NOT long back I was critical of a club (I think it was Sandown) when it put on a race for female trainers. I suggested that was nonsense as the name in the racebook usually had more to do with their tax accountant than training duties.
Going back even further, I recall a club president in his weekly newsletter never referring to an individual trainer by name but to the Brown family or the Jones family and so on. He was right on the money. There is no way any one person has the capacity to look after a team of dogs on his own. The 24/7 task is far too demanding in both time and travel terms. Wives, husbands, kids all count.
This is important as it illustrates a major difference between American and Australian practices – one with a factory-style production of racers 200 or 300 strong, and in decline, the other with a range of kennel sizes but rarely passing the 100 mark and normally very much smaller right down to the hobby trainer with one or two. Personalised kennels are a critical factor in building a groundswell of support for the industry in the local community – when done well, of course.
But you could well take this a step further, especially in view of recent events. Perhaps training licences should be issued to the family? What applies to one should apply to all. Indeed, this is the effect of some recent changes to racing and licensing rules – the McDonald attempt to shift dogs into his partner’s name was eventually shut down, for example.
At the very least, authorities should obviously look closely into family involvements when suspensions occur. In fact, we already have the case of Graeme Bate’s dogs moving over into daughter-in-law Jenny Hunt’s name, the former being suspended and the latter now under investigation for use of amphetamines and being queried by stewards about over-racing incidents. Another family member has a police record.
Another recent case saw the high profile King couple on the NSW south coast both eventually suspended, one for drugs, the other for illegally visiting the kennel area.
Some may consider the broader approach would unduly penalise an “innocent” person yet the practical situation is that it is near impossible for close family not to be involved in some way. The final arbiter is not what is in the kitchen cabinet but what is in the dog’s system.
What is even more surprising is that Australia’s largest breeder and owner, Paul Wheeler, continues his association with the Bate/Hunt family group, apparently regardless of all the illegalities. You would think he would place a higher value on his reputation.
While on this general subject, it must be noted that Awesome Project’s owner Brad Canty was successful in the Supreme Court in setting aside the ban on his dog competing in the Australian Cup. It had been in the care of suspended trainer Darren McDonald but was transferred by Canty to another trainer. Canty, some might remember, was a party in a scandal in a maiden event at Ipswich in 2013 when his account was used to place multiple First Four bets with Bet365. The Northern Territory Racing Commission (the NT being the domicile of Bet365) found the actions by him and the Brunkers (father and son) to be “unlawful” and suggested referrals to Queensland stewards and police, which had direct jurisdiction.
The betting action involved placing big Win bets early on one unraced dog, which had travelled all the way from western Sydney to compete – pretty unusual for a maiden dog. That made it a short odds-on favourite and therefore encouraged punters to include it in their exotic bets as well. The dog, which had vomited in the kennels, ran a shocker and over $4,000 worth of bets by the Brunker/Canty group succeeded – at least at first – mainly because they all excluded the favourite. The team claimed Bet365 for some $68,000 or four times the posted Tattsbet First Four dividend of $14,500. Bet365 refused to pay on the ground of price manipulation but later offered a large settlement, which Brunker refused. But then he lost the case anyway, due to the “unlawful” assessment.
Later, very oddly, Queensland stewards could not find sufficient evidence, despite the NTRC report, to justify a case against the “unlawful” group. However, the dog was suspended for failing to chase. There are no reports of the matter being referred to the police.
The final irony is that the posted Tattsbet dividend was actually four times the amount of cash available to pay out winning punters – the pool had only $3,750 in it after mandatory takeouts. When little or no money is placed on a winning combination, both Tattsbet and Tabcorp have policy of inflating the “dividend” two, three or four times, presumably to suck in potential future customers looking for lottery level payouts. In other words, they ignore the industry convention of showing dividends for a $1 investment. Who is kidding who?
What is even more ironic is that neither the NTRC or Bet365 failed to note or mention that the Tattsbet dividend – the base of the entire case – was a false one.
Anyway, the upshot of all this is that the greyhound racing system lacks the means or the will, or both, to sensibly carry out its responsibilities. At best, it is shutting the door after the horse has bolted, as in the belated changes to rules about illegal baits and suspensions, etc.
The industry is not helped by the fragmentation of its operation amongst eight states and territories, each of which has differing policies and procedures. For example, the national body, Greyhounds Australasia, publishes 59 pages of racing rules. NSW alone has 102 pages of local rules, many of them countermanding the national rules. This is bureaucracy gone mad.
Equally, each of the review teams looking into the live baiting matter will have to deal with those same variations in rules and practices. Will they harmonise their results or will we end up with different solutions to the same problem? Incidentally, note that there are no longer only three states undertaking formal reviews. The number has risen to four since the Tasmanian parliament decided to conduct one as well.
Recently, I suggested that more in-depth reviews are needed into specific operational and organisational matters, quite apart from live baiting as such. Perhaps I did not go far enough. Ideally, the industry could use an all-in national review of the operation and governance of greyhound racing. Only then would it have the means of looking objectively at all the risks, challenges and possible solutions.
There are only two groups which could launch such a project. One is Greyhounds Australasia but it has no executive power and would have to rely on every state agreeing to take part. That’s not a sure bet by any means. The other option is for the state Racing Ministers Council to do the job. They have plenty to gain as an improved industry would promote more betting and therefore more taxes. However, as Sir Humphrey would say, it would be a courageous decision as it might produce unintended consequences and require decisions which might affect some voters. Nevertheless, it would be worth it.