Many years ago, so old-timers would relate, a five pound note pressed into the hand of a local club official would assure you of a good box for that afternoon’s race. Since the common practice then was to gradually build up a dog’s capability in the hope of making a killing in the ring on a given day, that was pretty important. TABs did not exist and your wages had to come out of the bookmaker’s bag.
At the time, the box draw did not take place until kennelling time, sometimes with a steward around, sometimes not.
With better supervision, things improved a lot as the years rolled on. The draw would be made much earlier, usually after the club secretary (as they were called then) sorted through the nominations and made up the fields.
In fact, there was, and is, a good argument that those secretaries could put together more attractive programs, with full fields, and so keep the hundreds or even thousands of patrons happy, nearly all of them from the local area. The dogs were more localised, too, which meant the secretary could always round up a few extras when needed because he was always in touch with trainers. And he knew the dogs.
For 95% of the time that worked pretty well. Unfortunately, the occasional shenanigan gave the system a bad name and eventually “central grading” became the norm. State authorities took over, which meant that producing a quality program took second place to doing the job “fairly” – ie by the numbers. Local initiatives were lost at the same time as the nearby customers were replaced by unknown gamblers from far and wide, doubly so after SKY pictures arrived.
Yet, like laws in every walk of life, those grading systems just grew and grew. Nothing was deleted but new concepts kept being added. “It would be a good idea if … (we did such and such)”. And, since they were all just “ideas” each state had its own preferences and so the current complex and convoluted systems evolved. A tiny handful of national guidelines are overwhelmed by hundreds of pages of grading rules in various state bibles. Now, reading them makes your head hurt.
Often the reasons for the additions are lost in antiquity – a classic example being the use of “Non Penalty” races in Victoria. Why are they there? What purpose do they serve? Is the grading system no good? What are the costs and benefits? No-one knows, it seems, but there are lots of them and they are increasing in number.
Elsewhere, NSW has belatedly introduced a new range of “Masters” events to cater for aging greyhounds. Yet to do that it did not seek common ground with the longstanding Veterans system in Victoria but selected different age brackets and added three Masters Grades, rather than one. More complexity. Not even the same title.
All this came to mind while reading the latest (8 Aug 2014) summary of Grading Guidelines on the Victorian website. Point scores, race times, interstate conversions and lots more get a run when trying to work out where your dog can compete. Words like “algorithms” pop up, suggesting that a lone grader would have no hope of putting a race together. Indeed, only a carefully programmed computer could do the job, and then it needs constant checking and revision as well as periodic audits by an outside consultant to check that all is above board.
This is not to say that there are not some good points about all these changes. But the question that must be asked is “do we need it all?” Nationwide, capital outlays and ongoing costs of labour, equipment and computer programs must be in the millions of dollars now, simply to get eight dogs and two reserves onto the program. That is cash that cannot be allocated to more deserving causes, whether prize money or better tracks or whatever.
There is no evidence that the “product” is better as a result of the long line of changes. Arguably, the average field is less attractive to the customer, probably because the system is less attuned to their needs than to the owner/trainer’s. There are more empty boxes, more slow dogs, more short course squibs, declining numbers of stayers and more mug gamblers to supply the prize money.
Those outcomes are not due just to grading issues but it is a major contributor. The industry has lost sight of its objectives, or maybe it had the wrong ones in the first place. Excellence is present in a few aspects of greyhound racing but not in the way it puts races together. We can do better. How about going back to scratch and rebuilding the system to cater for today’s customers? Nationally, of course. And simpler.
All this is one of those areas where participants keep finding reason to question what their authorities do and why they spend scarce funds on efforts that may or may not produce dividends. The management efficiency of those authorities is never audited. The figures may add up but not the success rate of what they do.
Let me repeat myself. The squillions of dollars that have gone into Ozchase – the be-all and end-all data handling system devised by NSW and WA – may (or may not) have produced lower unit costs for some parts of the work done by state authorities. But it has also resulted in the worst and most unfriendly set of race form and results services seen in the last 50 years. A 1950s formguide from deFax gave you much more readable information more easily. What is the nett benefit, if any?