Lismore or less? Clubs should hold on to tradition

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

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

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

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

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

Run of the week

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

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

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

Trivia (1)

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

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

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

Trivia (2)

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

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

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

Not so trivial (3)

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

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

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

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

Stewards’ reports

Race 6, 680m, Warragul, January 23

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

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

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

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

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

Race 4, 600m, The Meadows, January 24

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

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

Greyhound Racing at sixes and sevens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still Not Enough Dogs

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

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

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

And so it goes on.

Wenty Again Provides A Mixed Bag

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All told, an interesting if funny mix.

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

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

Activity And Outcomes Are Different Things

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

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

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

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

Voters Needed For Two States And NSW Greyhounds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stewards Still Struggling

Sandown, January 8, Race 2.

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

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

Horsham, January 6, Race 7

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

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

Is Allen Deed Now The Best?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Is It So?

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, here are two more examples of basic errors.

Stewards Reports

Race 5, Geelong, January 2.

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

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

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

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

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

Race 3, The Meadows, 3 January.

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

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

Your Taxes At Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stewards Reports Puzzling

Race 5, Sandown 1 January.

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

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

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

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

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

Race 6, Sandown, 1 January.

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

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

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

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

Still on Sandown

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

But don’t try this at home.

New Year’s Celebrations

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

Power Corrupts, Etc…And History Repeats Itself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not This Time, But Maybe Next Time?

How is it possible to understand what stewards do?

Stewards Report, Race 10, Sandown 28 December.

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

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

Sale Cup Reveals Much

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Working in the Dark

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

Let Them Have A Bet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who Is Responsible for Wagering?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Back then, they always looked a picture.

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

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

“And sure enough, up he’d get up.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Grading’s the biggest issue.

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

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

He said Greyhound Racing Victoria set the benchmark.

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

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

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

“Vic dogs get a better deal than we do.

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

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

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

You could sit and listen to Colless talk for hours.

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

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

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

“I’ve had no disappointments whatsoever.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I can’t understand blokes with 20 dogs.

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

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

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

“A beautiful dog.

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

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

Barry Colless with wife Judy

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

UPDATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The closing date for submissions is January 31, 2015.

 

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

 

Are Racing Rules In The Eye Of The Beholder?

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

CASE A: Race 9, The Meadows, 20 December

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

CASE B: Race 4 Sale, 20 December.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bringing Governments to Account

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas.

Politics And Racing Are Not Mixing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Believe What You Read

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

Race 10, Sandown, 18 December.

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

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

Race 7, The Meadows, 17 December.

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

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

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

Too Tired?

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

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

What You May Have Missed

Greyhounds Australasia Details National Welfare Strategy

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

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

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

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

Compression Suits Approved In Victoria

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

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

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

New Cannington Bunny Cam

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

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

Worth A Second Look:

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

AGRA Rankings Fail To Inform

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Stopping Victorian Stewards

At the Laurels heats at Sandown, 7 December.

Race 3

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

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

Race 8

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

That never happened either. Never touched.

Why do they bother?

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

T3 Betting No Gold Mine

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mystery Remains

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

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

As Predicted

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

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

Not Just In The City

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

Race 3

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

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

Race 9

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

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

Race 12

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

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

Staying Bits And Pieces

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

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

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

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

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

Are Dogs the same as Humans?

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

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

Also from The Australian.

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

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

And a Note about old time Sporting Clubs

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

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

That movie about the Collingwood football club comes to mind.

Youngsters of Note

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

The future promises much.

Stewards Report, The Meadows, 15 November

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

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

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

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

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

Count Your Marbles, Lest You Lose Them

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Numbers of Greyhounds Actually Racing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IT WAS TIME AFTER ALL

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

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

The Mother Country Has A Lot To Answer For

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * *

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

More Incentive For Premier Baird

The company police are pressing ahead.

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

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

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

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

Passing Comments from the Stewards – Sandown 6 November.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Still Don’t Understand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fame Spreads

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

Clayton Barr Calls For Serious Action In NSW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Sad But Timely Warning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A DEAD SHOT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So there you go. The jump will tell.

TRUTH BEATS FICTION

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

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

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

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

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

Will Government Take The Plunge?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who Are We?

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Aside

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

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

Ploughing On

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

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

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

The Inquiry – Behind The Scenes

(Part One appeared yesterday)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greyhound Racing Wins A Few Battles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, where are we now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… more to come.

PM Offers Advice From Canberra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DON’T SWAB THE DOGS; SWAB THE SELECTION PANEL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Cash But On A Fragile Basis

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

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

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

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

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

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

IS A LEGAL DOOR OPENING?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FRANKING THE FORM

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

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

WHY DO THEY WRITE THIS STUFF?

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

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

Victorian Greyhound Industry Worth $315 Million To The State

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ozchase Critic Confirms What We Already Know

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHO’S IN, WHO’S OUT

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

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

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

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

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

The Signs Are Everywhere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free To Run

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT WAS THAT AGAIN?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For humans:

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

For dogs:

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

So, am I any the wiser? No.

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

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

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

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