Ignorance is no defence

RECENT reactions from readers bring up vitally important points about the nature of greyhound racing and how we deal with both welfare and business matters. Consequently, it’s worth carrying on about a couple of them.

Sometimes it is hard to fathom where people get their stories from. An anonymous reader, apparently with some training experience, assured us he had never known a vet to suggest racing dogs should get a seven day break between races. So I will dig out some specific references for him and publish them here.

Meantime, he might consult writings by Dr John Kohnke or the vet who writes for a well-known Melbourne greyhound paper. Both have written about this. In fact, Kohnke made a point of mentioning that dogs which had put in a lead-all-the-way run, especially over the longer trips, were even more susceptible to a drop in all the usual body fluids etc. This is the “gutbuster” effect.

I can also recall an interview the Greyhound Recorder made with top Queensland trainer, Tony Zammit, where he said words to the effect of “I like to race my dogs only once a week. If circumstances force me to do it more often I will give them a longer break after the second run”.

And here is a bit more general guidance to go on with. This quote comes from the vet at Winning Formula, a producer of feeds and additives for greyhounds. Note the last sentence.

“The stride length of about 5 metres (involves) about 4 strides per second as the dog accelerates from the traps. Each limb touches the ground for about 0.11 seconds only. The forelegs have a flight distance of 1.23 metres, and the rear legs, which provide the power, 2.45 metres (double the distance). The loading force placed on limbs during racing is repaired over the next 7-10 days”.

Of course, cattle dogs can do it all day but then they don’t run very fast, do they? Thoroughbred trainers like to avoid any backups inside fourteen days, while football teams never produce their best when compelled to backup four or five days after their last match. Most animals are the same.

But can stewards handle it?

We now have received repeated claims from an ex-steward, Dave Kiernan, who apparently attended my meeting with NSW stewards 20 years ago. Some of his memories are good but not the underlying reasons for my visit to GRA headquarters – which, I might add, cost me a full day’s lost work for absolutely no return.

He recalls that one steward queried the fact that none of those present knew me. The relevance of that escapes me. Yet he answered the question himself when pointing out that between coming back from the start, going to the office, writing reports and racing down to the video van, all in 15 minutes or so, meant that stewards were rushed off their feet. Me too, as the next race is always coming up and I might want to collect winnings or have a bet. But do stewards know all the hundreds or even thousands of people who attend meetings? That’s a bit fanciful, isn’t it?

Actually, the bloke who asked the original question was Hank van (something), who wore a straw hat and was well known in the Hunter region. I would have needed the speed of a greyhound to catch up with those guys. In any event, I do my assessments after the meeting when I have time to sit down and properly analyse everything that has happened.

However, back to the important point. I did in fact pass on my comments to GRA by writing to them several times – hence the invitation to attend the monthly stewards meeting. Virtually all my comments related to race times and how stewards assessed them. That was all I talked about at the meeting. It was the sole purpose of the visit.

In that era, all stewards had to use was the standard deFax racebook, which itself was not a really complete article. It lacked sectional times, for example, except at the back of the book and for the previous week only, and you could often see only three current runs per dog, four if you were lucky. Also, at that time, many Australian formguides were deficient when interstate dogs arrived to compete. It was almost a carrier pigeon process. The local producer had first to note that an interstate dog was present, or a local dog was returning, then send a request to the other state for updated form. If it did not arrive, tough luck.

Consequently, my own system and database was far more reliable as we had the means to haul in form daily from other states as a matter of routine. This gave me information and comparisons often not available to stewards. (And, no, I was not trying to sell programs to GRA – that is a figment of Dave’s imagination. In any case the GreyBase program was designed for individual users, not for a large entity like GRA).

The aim of my visit was to bring some problems to GRA’s notice, hence my suggestion about laptops etc, which were in common use by that time, and with them the ability for stewards to consult infinitely better information.

Well, it’s taken the best part of those 20 years for the computer/internet age to scramble though to the stewards’ systems, which now include the “eye in the sky” operator back at head office. But are they using it as well as they could, or should? I can’t answer that totally but I can keep pointing out when form assessment problems appear. And, yes, that is still happening.

To that you can add the output of Ozchase, the computerised form and race results system devised by NSW and WA authorities and subsequently adopted by Queensland, SA and Tasmania. It is totally inadequate for customers. It is hard to read, needs up to three pages per race to print out, sometimes has errors or omissions (Tasmanian and some interstate sectionals, for example), and is not available in digital format. It might have been passable 20 years ago but is not remotely acceptable for the 21st century.

In short, stewards’ standards, management performance and industry culture were below par 20 years ago, which is not just my opinion but also that of the ICAC and the police. Recent supervision of trial tracks suggests not a lot has changed.

Finally, I love the quote from mega investor, multi billionaire and the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffet.

“My successor will need one other particular strength: the ability to fight off the ABCs of business decay, which are arrogance, bureaucracy and complacency”.