Logic missing from the decisions in greyhound racing

HERE’S an amazing thing. Various administrations have been keen to announce plans to better cater for young dogs that can’t get a run and which might be discarded. But it’s all smoke and mirrors. In part, it promotes a myth.

Here are figures are taken from a typical week’s racing in Victoria. That state is used because data is much easier and quicker to access than anything in the Ozchase system, which is unfriendly to customers and a pain to use. Even so, Victoria should be reasonably representative.

First, of course there are dogs that are not competitive at all for one reason or another. Always have been, always will be. Vision and imagination are needed to handle them.

Second, of those that do race, more than two thirds are confined to low grade races. In fact, 22% of all races were Maidens.

Third, only 13% raced in the higher grades – ie 4th/5th, 4th, 3rd/4th, 4th and Free For All.

Fourth, a further 16% raced in Special Entry or Restricted Win events but the vast majority of those would still be eligible for normal 5th Grade races.

It might well be argued (and I would too) that the grading system has gone mad. Just in that one week there were twelve different classifications or Grades to cater for the local dog population. This industry started with six Grades but the top two or three of those are now rarely if ever used. (Note WA recently changed its rules to make it more attractive for visitors or migrants to the state so they could fill vacant spots in higher grade races). However, I digress.

More and more races fit into the 300m category, including at Wentworth Park and Albion Park – two of our top venues – as well as at Cranbourne and the new Traralgon track, while 400m races are now the most popular overall at provincial tracks, and often at Angle Park. The strength of the breed is sagging.

Not long back Victoria inaugurated T3 racing (loosely followed by NSW’ Class C races) whereby runners had to qualify by not running too fast. Entry is limited to dogs which have not performed better than a pre-nominated time for each race distance. T3 races made up 21% of the above totals and, curiously, appear in the figures for Maiden, 7th Grade, 6th Grade and 5th Grade. So it appears dogs of all speeds are wandering around the traps pretty well regardless of the normal grading policies.

This outcome is supported by the presence of numerous Special Event, Limited Win and Non-Penalty races, all of which have the effect of allowing dogs to win easier races and avoid going up in grade. Some of these appear to be at the instigation of the club, not the state authority.

Anyway, leaving aside the dominant 5th Grade category, 43% of all starters competed in bottom level events – ie from 6th Grade down.

On top of all that, the industry has a peculiar habit of offering premium cash to maiden events where results are always uncertain. (It has just happened at Wentworth Park this week). Greyhound racing is unique in that respect. No other racing code and no other sport have such a policy.

All of which leads us to a key question; if today’s racing is heavily dominated by relatively low quality dogs, what opportunity would there be for even slower dogs to get a start? At best, one slow dog would simply replace another slow dog.

Consequently, any administration seeking to increase racing opportunities for discarded dogs is on a hiding to nothing. Not only will it not happen – it cannot happen. The arithmetic is unsound. It is also peculiar in the extreme that the industry is promoting better utilisation of slow dogs while simultaneously many folk are calling for a reduction in the number of races. How does that work?

Of course, that is not to say that other measures might not succeed – eg picnics, gymkhanas, coursing etc.

To a large degree, this approach parallels the poorly-researched plots to reduce “over-breeding”, which also cannot work because the underlying reasoning is faulty. (A reduction has been present for some years anyway, unbeknown to authorities, miscellaneous investigators and Greyhounds Australasia).

Quite simply, they have all got the answer wrong because they omitted to get the question right. As a result, resources are being allocated to the wrong objective, or in the wrong way.

Facts are better than opinions

Sadly, because the subject is important, I must get a bit personal about this, which is not my usual practice.

(1) The “Lone Widow” wrote in claiming that “They will not chase the FOL (finish on lure) in earnest unless they have been broken in as pups using the FOL. Hence the marked increase in dogs failing to chase lately”. There is absolutely no evidence to support those statements. It is codswallop. FTC figures fell during lengthy trials in both Adelaide and Brisbane – ie amongst experienced dogs. And what increase are we talking about now? I have not seen it. See (4) below.

(2) “Greyhounds will naturally chase game that runs along the ground”. What evidence is there for that statement? Why, then, would they chase bounding kangaroos or deer (for which there is hard evidence)? Anyway, normal lures do not run “along the ground”.

(3) “Close racing, compact fields are what makes greyhound racing”. Not in the eyes of viewers or punters, they don’t. No greater impediment exists in greyhound racing than from excessive interference. My guess is that more than 50% of that interference is due to the peculiarities of the track rather than the dogs. I recall a letter from a reader to the old QGRA Journal advising he had given away coming to Albion Park because he and his guests were “sick of watching 6 second races”. Multiply that a thousand times.

(4) “Bruce to my knowledge has never held a trainers licence, trainers do and should have an input Bruce!” Good guess. I could not train a dog to save my life. It is a job for professionals. At the same time I have yet to strike a trainer who seriously bothers to analyse in depth what is happening on the track – whether about times, falls, interference, dividends or whatever. For a start, my understanding is that training is a 24/7 job so they would not have the time. Nor are trainers’ views always reliable, as the Working Dog Alliance learned. However, that was not my point. Consultation is always desirable but allowing trainers alone to make the end decision is more than risky – it retards progress, as occurred in both Brisbane and Adelaide.

Work for the dole?

We must give Victorian stewards another run – see Race 5 at The Meadows on Wednesday.

“Stewards spoke to Ms. K. Bravo, the representative of Pearl’s Legacy, regarding the greyhound performing below market expectations”.

Much better that they employed a psychiatrist to find out why the “market” sent it out at $1.60. Pearl’s Legacy arrived with three wins from 19 starts. One was a slow 30.50 at the track several weeks ago; the other two were moderate wins at Dapto last August. That price was ridiculous.

Past Discussion

  1. Bruce, rather than I express an opinion here are some facts on the FOL (Is it all about the dollars?) The catching pen takes 3 attendants to operate $$$. With the FOL all you need is the lure driver. The catching pen has served us very well for 100 years and is not broken so why fix it.  With the FOL you have 8 dogs finishing on at full speed to get a piece of the action.  In the catching pen the lure is taken away and the dogs finish at half speed, if there is some jostling I know where I would rather have my dogs.
    In previous posts on track design you have pointed out the uncontrolled guess work that is obvious and I agree. You obviously do not agree that the FOL is the same?

  2. Bruce, rather than I express an opinion here are some facts on the FOL (Is it all about the dollars?) The catching pen takes 3 attendants to operate 18779$. With the FOL all you need is the lure driver. The catching pen has served us very well for 100 years and is not broken so why fix it.  With the FOL you have 8 dogs finishing on at full speed to get a piece of the action.  In the catching pen the lure is taken away and the dogs finish at half speed, if there is some jostling I know where I would rather have my dogs.

    In previous posts on track design you have pointed out the uncontrolled guess work that is obvious and I agree. You obviously do not agree that the FOL is the same?