Progress Comes Only After Hard Decisions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GOOD TIMES AHEAD?

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

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

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

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

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

HARD TO FOLLOW

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Hard Choice For Trainers And Others

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

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

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

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

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

This section was titled “The Big Choice”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

ON A NARROWER SCALE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apology

Apology to:

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

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

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

Gary Smith Resigns As NSW GBOTA Director

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Tabcorp Killing The Goose?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MORE FAIRY STORIES

Stewards report, Race 6 Sandown, Thursday 11 September.

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

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

Tabcorp Should Get Its Finger Out

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

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

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

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

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

So why doesn’t he?

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

WINNING AND LOSING AT THE SAME TIME

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JOKING, PERHAPS?

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

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

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

Queensland is also deficient at all other provincial tracks.

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

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

Help Is Available If You Want It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ANOTHER EXAMPLE

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

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

HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DOLLARS AIN’T DOLLARS

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

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

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

WA Recognises A Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MYSTERY BETS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VIEWING PUZZLES

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

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

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

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

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

THE BIG QUESTIONS

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

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

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

The Mystery Of Form Reading

The mystery of form reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confessions Of A Partly Successful Writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Change or Lack of It

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

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

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

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

The Good News Publications

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

Let me make two points here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Organising A Rosy Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MORE CURIOUS COMMENTS FROM STEWARDS

The Meadows 30 August – box numbers added here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOT SKY HIGH

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

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

Fewer Rules Would Be Better

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MATHEMATICALLY IMPOSSIBLE?

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

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

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

TOUGH AND TOUGHER

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

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

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

EACH WAY BET?

Stewards Report, Sandown Race 8.

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

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

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

Are Horses, Dogs And Humans Different?

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

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

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

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

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

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

WRONG FORM A HASSLE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PROFESSIONAL OR AMATEUR?

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

 

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

 

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

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

AND SO IT GOES ON

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

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

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

A Way To Bigger Profits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider 2,100 Years Of Experience

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

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

But is greyhound racing any different?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUEENSLAND – HELP FROM ABOVE

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

So far, so good.

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

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

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

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

GREYHOUNDS AUSTRALASIA, PLEASE NOTE

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

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

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

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

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

The Sacrifices Of The Greyhound Opposition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Report Delayed Again And Trainers Unhappy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEWER WORDS, MORE FACTS, PLEASE

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

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

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

Tabcorp Hedging Its Bets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A CHANGING MEDIA LANDSCAPE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DESIGN TO ELIMINATE CROWDING

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

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

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

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

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

Eyes Bigger Than The Stomach?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOME VETERINARY ECONOMICS

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

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

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

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

80% of veterinary graduates are now women.

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

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

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

The Dogs Website Seems Determined To Maintain The Errors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Can Winning Boxes Tell You?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

So what’s wrong with Australia?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Small But Perfectly Formed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SMALL IS NOT HELPFUL

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

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

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

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

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

This alone is justification for some major organisational reforms.

SMALL BUMPS WILL DECIDE OUTCOMES

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Country Roads To Three Lane Highways

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

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

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

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

Three things generate interference:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A LANGUAGE PROBLEM

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Will Tell You What’s Good For You

As the financial year draws to a close it’s time to look again to our national body, Greyhounds Australasia, to see how we are doing. Sadly, no luck. The latest stats on people, dogs and cash are for 2011 – still. That makes it really hard to assess the industry. We then have to rely on state annual reports which are sometimes informative, often not. Good news stories can outrank facts. And you cannot put them together and add them up as they all approach the subject differently.

Fortunately, the thoroughbred’s Fact Book will be out later in the year and will provide lots of current data about all Australian betting, including greyhound betting. But it will not include Betfair turnover because the company says it is not relevant and refuses to supply it. Can you believe it?

Another option might be to take the various Racing Ministers’ words of wisdom and cut them in half or, in Queensland’s case, by two thirds.

How on earth can you run an organisation properly without good information about the whole country? Or even parts of it. States might think they are islands unto themselves but the dogs don’t know that. Neither do the punters.

And, sad to say, all Queensland’s form and results are going into the NSW Ozchase system this weekend, which will make them extremely difficult to use. Ozchase continues to be a poor relation to other formguides and the like, notably those from Victoria. Since Victoria is the only state doing reasonably at the moment, you would think the other states would be pulling out all the stops to catch up. Not so. They just don’t get it. Maybe a course on customer relations would be a help.

WHO’S ON FIRST BASE?

Talking about Racing Ministers, since they are responsible for appointing board members of state authorities it is interesting to note a pattern emerging.

Do you know that the chairmen of five major greyhound authorities are lawyers? They are Queensland, NSW, Victoria, SA and Greyhounds Australasia. One of those is a QC.

So was the guy who conducted the last statutory review of NSW greyhound and harness boards. Well, actually he was a barrister which is a bit of a worry. Their brief in life is to nit-pick about words and argue that black is really white, mainly on behalf of wealthy firms. Vision, progress and corporate objectives do not get much of a look-in, certainly not in his case. Maybe he had the wrong brief?

Lawyers are paid to get things right, which makes it odd to see that GRNSW is trying to shift a commercial enterprise (Tweed Heads dogs) from NSW to Queensland. Since that could shatter long term contractual obligations, as well as pose a massive constitutional challenge, you have to wonder how they would bring that about. Or why? What does it achieve? More jobs for lawyers, perhaps?

They might pick up some secrets from Prince Leonard of Hutt River Principality, 595km north of Perth. Having seceded from Australia, he seems to be doing well by charging incoming tourists a fee for stamping visas in their passports. And on special at the moment is a commemorative watch for only $45. A coin in honour of the late Princess Shirley is also available

Elsewhere, I can recall a proposal of mine going to the board of a company I once worked for. Later I got a response from one director – a prominent QC and good bloke – that he recognised the way it was written and therefore knew where it came from. No word about the worth of the proposal, though, only about the writing.

It all reminds you of the example of airline captains, finely trained, highly skilled, well paid members of the community. Yet the first duty of a pilot is to assess the risks and not take them. The duty of a businessman is to assess the risks and take one of the options; otherwise he will go out backwards. Who would you rather have running your company?

(This, incidentally, is why the old habit of putting pilots in charge of airlines – and there were many – is a relic of the ages. They have all done it at one time or another, but not anymore. See Ansett, Qantas (twice), Butler, Hazleton, Kendall, Pan Am (also twice), Cathay (launched by Australian pilot Syd de Kantzhow), TWA (Howard Hughes was a dedicated pilot), Eastern (Eddie Rickenbacker, a pioneer), and so on. It is also interesting that only two of those airlines are still operating, one of them somewhat shakily).

All these folk are no doubt well-regarded, upstanding people but our question remains: are lawyers the best people to take an industry into the modern age? Since breeding is down, betting is generally declining, field numbers are falling, as is their quality, and the industry is now reliant on mug gamblers, there is a big doubt about that.

It is sensible to have a lawyer on the board, for obvious reasons. But not in charge.

What we desperately need is a national body, led by someone who is prepared to mount his white charger and roar into battle, brandishing his sword and encouraging the troops to follow.

THE UNDERLYING ISSUES

The whole question of who to put in charge is argumentative, of course. We hear about hotshot “independent” advisors being used to come up with possible names for board membership yet you can judge only on results and they are mixed at best. Too often the motive seems to be to pick people who are “sound”, as Sir Humphrey might say. Ministers never like the boat being rocked, yet how else can you achieve progress?

The greyhound industry lacks real leadership, partly because of its fragmented nature, partly because it has shown no inclination to adapt to modern standards of governance, partly because it has been concerned only with process and not outcomes, and partly because it has always been low man on the totem pole.

Therefore it must look to why this is happening and correct its direction and its corporate strategies. Put simply, it has worthwhile assets but they are not being utilised well. That shortcoming means the buck has to stop with the various boards and to the people who put them there.

Whether our leaders are lawyers, accountants, doctors or vets is perhaps not so much the point as whether those folk can achieve results. Demonstrably, the present lot are not doing that, hence my query about the current dominance of lawyers – circumstantial evidence, you might say.

Out Of The Frying Pan, Into …. Where?

Australian wagering has moved on to yet another stage following Racing NSW’ negotiations with online bookmakers and others to ensure they take all reasonable bets. Or so we are assured.

CEO Peter V’Landys has announced the terms of a new deal requiring the online bookies to accept a minimum bet to lose $2,000 on city gallops, or $1,000 on country races, from September 1, 2014. An operator turning over less than $5 million can halve those figures. It applies to Fixed Odds bets and apparently will bind Tabcorp as well.

Under the new agreement bookies will not be able to cancel accounts for successful punters unless there is an integrity issue involved (which introduces a disputable area right away).

Punters who feel hard done by can appeal to Racing NSW, much as occurs with traditional oncourse bookies.

We will await announcements by other jurisdictions and other codes. Racing Victoria has already said it will be watching with interest to see what happens.

The big question is what will happen when the crunch comes if the Darwin bookies are found to be in breach of the agreement.

In the matter of racefield fees Racing NSW theoretically had some leverage in that it could deny access to the primary information – ie a list of runners – using copyright legislation. That was never really tested. From the beginning, the bookies had always agreed to pay a fee and, in fact had appealed to the NSW Racing Minister to allow that to happen. At the time, Racing NSW (and others) did not want a bar of them at any cost. It tried all sorts of avenues to prevent them from starting up, including an appeal to the Commonwealth to declare it illegal. That was denied.

The subsequent High Court argument was never about paying fees, only about how it was calculated. Racing NSW won there, too, as it should. After all, it is the principal and bookies are simply agents or service providers.

The irony of all these goings-on is that racing authorities are now rubbing their hands with glee as the money flows in. Enemies are now best of friends and a once moribund wagering sector was revitalised.

But only for a time. As online bookies gained ground, tote volumes fell away, suggesting amongst other things that the market had been fully exploited under the existing conditions, which included substantial increases in the number of races on offer and the confusion caused by clashing races. In turn, that meant that cracks were appearing in the foundations, particularly for smaller meetings (like greyhound meetings), and the reliability of the tote prices came under pressure. Yet they have been, and still will be, the guiding force for all wagering. The recent boost to Fixed Odds Betting is still based on likely tote prices, erratic or not.

So the online bookies have actually had a mixed influence, varying from good to now questionable.

The pity of it all is that it might be argued that online bookies are now looking at the possibility that they will move from being highly profitable to just normally profitable. Their bet acceptance policies, coupled with high Fixed Odds prices (up to 130% books), form a base for them to achieve very large surpluses, especially when much of their clientele is in the “mug gambler” category. This is clearly why overseas organisations have been paying hundreds of millions of dollar to buy out the local firms.

That last trend has been clearly indicated by GRNSW when it demonstrated that its agreement with online bookies is proving more lucrative under the “share of profits” model than under a commission on turnover. That is the exact opposite of the experience of the big players such as Racing NSW and Racing Victoria, both of which are now tens of millions better off using a turnover base. Obviously, NSW dog punters are not much good at what they do, so bookies are now able to buy a second Roller for the wife.

Perhaps you can take that a bit further. The rapidly increasing use of hand-held devices for wagering can only encourage quickie bets by people without serious racing knowledge. On the run, they would obviously not be able or inclined to study form and odds to any depth, no matter how many apps are made available. The only possible result is a loss over time, and a nice win for the bookies.

And the outcome of gambling on Swedish trots or whatever is a no-brainer. Bookies 1, gamblers 0.

As indicated in earlier columns here, the entire wagering caper has got completely out of hand. The concept of providing useful services to the racing industry is long forgotten, to be replaced by a bank of gambling options similar in shape to the long line of poker machines in your local club and pub. At the same time all power has switched from racing authorities to the wagering sector

An even greater problem is the loss of appreciation of the worth of the greyhound breed. The artificial images on Trackside machines are now little different to the real thing on SKY. Education is light on and so genuine knowledge is scant.

Both trends are manageable but only if governments and racing authorities can see where the failures are and take action to fix them.

As for V’Landys and Racing NSW – good luck to them, but can they make it stick legally? I doubt it. What will happen then? Rafferty’s rules?

(A note. The NT firms have become known as “corporate bookmakers”. In a sense that is correct but it is also confusing as some conventional oncourse bookmakers in the south are also incorporated, but they can do that only between family members because of restrictions imposed by racing authorities. Together with such things as high stand fees and taxes, earlier bans on mobile phones (or any phones) and the inability to set up shop outside a racecourse, these arbitrary policies were the prime causes of the establishment of operations in the NT in the first place. Had the industry been more attuned to the modern world and also less inclined to discriminate in favour of TABs, none of this mess would have come about and the NT would have been left to the crocodiles. Racing has been the loser).

Lessons From The Farm

“If we don’t tell people how carrots are grown they will make up their own stories”. So says the owner of KALFRESH, a southeast Queensland grower, after looking for ways of improving profitability and deciding to launch the farm’s first open day. Expecting just a handful, the first event attracted 100 people, then grew to a thousand or more in later episodes, all related on the ABC’s Landline program.

The farm now charges $5 for a help-yourself barbeque, a tour of the automated processing factory and free access to the fields to pick carrots. The kids love it and families are thronging in from Brisbane and the Gold Coast, tourists and locals alike.

It brings to mind an open day conducted for charity a few years ago at Rocky Ridge stud farm near Gosford in NSW, where some 2,000 visitors turned up to marvel at all the fancy gear as well as the greyhound breeding stock. People love to learn about something new or unusual. The greyhound industry was the winner.

More generally, this sort of marketing theme usually has win-win overtones as it not only advances knowledge of the greyhound but also does wonders for the farm or the attraction itself.

Anyway, carrots are well within its grasp as the Mugavin-Brown combine near Warrnambool has long been famous for both dogs and carrots. There will be other examples if we look for them.

More of this and biased programs like the ABC’s anti-racing segment on its 7:30 Report and the one-sided reporting by the Sydney Morning Herald would not get off the ground. They would be put in proper perspective.

ROOM TO MOVE

So many of our tipsters’ comments about dogs are headed “given early room to move” that it is a wonder that the industry has not done more to allow that to happen. In fact, it often does the reverse.

In the last decade, NSW spent over $500k supposedly to rebuild the Dapto track. In practice, they did little more than change the loam. What they did retain was a set of 520m boxes jammed up against the line of the running rail, thereby forcing inside dogs to veer to the right after the jump, creating more confusion. That and a poor first turn contribute its position as one of the two most disruptive tracks in Australia. The recent rebuild of the Goulbourn track did much the same thing. Inside runners have to follow a snake-shaped course after the jump, while many dogs cannot hold the home turn. Another half a million or so poorly spent.

Queensland trainers have consistently called for improvements to the bend starts at both Albion Park and Ipswich, noting that the dangers were forcing them to take youngsters to northern NSW tracks to avoid bad experiences (a bit of frying pan and fire there?). Over 15 years or so, partly as an employee of the old QGRA at the time, I wrote formally on several occasions to the authority pointing out the problems and possible solutions at those tracks. To date I have yet to receive an acknowledgement of that correspondence, let alone an answer. (Disclaimer: QGRA later sacked me because I wrote that the state should get used to Betfair being around because that was what customers wanted. Apparently, the board did not like Betfair. Remember those days?).

Victoria not long ago finished a statewide program of replacing most middle distance trips at provincial tracks with 650m events (Sandown had also installed one). In every case these produced diabolical bend starts, mostly worse than the ones they replaced. All these increased the bias against outside dogs and promoted more interference. In essence, they became 4-dog races.

Then, to cap it all, WA has just announced it has firmed up the layout for the Cannington replacement (due in mid-2015) but it includes a bend start for the 600m trip – “across the apex” as RWWA termed it. In other words, they are doing specifically what works badly at almost every other track in the country. Some sort of mysterious mind blockage must exist in the industry for this to continue to happen. It runs against the interests of all involved – dogs, trainers, punters, the club and the industry’s image – and enhances the case being put by small but noisy numbers of anti-racing campaigners. It’s madness, sheer madness, especially as alternatives exist.

Anyway, let’s start another ball rolling. One possible aid to any start, not just those on bends, would be to re-engineer all the boxes so that more room is available to all in that vital first few metres. Why not put more space between each box, or perhaps at least between 3 and 4, as well as between 6 and 7, and make the overall box structure a good 1m to 2m wider. By doing that at least some of the interference would be reduced, allowing more dogs to do what they like to do.

Yes, it would cost a lot of money but it would be worth every cent if it succeeded in doing a better job. At the very least an experiment would be worthwhile running at one selected track.

It would also constitute a valuable start to a nationwide study of the art of track design. Why not write in with your suggestions?

Oh, I said Dapto was the second worst track in the country. The worst? By some margin, Ipswich. It has a horrible bend start for the 431m trip and a flat first turn for 520m dogs – the former contributing to the latter. Both faults are easily fixed, and for a modest amount of money. Just shift the 431m boxes and re-shape the turn. Fixing Dapto is different. You would first need to bulldoze the entire site, on and off the track. But if it helps the industry, why not?

PS: A side note. I would be happy to turn the first sod in rebuilding Dapto. Many years ago, as a kid, Dapto was the first provincial track I ever attended. First, you would ring the club to see if the meeting was still on or rained out. Then, after buying a deFax guide near Central station, you would catch the 5pm steam train out of Sydney, arriving comfortably prior to the first race. After the last, the club organised a charter bus to take us back to Sutherland station in Sydney’s south, where we could connect with the city’s electric train service to our desired destination. You would be lucky to get home by 1am. There was no TAB then, of course, but if you squint a bit those AWA tote windows look exactly the same now as they did then. Ditto for the track, save that loam has replaced the grass.

PS2: Val Anglim’s dog shop in Devonshire St where you bought that deFax guide (a roneoed set of pages stapled in the top left hand corner) later turned into a newspaper shop selling Melbourne’s Gold Guides as well. It has changed hands a couple of times since and is now run by a Korean family. Sadly, hard copy formguides are no longer there, outranked by SKY and the internet. The steam train has gone, as has the charter bus, but from the track you can catch sight of the freeway which now delivers fans and dogs from the Sydney region. The racetrack is still much the same, a memorial to the past, and the “Dapto Dogs” is still part of the lexicon.

Good Information Can Promote Success

Stewardship matters never seem to go away. At Sandown last Thursday, here is what stewards said about Race 9. “Al Moran (7) crossed to the inside soon after the start checking Peloton Bale (6), All One Size (5) and Ready To Riot (4)”. (Box numbers added).

In fact, Al Moran never got close to Peloton Bale or All One Size and, if it brushed Ready To Riot, the impact was minute and not relevant. In particular, Peloton Bale walked out of the box, as it is prone to do at times, and there was no chance at all for it to get checked by Al Moran, which jumped smartly and went almost straight ahead until reaching the turn.

Sometimes it’s hard to know if we are all on the same planet. Why would stewards write such stuff?

Fortunately, the GRV race results pages and videos are otherwise very informative and easy to view, print or download. But the stewards’ reports can be grossly misleading. We are better off without them, except where they concern injuries and matters which warrant penalties. Even then, sometimes you are better off seeing for yourself.

In contrast to Victoria, race results offered by GRNSW, which now cover four states, are a pain in the butt. Downloading is impossible in practice and printouts are not available as the site serves up only one race at a time. (Experiences may vary slightly, depending on your equipment). Formguides are equally impracticable as they require excessive amounts of paper to print out, contain lots of secondary pieces of information which should be made available elsewhere, and are missing numerous sectional times. Oddly, both SA and WA joined the NSW camp (in Ozchase) when they had far superior formguides in their own systems, particularly in WA.

In Queensland, slated to join the NSW brigade later on, basic results are fairly handy. However, while their videos are probably the best in the business, you have to cover more ground than the early explorers to find them, and then only one race at a time, which is time-consuming. Queensland formguides are rudimentary at best. Apart from missing all interstate sectionals (why?) they have adopted a habit long used by the old deFax guide and the current Recorder to insert an ancient run on the track if no current one is relevant. I have yet to find a six months old formline of any use in predicting a dog’s chances.

Clearly, none of the people responsible for these services have bothered to audit the effectiveness of their work or check how they are viewed by the public. Often we hear claims about the number of hits on their website but nothing about how those inspections are put to use. You could go further – the last time a state authority published any information about public or customer views and attitudes was 20 years ago in Queensland when the then-QGRA had a consultant do such a job for them. Are they all working in the dark?

It does seem so. That is exactly the point I made the other day when discussing the attitude of authorities to their customers, and how they define that group of people. The entire industry has always concentrated the vast majority of its resources on trainers and very little on the needs of the people who pay their wages – the customers. More administration than management.

Totes are no better, which is why they still run a ridiculous product – the Duet – which hardly anyone ever buys, other than a few foolish gamblers. Or why they tell lies about First Four dividends. Or why they have destroyed the integrity of betting pools by jamming too many races into an already overcrowded calendar, hoping to drag more cash out of the same old customers (it’s not working).

In total, it’s like a manufacturer supplying its customers with a fancy piece of equipment and no instructions to go with it. Or a cookbook with a recipe containing no information on amounts or how long to cook it. Or running an election with the names of candidates but nothing on which party they belong to or what their policies are. And so it goes on.

Surely somebody must soon realise that these are some of the reasons that racing is losing its edge and why it has experienced negative growth in breeding and betting over the last 20 years. Greyhounds have been an exception for betting as it has been able to stick more four-legged poker machines into the mix, but that fix has now run out of steam. There is no more room left. Where to now?

THE GREAT UNKNOWN

Never mind that the world’s leaders are coming to Australia to discuss what the future holds. Isn’t it about time that greyhound bosses took a serious look at why greyhound racing is struggling to get its act together?

Yesterday’s premium Wentworth Park meeting had not a single reserve to start with, and so ended up with six short fields for what has historically been the code’s biggest betting venue. That’s money down the drain. The Meadows had a few more starters but still had three short fields (with two 725m runners carrying with them false times ex handicap races but no note about what advantage they had or about misleading sectional times). Sandown on Thursday started off with a race full of Novice dogs, masquerading as a Grade 5 event. Albion Park’s main meeting of the week led off with the usual two Novice races and four of ten races short of a full field.

There can be no argument that the industry has over-reached. Too many races, too few dogs. Too many short course dogs, too few stayers. Too many mug gamblers, too few punters. Too many unusable betting pools. Too much secrecy. Too many rip-off products. The list goes on. Rumours are around that someone wants to put some research into better track designs, but I want to see the hard cash first. Meantime, $30 million is being invested into new tracks in Perth and Brisbane, both with obvious design faults before they get started. That’s hardly a good way to attract future customers.

Is anyone minding the shop? A stocktake would be a good way to start a program of reform.

Cart Before The Horse

It may become part of the folklore of greyhound racing in Australia. The following statement by the appeal judge refers to an incident when a trainer failed to report to stewards an injury to Keybow, then favourite for the final of the Queensland Derby. It was summarised on the Racing Queensland website.

Judge Carter said, ‘’It appears that there exists a very significant level of ignorance about this rule. The records do not contain any precedence of a like case and there are no previous recorded penalties.’’

In the end, the judge replaced a steward’s fine with a warning, implicitly allowing the offender to get away with “ignorance of the law”.

In fact, national rule 75(2) has been there for yonks. And for the gallops, too. The Gai Waterhouse/John Singleton case at Randwick received national publicity over a long period for exactly the same offence. Who could have missed it? That experience alone demonstrates the farcical nature of greyhound administration when the RQ statement calls it just a “rarely used rule”, and notes the “apparent … confusion among many trainers”.

Hello, what confusion? It is surely the first duty of any licensed person to read the rule book, whether training a dog or speeding on the way home. It is plain as a pikestaff anyway.

This column has mentioned the subject several times over the years, and separately written to some state authorities quoting, for example, apparent offences in respect to a Golden Egg winner (Slater) which the trainer later said had been suffering from both injuries and illness, and to a prominent Queensland stayer (Miss Grub) which the trainer retired with words to the effect that he had been trying to patch it up but that was no longer possible. That was a bit late for all the people who had invested many thousands of dollars on it while it was racing poorly.

OK, there is a fine point about the nature and extent of what constitutes a reportable injury. Any athlete in a competitive, physical sport must necessarily suffer knocks and bruises. Where the sport is subject to substantial media coverage – the gallops and football, for example – information provided to the public is normally full and prompt. Yet greyhound racing seems to have allowed itself to go its own way, effectively disregarding the public interest.

Indeed, greyhound stewarding has often been seen to be deficient in respect to failing to chase convictions or form assessment. A recent example was when we pointed out that a steward’s warning to the trainer of Sweet It Is was inaccurate and poorly based. It had won at a long price yet its performance was no better or worse than in its previous runs. The rest of the field had mucked around to allow that to happen.

In an even more recent case, stewards suspended a dog for failing to chase at Shepparton when it jumped moderately, got checked through no fault of its own, and then chased hard all the way home. At the same meeting an experienced dog barely chased for the bulk of the trip yet attracted not even a question. And I would argue both cases till the cows come home (details available if you want them).

All that aside, there is a bad taste in the mouth for two reasons.

First, the underlying implication is that industry culture says that trainers are entitled to keep secret the finer details of their dogs’ condition and also, for example, of private trials. But by doing that they forget that their wages are provided solely by the industry’s customers. Just saying “trust me” is simply not good enough, which is why Rule 75 was put there in the first place. Punters are entitled to the facts.

Second, the extraordinary non-use of the Rule calls to account not only the deficiency of the stewardship function but also the failure of management – ie state racing authorities – to ensure that justice is done and rules are obeyed. If it is not a good rule, get rid of it. If it needs amendment, do so. If it is a good rule, then police it.

In this case the rule is not an optional one but a fundamental requirement for good, clean racing.

Incidentally, it is noteworthy that the chief steward who brought the Keybow case up has had long experience in the galloping code. That tells you something.

BUT THE CART IS RICKETTY

A little more background to the question of the responsibilities of stewards and racing bosses is warranted.

The other day, and not for the first time, an authority was heard to repeatedly classify trainers and other licensed persons as its “customers”. Indeed, I had a lengthy dialogue with one CEO a few years ago on the same subject. (He eventually conceded that both licensed persons and punters were his “customers”).

This is wrong-headed and throws up serious questions as to the ability of boards and CEOs to understand their purpose in life – not just from my viewpoint but from their official brief under their enabling acts of parliament. Invariably, they include as an authority’s prime task the need “to ensure the progress and development of the code” or words to that effect. They also note that the purpose of such authorities, and particularly its stewards, is to look after the interests of the citizens of the state

They do not talk about keeping trainers happy or modifying the product to suit trainers, in fact rather the opposite. That is not to say that trainers should not be handled well and fairly but to put that aim at the top of the list is to put the cart before the horse, or even potentially to harm the industry by applying lopsided policies.

There is only one set of customers and that is the group which buys the product. Everyone else in the industry is there to generate that product, especially trainers. All the rules of racing are there to govern how that is done, not to tell customers what to do.

This divergence may be partly due to the latter-day habit of government departments and instrumentalities being told to treat the people at the counter as “clients”, “customers” – call them what you will. That habit has migrated to racing authorities and so the people on the other side of their counters are being mis-named as customers. The reverse of that coin suggests that those same authorities either don’t know or don’t care much about their real customers.

At best, they have downgraded the importance of the customer group – a conclusion which is supported by the fact that racing has largely left it to betting operators to define and service the industry’s customers.

In other words, racing bosses have lost the plot, and with it sufficient power to control what happens in the industry. Perhaps that helps to explain why trainers are “ignorant of the law”

Victoria Admits To A Rocky Future

A while back we pointed out that Greyhound Racing Victoria’s future income was looking a bit questionable, notwithstanding all the publicity about increases in prize money and millions being spent on new tracks and related facilities. The bottom line can be difficult to sort out as the major trend – an easing of tote betting – does not cover online bookmaker activity (which offers smaller commissions) or actions by the state government (grants and changes in taxes and commission sharing amongst codes).

We already know that GRV had done well out of the previous government-inspired alterations to commission shares, which followed the removal of racing income derived from poker machine taxes. However, it seems racing lost more on the swings than it gained on the roundabouts.

That swing appears to be statewide. Racing Victoria chairman Robert Roulston told the Herald Sun “it was looking at a $7 million reduction in its budget for the next racing season”. RV is trying to negotiate a better deal with the government “so that Victoria would remain the No 1 racing state”.

NSW greyhounds are also going down that path since it has had no luck in getting rid of the subsidies it pays to the other two codes under the fixed commission sharing agreement, signed off years ago by a short sighted administration. Balancing that loss by more favourable tax rates is its only hope.

Victoria is also watching closely to see how Racing NSW progresses its effort to force online bookmakers (and presumably Tabcorp) to accept any reasonable bets, particularly Fixed Odds bets, that they have been prone to knock back. However, whether that would make the state more profitable is open to question.

The Victorian issues follow on from the Queensland government’s published claim that its new deal with TattsBet will return perhaps $20 million more to the three codes. But the Minister is under fire because he has not yet said how much each code will get. Apparently, a by-election is in the offing and bad news is therefore deferred. But the troops are not happy.

In any event, a few more dollars in prize money are not likely to outweigh Queensland’s two main problems – a shortage of good dogs (or any dogs), and an uncompetitive tote. The small TattsBet pools are not about to stop fans favouring bigger southern pools or offers from online bookies. It’s not the cream that is the problem but the bread and butter.

When you add in TattsBet’s two other key states (SA and Tasmania), we are now looking at almost every jurisdiction in the country, perhaps except WA, facing challenges to their basic income. Even WA is still living in hope that the government will fund the rest of the new Cannington complex. So far, it has money only for the track itself.

There is no evidence that these trends will not continue, or even worsen. Apart from government belt-tightening, the country’s wagering system is arguably in a mess and is looking at an unknown future. I would defy anyone to describe a likely structure in five years from now. The dominant players are the shareholders of the two totes and the owners of online bookies and Betfair, all of which are strenuously trying to maximise their profits, regardless of the effect on the industry or its main source of income, the punters. What a curious policy! The goose and the golden egg come to mind.

Ideally, all racing authorities would get together to bring pressure to bear on Racing Ministers to introduce major reforms and perhaps to create some consistencies throughout the country. Sadly greyhounds cannot do that as its only national body, Greyhounds Australasia, does not deal with “commercial matters”. Indeed, it cannot even get the states to agree on racing rules. The other codes are not much better off.

Even the Productivity Commission recommended a national approach to the subject of racefield commissions (in its Problem Gambling Report). Yet state versus state jealousies seem to be an impossible barrier.

Racing is therefore in a precarious position as the two main influences on its fortunes are the policies of state governments and those of betting operators. Racing is in charge of not much more than lining up starters. Even then, it is flat out filling fields to suitable levels. At least one in five greyhound races start with empty boxes and a lack of reserves, thereby reducing incentive for exotic betting.

Some commentators claim it would take at least five years to bring about a national betting pool. That’s much too long, given the present state of the art and an unknown future. But that’s just the start. Love them or hate them, it’s the responsibility of state governments to take control of all betting, perhaps via a National Wagering Commission reporting to the Racing Ministers Council. Yes, that’s more bureaucracy but what other options are there?

The system is broken. Now is the time to fix it – and it is urgent.

OH DEAR!

Last week I suggested that punters should not take less than 4/1 about distance dogs in Melbourne. Alas, they still backed Lunar Jinx into $3.10 and Zipping Rory into $2.80 at Sandown on Thursday. Both lost. The race went to a rank outsider, which plodded home in a pathetic 42.54, nearly 20 lengths outside the record. There was no unusual interference, just inconsistent dogs. Or maybe they were just browned off? Would a long holiday help?

Still in Melbourne (but often elsewhere), the incidence of under-priced favourites is reaching worrying proportions. For example, at The Meadows several tipsters, including the Watchdog, pushed the wares of Bottom Dollar in a Maturity heat and it started at $3.10 or $4.10, depending where you lived. It ran nowhere after an average start but its recent form had been very ordinary, including a win at Wentworth Park in a moderate 30.27. In a smart field like this the numbers suggested it was a 100/1 chance. Its early-year form over shorter trips had been very good but it is futile to bet on what happened six months ago. Warrior King and All Strung Out were also well under the odds. Even My Bro Fabio ($2.50, box 6), which won really well after a slow start, would give you heart failure until it found its way thru the field, and then only because most of the field drifted off on the first turn, leaving the rails open.

No doubt the lack of serious analysis of likely chances is one reason the Fixed Odds people get away with their 130% books.

“This Is The Way Of The Future”

What’s more, “It doesn’t make sense to have a number of little pools around the world, which don’t give punters the confidence to bet”, according to Hong Kong Jockey Club executive director, Bill Nader.

The occasion was the announcement that Tabcorp (and later TattsBet) will be hosted in the huge HKJC pari-mutuel wagering pool from early September, subject to some regulatory approvals.

These quotes came from Fairfax (7 and 8 July), which also commented that competition from online bookmakers and Betfair “makes Australia the best country in the world for punters”. Presumable they mean except for Hong Kong and possibly a few other places. Tabcorp and TattsBet have tote monopolies in their respective areas while the leading growth area of Fixed Odds is competitive only in a marketing sense as their prices are generally at rip-off levels, they are pretty much the same from one to the other, and you might not be able to get on anyway.

Tabcorp already hosts or co-mingles with pools in seven other countries – but, critically, not much with itself. It was not able to convince the NSW Racing Minister (at the time, McBride) to allow it to combine its own pools in NSW and Victoria. The fact that modest activity in WA and the ACT is already part of Victoria’s SuperTab is nice for the small states but hardly counts for much in the overall scheme of things.

The question now becomes whether all these ventures will improve TabCorp’s bottom line. Probably so, especially given the size of the Hong Kong pools and the urges of a few professional punters. International races which run out of normal hours would also be helpful. However, many of them are within our normal time zones and compete directly with local greyhound and harness races in the peak 7 pm to 11 pm slot.

Day to day evidence suggest that they all suffer as one picks off the other, while delayed trot races clog up the system as well. One of the primary determinants of pool sizes is the closeness of race scheduling. Just to take one example, on the NSW TAB last week the Sandown win pool on race 6 (at 8:52 pm) did not manage to get past $6,000 yet its first seven races averaged $14,000 and later declined to about an $9,000 average as the night wore on and fans went home. (Victorian pools would have been much higher, of course).

The related point is that the vast majority of these international races would be a venture into the unknown for 99% of punters – they would know virtually nothing about the tracks, the jockeys, the trainers or the runners – so they are effectively no more than different versions of the mechanical Trackside, designed for mug gamblers alone. The contrast with local races is therefore extreme.

Incidentally, just to put things into perspective, on the day those Sandown figures were recorded, Tabcorp covered 35 meetings in total in the three codes, of which 15 or 43% were in overseas countries. It is not easily possible to work out the end effect of crowding on various pools but obviously it must be significant. The trick is for someone to calculate just how much the extra meetings attracted, over and above what would have been achieved without them. That is not a straight exercise as many gamblers simply bet on what’s up next. However, to the extent that clashes occur, there would have been a cost to local races.

There is an even bigger cost to greyhounds as many clubs are relegated to SKY 2, which is not available at all in some outlets, and which frequently clashes with SKY 1 when both are on offer. That’s a death sentence, pushing many pools down below the $5,000 mark, and providing stark evidence that the number of races on offer is greater than the ability of punters to fund them.

The actual amounts are going to vary from day to day and state to state, of course. And it is not possible to keep everyone happy, yet clearly there is a lot of robbing Peter to pay Paul going on. That’s why Hong Kong will be a mixed blessing. It may not interfere much with local gallops (in the afternoon) but it will certainly do no good to prime greyhound pools. It doesn’t do any good now, and neither do races in Singapore, South Africa, France and Sweden which are located in the evening slot.

At the least, greyhound authorities should be demanding a bigger slice of the international action to compensate for the inevitable losses they cause. If Tabcorp makes bigger profits, so should local greyhounds.

The key issue is that Tabcorp and TattsBet were formed to provide a service to the local racing industry. Even now, witness all the brave words accompanying the recent announcement of TattsBet’s renewed rights to Queensland wagering. Australian operations gave them the base from which to attack the international events. Having done that, they are now hell-bent on feathering their own nests via even more international expansion. That’s fair enough in one sense, but is it at the expense of local racing?

There is strong evidence that both tote companies have run out of puff in trying to generate growth in traditional areas – partly but not only due to the arrival of competing online bookmakers. Even so, the long term decline in betting on the gallops and the trots suggests they are losing the confidence of their customers. Greyhounds are in much the same boat, but have been saved momentarily by simply running more races. But is that the last rabbit that can be pulled out of the hat? There is no more room in the calendar and there are no more dollars in the pockets of existing customers.

This leaves the Australian racing industry with three options for growth (or even survival):

1. Build more attractive products.
2. Find new customers.
3. Insist on a piece of the international action.

Two ways to do that are to reform racing management and to demand that state governments create a national betting pool – just as Hong Kong is doing internationally. Paradoxically, despite China’s broad opposition to horse and dog racing, they know a fair bit about gambling. It’s in the genes. The massive exceptions to the rule – in Hong Kong and Macau – prove the point.

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