up with a competition to see which one runs fastest. Customers will try to pick them in the right order. It’s not easy to do but then nothing worthwhile ever is.

In truth, the people of NSW own greyhound racing, via their Racing Minister. As electors, the people allow it to happen and they share in the rewards – better hospitals and roads, more police on the beat, and the chance to see some exciting racing. A new system has to acknowledge all that, and put racing in the hands of an independent entity which, in turn, reports each year to the public and demonstrates exactly how much benefit – ie profits – accrued to the public, how much was ploughed back into the industry, and why.

The trick is to keep government’s hands off the tiller. They are never good at running businesses and are forever inclined to meddle, to micro-manage. Despite avowed intentions to keep the industry at arms-length, they never do. That has to stop and the industry put under pressure to achieve its own results. Failing that, those responsible should be sacked and a new lot put in.

But how to create such an organisation in the first place? That’s not hard. A hundred examples are available around the country of similar bodies with the authority and responsibility of doing their own thing, very few of which have to report to a Minister. Pick the best bits out of each and leave them to it. The only proviso is that the board has to be tasked to run as an oversight board in the normal commercial fashion, not as a board of management. Managing is for managers, not for board members or for bureaucrats. The board should hire and fire but not manage.

How to pick the board members? That’s a much tougher task. It requires some investigation and debate to determine the best approach, but always with the objective of attracting proven business people to establish policy for what is essentially a business like many others. Some independence from racing is important. But don’t pay peanuts.

Who Are We?

Absolutely fascinated to see one reader classify us as a bunch of Tories. It is hard to tell but that may have been a reaction to the references in this column to muddle-headed Green thinking in and around the NSW Inquiry. That includes deputy chairman Dr John Kaye MP who is overtly a Green member and favours banning racing altogether, as well as the attitude of the ABC reporters and Sydney Morning Herald writer, Natalie O’Brien, who both offered seriously slanted opinions on the conduct of greyhound racing. All have subsequently been discredited, not just here, but by the 6:1 majority of members of the parliamentary committee.

Even more surprising is the assignment of that tag to this column. Note first that “Tory” is an ancient British term, not an Australian one, and is applied to folk who favour the existing order of things – ie ultra conservative. Today, even in the UK, they are only a minority group.

However, since I have long been advocating radical reform of the industry, this column might be more accurately put in the Guy Fawkes camp (that’s the guy who tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament), or the exact opposite of the Tory push.

Anyway, revolutionary thinking will continue here, mainly because the existing structure and organisation of greyhound racing is failing to do a decent job of progressing the industry and needs to be changed. As it happens, Inquiry chairman Robert Borsak and apparently other members of his multi-party committee are of the same mind.

As for political history, reform is not a word often used by Liberal-National-Country party governments. To that extent, they are Tory-like. Real change normally comes only from the Labor party, as witnessed by bank and airline deregulation and the floating of the dollar (although Howard supported the latter). However, we are unlikely to see them in charge in NSW for a long while to come so our hopes now rest on the recently promoted member for Dubbo, Troy Grant, long a country boy but now deputy Premier as well as Racing Minister. Will he make the “courageous” decisions?

And the Greens? What have they ever done, apart from getting in the road? The Tasmanian wilderness was one, but that’s about it.

An Aside

For the benefit of the gentleman who suggested my “genius” Tips about the TOPGUN should be shared prior to the event, not after, I can offer my comments under “Franking the Form” on 16 October (a week ahead of the race) where I listed the shortcomings of several runners. In effect, I was advising punters to stay out. That’s a tip, too. And, since the First Four paid $2,534 in NSW and would have paid $3,336 in Victoria if anyone had picked it, that was not bad advice.

Anyway, other colleagues do a nice job of trying to forecast what might happen in future races – see Bradley Bugeja’s articles.

Ploughing On

The Meadows track had been “lightly harrowed” on October 28, four days prior to Saturday’s meeting. Yet five of 12 winners (42%) came from the outside three boxes, compared with a normal long term figure of 29%. None of those had particularly brilliant first sectionals but tended to be able to run to the lead at the corner. 42% of all first four placings also came from these three boxes.

There were a few good winners from the inside, notably a sparkling 29.66 victory by track newcomer and upcoming star Over Limit. Otherwise, times were very ordinary with nothing which looked like breaking the 30 sec mark. It all suggests some sort of track bias, which punters would have found impossible to predict.

But what might Over Limit have done on a quick track?

The Inquiry – Behind The Scenes

(Part One appeared yesterday)

The future of the parliamentary Inquiry into greyhound racing is going to rest on the efforts of several working parties and the eventual decisions of the NSW government. All this will take another six months to a year, maybe more as the exercise runs into the shakedown period prior to the mandated 5-year review of GRNSW structures and operations.

Regardless of all that, please note that the discussions have been constrained a little too much.

First, the dollars. Specifically, reports generally falling under the heading of “economic analysis” of the industry are not really that at all. The work that has been done is directed to what might happen if one or two numbers were changed – for example, tax rates – and everything else remained the same.

The Treasury and its consultant (PwC) have done some sensitivity testing, which is a far cry from delving into the efficiency and effectiveness of the existing system. It does no more than guess at the likely costs and benefits of possible tax changes, assuming that nothing else changes. This is useful in a narrow sense but does not address the major challenge; is the industry best served by continuing under the current rules and its antiquated management structure? Or is there a better way to skin the cat?

What we need to know is whether or not GRNSW and its predecessors have been attracting and spending money in the best way. Are its people productive? Do its investments generate dividends? For example, in the last several years amounts ranging from $0.5 million to several millions each have gone into (re)building tracks at Newcastle, Gosford, Richmond and Dapto. The first two needed alterations within months of opening due to faulty placement of boxes. Badly designed turns created disruptions, and still do. The other two were completely re-built but the result is virtually no different to what was there before – ie faults remained, again related to turns and, in Dapto’s case, a crammed start for its main 520m trip. The money was wasted.

You could also ask if GRNSW investments into breeding subsidies or distance racing subsidies are producing any results, or if that cash could have been better spent elsewhere. Every state has breeding subsidies now but none has ever demonstrated that they do much good.

Second, reacting to the Inquiry’s findings, GRNSW is now to embark on a track improvement program, headed by a new Track Manager (yet to be appointed). But how will it be possible for that to work when no-one in this country has sufficient knowledge and expertise to do the job? The subject has never been studied properly so we are only guessing at which thing does what.

By definition, this will be a wasted investment. To succeed, it must be preceded by a nationwide independent scientific study of all the ingredients that go into designing and building racetracks. Only then will reliable parameters be developed.

Nevertheless, anything good that ever happens in this area can only benefit future betting turnover. It’s a worthwhile target.

Third, a big variable will be the nature of the betting market. It has already changed radically several times, and will surely do so again. Just look how we got here.

In the early 1960s, governments started launching offcourse TABs all around the country to combat the illegal SP gambling that was going on. By the 1990s most had sold these off to private investors with not only exclusive rights but also with a string of regulations which prevented oncourse bookmakers from competing on equal terms. That device ensured state Treasurers got bigger bucks for their sale than might have been the case with more competitive structures in mind. They were supported by the leading thoroughbred clubs who, at that stage, were also the “Principal Clubs” in each state and the forerunners to today’s supposedly independent racing authorities.

Consequently, it was not long before bookmakers rebelled at these artificial constraints and started moving to the more sympathetic jurisdiction of the Northern Territory and going online. Despite the belligerent opposition of virtually all racing authorities and TABs, they prospered with the support of long-suffering punters who welcomed the more convenient service.

Soon after, Tasmania “legalised” betting exchanges (Betfair) against the wishes of other states and its own TAB, which was still government-owned at the time.

Today, you can see that the TABs, having failed to stop the newcomers, have actually joined them in offering similar products. Tabcorp opened its own NT “bookie” operation – Luxbet – and then introduced Fixed Odds Betting, which in turn was copied by the NT companies. Fixed Odds, as such, did not fall under the original state laws limiting average takeouts to 16%, so they can now charge anything they like, and do.

In a panic, the WA Racing Minister, urged on by the racing codes, banned Betfair operations in that state only to see the High Court invalidate the new law.

Following perceived poor practices, Racing NSW recently came to agreement with the NT bookies to guarantee full access to any punter investing up to a defined minimum figure. Previously they had been accepted or rejected willy nilly, according to the operator’s wishes.

Meantime, overseas based online operators are trying to cash in on the surge, theoretically contrary to Australian law, and so diverting trade that would otherwise go to local operators and thereby contribute fees to local racing. Of course, more fool those customers who dive in without a lifejacket.

What a mess! Yet it all started because of the greed and short-sightedness of state Treasurers, cheered on by the arrogance of tradition-bound racing clubs and authorities, including GRNSW when under the control of Professor Percy Allan, a non-racing person and a former public servant who is still on the review panel for the selection of members of the state board.

These were all blindingly poor business decisions, often prompted by individuals that would not dream of doing such things in their day jobs. Well, they would not be able to do so because of trade practice laws banning such practices.

So much for the competence of the committees of state racing authorities. Their desire to ignore what was going on in the world around them, and to disregard their customers, has been breathtaking. The nearest parallel would be the spate of cargo cults that spread around the Pacific islands following WW11, in the hope of seeing cargo ships disgorge wonderful cargos at their doorsteps.

The modern version of that is the habit of clubs and authorities to sit back and wait for commissions to arrive after punters around the country have had a bet on dogs they don’t know, running at tracks they have barely heard of. And gambling on a Swedish trotter or the New York gallops hardly bears thinking about. Of course, hope springs eternal but it is not much to base your future on.

That’s why the “economic analysis” you read about so far is largely irrelevant. It’s very pretty but it will not tell you much about the big picture.

More importantly, this history shows why existing racing structures have had their day. Major reform is the only answer, and the only hope for more prosperous futures. The starting point is to remember that racing is not a sport; it’s a business which needs to be managed by businessmen.

Greyhound Racing Wins A Few Battles

There is little doubt that the NSW parliamentary Inquiry has produced terrific results for greyhound racing. Several battles have been won although the war has some way to go yet.

On the way, Inquiry chairman Robert Borsak from the Shooters party has done a fine job of unearthing many of the facts, helped by all but one of the other six members of the committee from Liberal, National and Labour parties.

The exception has been Dr John Kaye (Greens), who instigated the whole process. He has been a dead loss. His extremist views, supported by demonstrators from tiny splinter groups carrying carefully prepared placards telling lies (eg Don’t Use Taxes to Support Greyhound Racing), from a biased reporter from the Sydney Morning Herald, and from the ABC’s 7:30 Report, have been emphatically quashed by the majority.

Kaye produced dissenting comments on the first report – views which were duly featured in a helpful Sydney Morning Herald, which might be better known as the Green-Left Daily these days. Then he proposed a string of amendments to the just-published second report, all designed to make life near impossible for greyhound participants. Every one was thrown out by a 6:1 vote.

The objective of Kaye and like-minded people is not to improve greyhound racing but to shut it down completely. Happily, no-one bought that theme – certainly not the NSW government which has broadly supported the committee’s conclusions in its formal “Response” to the reports.

Whatever ends up happening, this Inquiry has undoubtedly established a pro-forma approach to the subject and might well lead to improvements in other states and even in other codes. It also provides a stark lesson to media outlets which try to launch tirades based on biased, unproven or limited evidence – all in conflict with journalistic ethics.

To be sure, many of the recommendations are to do with animal welfare and related matters where authorities and clubs need to smarten up. Some work has already been done in that area and the government has assured us it will continue to oversee progress and check on reports demanded from management.

So, where are we now?

Well, the three key conclusions and recommendations – accepted but not formally ruled on by government – are now being thrashed out in detail.

(1) Racing authorities should have the power to adjust racefield fees to a level they consider suitable.

(2) NSW tax rates should be made more competitive with other states – ie reduced.

(3) In Borsak’s words, “I strongly reiterate the importance of a restructure of the board and management of Greyhound Racing NSW”.

Added to which is the proposal to hive off $100 million immediately to distribute amongst the three codes in undecided proportions. But don’t count your chickens yet.

Items (1) and (2) should get a run in some form. The huge difference in tax rates between NSW and all other states is simply bad policy because it means NSW is deliberately pushing business away to other jurisdictions for no good reason. It is killing the goose that laid the golden egg.

It not only poses a cash problem but weakens the ability of the racing codes to prosper in the long run. The issue has been highlighted by the recent agreement signed by Queensland Racing and Tattsbet, cutting the tax rate to 0.83% (from 1.83%), thereby generating a $30 million boost to prize money. Currently, NSW charges 3.22%, Victoria 1.28%.

Item (3) is equally important. Much of the attention has gone to two areas: poor communication between management and participants, and the ineffective operation of the Integrity Auditor job. The new proposal is that the Auditor function should be totally removed from GRNSW control and made fully independent. It may or may not be linked to similar changes to the harness code. Government is also considering whether appeals to ICAC should be possible.

Yet Borsak’s words suggest much more than all that. The government and the Inquiry have not done much more than talk about adding two more members to the board, representing or appointed by participants – ie mainly trainers. That is hardly a “restructure” and it suggests a leaning towards the bad old days when the call was always for “more dog men on the board”.

That sort of stuff has been proven to be ineffective in the past and is even less likely to work now. It runs counter to normal commercial practice and to the trend in all other states except Queensland. If communication is poor that is a failure of the personnel, not of the structure of the board. Even in Queensland the peculiar four-board set up, all staffed by insiders, has shown nothing in its several months of existence that offers any hope of progress – rather the opposite. In fact, the greyhound chairman has barely been heard at all while the overriding RQ chairman, Bob Dixon, talks and talks but does little.

In any event, going down this road would undoubtedly produce one big problem – a good proportion of the work force will dislike the appointed person, or disagree with what he does. Back to square one.

But none of this recognises the racing industry’s key weakness – it is run at authority and club level by committees. All of which reminds us that the camel was a horse designed by a committee. It’s the lowest common denominator effect. That’s the structure that needs to change. 1950s practices have no hope of working in this century, if indeed they ever did.

What the industry has failed to acknowledge is that the system of management by committee, supported by bureaucrats, is suited only to slow action, a lack of innovation and the absence of accountability. Process dominates outcomes. That’s administration, not management.

… more to come.

PM Offers Advice From Canberra

The Prime Minister is calling for a debate and a compromise between the federal and state governments about the way they work with each other and how they spend money on such things as health services or how they collect taxes. A national reform, in other words.

“It’s basically about giving everyone ‘a fair go’ – but it has to be fair to the states making the financial contributions as well as to those receiving them, to those who give as well as those who receive. It should be possible to make these arrangements more equitable between the larger states with the smaller states no worse off,” he says, according to Fairfax Media.

For example, he points out that “After two decades of ‘cooperative federalism’ and any number of agreements at Council of Australian Government meetings, we still have tradies who cannot operate across state borders”.

His target involves “Rethinking the conventions about which level of government is responsible for the delivery of particular services or the revenue measures to which particular levels of government should have access will require a readiness to compromise … in our highly partisan system.”

So much for governments, but could it be this way for the racing industry? At least on some matters, without infringing on any sovereign rights?

Already, the march of time has resulted in racing’s customers betting on one state’s events when they live in another one. Horses and dogs don’t care about state borders, especially now that transport and communications make it easy to move from one to another.

Already the industry pays lip service to the national concept but national organisations are still advisory; they don’t carry any real weight. Who can forget the nonsensical situation when everyone approved the change of the brown rug to a green one but it took 18 months to harmonise the deal as each state decided to conduct its own technical review. SKY showed one colour in one race and the other in the next.

Stewards have regular annual meetings but then go home and apply different penalties. The only thing they are consistent about is assessing form badly – or not at all.

Track designs are unsatisfactory everywhere yet solutions are hard to come by. A highly qualified national unit is desperately needed to analyse problems and come up with reliable recommendations. No one state has the technical or financial ability to do that properly; many do not even acknowledge past errors and simply repeat them, putting both dogs and punters at risk.

Formguides do not provide a service to punters, but confuse and frustrate then. What should be a prime means of communication to the public has become slapdash, error-prone and often hard to obtain. This is yet another area where an independent national unit, tuned to customer needs, could do a much better job. After all, we don’t need half a dozen different Stud Books, do we?

In total, some stuff needs to remain state-based, some doesn’t. Compromises are the way to progress.

DON’T SWAB THE DOGS; SWAB THE SELECTION PANEL

What an anti-climax the TOPGUN turned out to be! One of the country’s greatest events was botched by the peculiar policies adopted by the unknown members of the selection panel (although we know broadcaster Ron Hawkswell was on it, because he said so).

In the end, proven performer Buckle Up Wes jumped in front and ran away with the prize. A useful run but the time was mediocre for this class, and four lengths slower than the dog’s best.

The winner, along with Chica Destacada and Keybow, was one of three runners which had not raced for 4 to 8 weeks but which had allegedly been trialling well. Prior to that, the latter two had very ordinary form, which they repeated on the big night, as did lucky reserve Mepunga Hayley. Wes had been going OK but only in Tasmania against lesser dogs.

After many decades of race watching it has not been hard to conclude that while trialling is all very well, it is no guarantee of the same or any performance in a real race. After all, the other seven runners may have trialled well, too (Allen Deed had, for example). Anyway, fit is not match fit. Form and fitness both failed Chica Destacada and Keybow, neither of which figured in the first four places, despite their good box draws.

Tipsters went for the in-form Allen Deed, making him favourite at $2.90 ($3.00 in Victoria) – a fine dog but a ridiculous price considering his box and the difficulties of The Meadows track. It is a death trap for moderate beginners and wide runners. The Watchdog went for Awesome Project, which at least had decent form, but ignored its poor box (6) and risky jumping prowess. It did well enough but was never in the hunt for first prize.

Meanwhile, My Bro Fabio had been relegated to the reserves – and failed to get a run – despite smashing the opposition over several recent runs on different tracks and breaking a track record to boot. Then, on TOPGUN night he blitzed the field in a quick BON win of 34.12 in a 600m heat of the Hume Cup.

Judging from media releases, the TOPGUN selections were based on the quantity of Group victories over the previous year, regardless of current form. Of course, Group races might well be of a higher standard than at regular Saturday night meetings but the dogs don’t know that, nor does it take account of good box draws or luck in running. Wins and hot form are better guides than the title of the race or the size of the prize.

Certainly, the evidence proves that. My Bro Fabio’s omission was a terrible mistake, but not the only one.

Speaking of form, ancient or otherwise, whatever possessed tipsters and punters to send out Xylia Allen at $1.60 from box 7 over 600m? It had run an awful 515m two weeks earlier at Sandown, preceded by moderate placings over 725m at The Meadows and a fading 2nd at Wenty. On Saturday, it just plodded around, finishing in 6th place. None of these runs attracted steward’s comments or questions. Is motherhood indicated?

On the subject of cash, the attraction of The Meadows meeting resulted in NSW punters shifting from Sydney to Melbourne, where takings were always above average while Wenty was below average. The Victorian pools obviously included a bonus from Tabcorp as they recorded a huge $223,520 in the First Four pool. Win pools were $29,121 in NSW, $60,633 in Victoria and $15,658 on Tattsbet. The latter would have been helped by Tasmanians investing on local star Buckle Up Wes although they might have had little left after The Cleaner crashed out in the Cox Plate.

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.

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