Cart Before The Horse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BUT THE CART IS RICKETTY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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