ONE of the strangest ideas appearing from officialdom over the last year – and there have been quite a few of that ilk – is that the system should encourage dogs to race more often. Amongst those is a brief to consultants by Greyhounds Australasia to look into “the requirement and strategies for increasing average greyhound career starts”.
The assumption there is that the average dog is not racing frequently enough. But who says so? And why? This is not only a vague subject but is also dominated by badly kept statistics.
In the case of slow dogs it may well be true as they are obviously not competitive with the bottom ranks of graded dogs. But, assuming that by some magic the industry could create races for them, who would support them? They would certainly not be betting propositions and they may not even want to chase. Even if they were, how would you fit them into an already overcrowded TAB program? Would they just race for fun and, if so, who would pay the expenses? This option is not a genuine starter.
For the other 14,000 or so greyhounds regularly doing the rounds, extra racing would constitute a significant welfare risk. Further, the idea assumes that trainers are not already maximising racing frequency for dogs already competing. Since that is the only way they can gain income it is surely farcical to suggest they would not be maximising their position now.
In fact, current practice tells us that the opposite is true; many are racing too often for their own good. Any number of dogs are lining up for a race after finishing 6th, 7th or 8th at their previous several starts. Predictably, they then finish 6th, 7th or 8th at the next start. Would a holiday to freshen them up be more profitable in the long run?
Much more worrying are the numbers of dogs backing up too quickly – ie before they have had time to replenish the juices. The more obvious of these are found in staying races where we have documented time and again how their form degrades when asked to go again with only a seven day break. That applies to all such dogs, regardless of their abilities, with only a very rare exception like Sweet It Is.
But it is also true of sprinters. To check that out, we plucked out five dogs in fields at The Meadows last Saturday where they had been racing more often than once in seven days. Below we have shown the times for their previous three starts and compared them with Saturday’s performance. There were actually a few more cases which have been omitted for space reasons. (All times have been converted to their Meadows equivalent using analyses from hundreds of cases of dogs which raced at both venues).
Feb 3 – 30.39
Feb 6 – 31.10
Feb 13 – 30.47
Feb 20 – 30.71
Feb 4 – 30.35
Feb 8 – (Fell)
Feb 11 – 31.10
Feb 20 – 30.80
Feb 3 – 30.41
Feb 10 – 30.61
Feb 13 – 30.19
Feb 20 – 30.93
Feb 4 – 30.21
Feb 10 – 30.35
Feb 13 – 30.87
Feb 20 – 30.65
Feb 6 – 30.21
Feb 10 – 30.38
Feb 12 – 30.21
Feb 20 – 30.81
Plainly, The Meadows runs show a general deterioration in performance by comparison with previous runs in the month. The common factor amongst these five dogs is one or more incidents where the gap between races was between two and four days. Yes, all these dogs had had a week off prior to The Meadows run but, arguably, their earlier more intensive experience had some residual effect.
Certainly, this is not a definitive study but the broad impact is comparable to many other daily issues where dogs are being asked to do too much. It suggests that punters should be very careful about runners which do not have well-spaced runs. It also suggests that both trainers and authorities should be looking more closely at cross-checking – via blood tests etc – just how much effect racing has on the average animal.
Whatever the outcome of such tests it is plain that asking the average dog to race more often is not a good road to go down. Almost certainly, such a policy would be counter-productive. Fortunately, many trainers would not be keen to do it, and rarely do with top class dogs. (In passing, Fantastic Spiral ran last in the Temlee at The Meadows, only five days after travelling back from Launceston after winning the Cup. Coincidentally, the great Radley Bale ran the same program four years ago, winning well at Launceston and then luckily finishing on top in a roughhouse Temlee in a moderate 30.16 after missing the jump).
Finally, and digressing a bit, in the Zoom Top (725m) only three of the seven runners had raced recently (8-9 days ago) so over-racing was not as big a factor as it normally is. But maybe winner No Donuts should have done more work, or maybe it is just not a genuine 700m dog. Its 42.71 time was 11 lengths outside Space Star’s track record and was characterised by a plodding last 100m. That was not within a bull’s roar of the 41.97 it ran at Wentworth Park a month ago. For a Group 1 event with supposedly some of the best in the land, it was a very mediocre exercise. It is more and more obvious that these sorts of stayers are able to pull out one good one every so often but none have the ability to race regularly at a high level. Three of Saturday’s starters, including No Donuts, had previously run miles better times than they recorded in the Zoom Top – but did it only once.
That does not include Rynos Raider, which for some strange reason was one of two second favourites at 7/2. Punters may have been misled by the 42.41 shown against its name in the GRV formguide. That run was, of course, in a handicap race so you need to add 0.70 to it. Apparently the Watchdog failed to realise that because it was priced at $5.00. I rated it at $20.00. It ran well back in 4th place, beating one dog that is out of form and another that cannot run out the trip.
By the way, the upcoming Australian Cup Stayers series at The Meadows will be yet another doubtful experience in the history of heat and final distance racing. Almost invariably, dogs do worse the second time out.
Why greyhound racing misses the point
To the above vague hope about racing more often, we need also to add misguided and unresearched claims by authorities and consultants about other subjects: over-breeding, “wastage”, more opportunities for slow dogs and halving the quantity of racing. All these are concepts being pushed by various people who used poor data and clearly failed to understand the industry; instead, they reacted to raucous publicity, often from politicians. They all started with the answer but forgot to validate the question.
Note that greyhound racing in this country is now being run almost entirely by government departments or public servants with no commercial experience, let alone greyhound knowledge. South Australia is the sole exception.
Much the same reasoning applies to numerous QCs and other people assigned to review the industry. Achieving a high legal rank entitles someone to comment on the law, or on facts. Of itself, it does not offer any qualifications in business policy or unrelated technical matters.
I have known many fine top level public servants in my time, all charged with doing a challenging job in an environment where their political masters change more often than a greyhound board. Yet there is not one of them to whom I would give a job running the greyhound industry. They lack both the background and the particular skills to manage a business that needs flair, foresight and ongoing change.
This should not be a surprise. Compare, as one example, the difference between the captain of a modern jumbo jet and a successful businessman. One is trained not to take risks; the other must do so on a regular basis. Different needs; different people.
In a telling illustration, a former secretary to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, (now Professor) Peter Shergold, recently called on the public service to “become more flexible by learning to measure the performance of contractors and then ‘getting out of the way’. Contracts were often bogged down with so much ‘stupid detail’ they cramped the ability of private enterprise to be creative and do the job better”. (Fairfax-SMH report, 6 Feb).
Will state Racing Ministers take that on board?