Lessons From The Farm

“If we don’t tell people how carrots are grown they will make up their own stories”. So says the owner of KALFRESH, a southeast Queensland grower, after looking for ways of improving profitability and deciding to launch the farm’s first open day. Expecting just a handful, the first event attracted 100 people, then grew to a thousand or more in later episodes, all related on the ABC’s Landline program.

The farm now charges $5 for a help-yourself barbeque, a tour of the automated processing factory and free access to the fields to pick carrots. The kids love it and families are thronging in from Brisbane and the Gold Coast, tourists and locals alike.

It brings to mind an open day conducted for charity a few years ago at Rocky Ridge stud farm near Gosford in NSW, where some 2,000 visitors turned up to marvel at all the fancy gear as well as the greyhound breeding stock. People love to learn about something new or unusual. The greyhound industry was the winner.

More generally, this sort of marketing theme usually has win-win overtones as it not only advances knowledge of the greyhound but also does wonders for the farm or the attraction itself.

Anyway, carrots are well within its grasp as the Mugavin-Brown combine near Warrnambool has long been famous for both dogs and carrots. There will be other examples if we look for them.

More of this and biased programs like the ABC’s anti-racing segment on its 7:30 Report and the one-sided reporting by the Sydney Morning Herald would not get off the ground. They would be put in proper perspective.

ROOM TO MOVE

So many of our tipsters’ comments about dogs are headed “given early room to move” that it is a wonder that the industry has not done more to allow that to happen. In fact, it often does the reverse.

In the last decade, NSW spent over $500k supposedly to rebuild the Dapto track. In practice, they did little more than change the loam. What they did retain was a set of 520m boxes jammed up against the line of the running rail, thereby forcing inside dogs to veer to the right after the jump, creating more confusion. That and a poor first turn contribute its position as one of the two most disruptive tracks in Australia. The recent rebuild of the Goulbourn track did much the same thing. Inside runners have to follow a snake-shaped course after the jump, while many dogs cannot hold the home turn. Another half a million or so poorly spent.

Queensland trainers have consistently called for improvements to the bend starts at both Albion Park and Ipswich, noting that the dangers were forcing them to take youngsters to northern NSW tracks to avoid bad experiences (a bit of frying pan and fire there?). Over 15 years or so, partly as an employee of the old QGRA at the time, I wrote formally on several occasions to the authority pointing out the problems and possible solutions at those tracks. To date I have yet to receive an acknowledgement of that correspondence, let alone an answer. (Disclaimer: QGRA later sacked me because I wrote that the state should get used to Betfair being around because that was what customers wanted. Apparently, the board did not like Betfair. Remember those days?).

Victoria not long ago finished a statewide program of replacing most middle distance trips at provincial tracks with 650m events (Sandown had also installed one). In every case these produced diabolical bend starts, mostly worse than the ones they replaced. All these increased the bias against outside dogs and promoted more interference. In essence, they became 4-dog races.

Then, to cap it all, WA has just announced it has firmed up the layout for the Cannington replacement (due in mid-2015) but it includes a bend start for the 600m trip – “across the apex” as RWWA termed it. In other words, they are doing specifically what works badly at almost every other track in the country. Some sort of mysterious mind blockage must exist in the industry for this to continue to happen. It runs against the interests of all involved – dogs, trainers, punters, the club and the industry’s image – and enhances the case being put by small but noisy numbers of anti-racing campaigners. It’s madness, sheer madness, especially as alternatives exist.

Anyway, let’s start another ball rolling. One possible aid to any start, not just those on bends, would be to re-engineer all the boxes so that more room is available to all in that vital first few metres. Why not put more space between each box, or perhaps at least between 3 and 4, as well as between 6 and 7, and make the overall box structure a good 1m to 2m wider. By doing that at least some of the interference would be reduced, allowing more dogs to do what they like to do.

Yes, it would cost a lot of money but it would be worth every cent if it succeeded in doing a better job. At the very least an experiment would be worthwhile running at one selected track.

It would also constitute a valuable start to a nationwide study of the art of track design. Why not write in with your suggestions?

Oh, I said Dapto was the second worst track in the country. The worst? By some margin, Ipswich. It has a horrible bend start for the 431m trip and a flat first turn for 520m dogs – the former contributing to the latter. Both faults are easily fixed, and for a modest amount of money. Just shift the 431m boxes and re-shape the turn. Fixing Dapto is different. You would first need to bulldoze the entire site, on and off the track. But if it helps the industry, why not?

PS: A side note. I would be happy to turn the first sod in rebuilding Dapto. Many years ago, as a kid, Dapto was the first provincial track I ever attended. First, you would ring the club to see if the meeting was still on or rained out. Then, after buying a deFax guide near Central station, you would catch the 5pm steam train out of Sydney, arriving comfortably prior to the first race. After the last, the club organised a charter bus to take us back to Sutherland station in Sydney’s south, where we could connect with the city’s electric train service to our desired destination. You would be lucky to get home by 1am. There was no TAB then, of course, but if you squint a bit those AWA tote windows look exactly the same now as they did then. Ditto for the track, save that loam has replaced the grass.

PS2: Val Anglim’s dog shop in Devonshire St where you bought that deFax guide (a roneoed set of pages stapled in the top left hand corner) later turned into a newspaper shop selling Melbourne’s Gold Guides as well. It has changed hands a couple of times since and is now run by a Korean family. Sadly, hard copy formguides are no longer there, outranked by SKY and the internet. The steam train has gone, as has the charter bus, but from the track you can catch sight of the freeway which now delivers fans and dogs from the Sydney region. The racetrack is still much the same, a memorial to the past, and the “Dapto Dogs” is still part of the lexicon.

Past Discussion