A Hard Choice For Trainers And Others

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

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

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

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

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

This section was titled “The Big Choice”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

ON A NARROWER SCALE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Past Discussion

  1. I have yet to see an entirely optimistic story you have written, I enjoy what you say BUT there are great stories out here of small trainers training average dogs and occasionally winning they are the backbone of the industry.
    Perhaps it’s not your job but someone there should be writing success stories.
    Pointing out the bleeding obvious about stayers not backing up week to week is not an edifying story we should all know this.

  2. I have yet to see an entirely optimistic story you have written, I enjoy what you say BUT there are great stories out here of small trainers training average dogs and occasionally winning they are the backbone of the industry.

    Perhaps it’s not your job but someone there should be writing success stories.

    Pointing out the bleeding obvious about stayers not backing up week to week is not an edifying story we should all know this.