Racing integrity should be a non-political subject

THE newly proposed Victorian Racing Integrity Unit involves putting stewardship and related functions for all three codes under the one roof, thus separating them from each code’s administration. It follows a report by Paul Bittar to the Racing Minister. The Wagga-born Bittar has previous experience in horse racing administration in Britain and New Zealand as well as in Victoria.

The respective codes are now considering how to respond to the government’s plans but, in any event, implementation is likely to take up to two years.

I have often written about the worth of separating integrity from other functions, generally coming down in favour of sticking with the status quo, especially as Victoria already has an independent Commissioner (Sal Perna) able to look into certain breaches.

It comes down to whether a new system would better overcome the spate of irregularities which have plagued racing in recent times – ie live baiting, drugs (cobalt) and race fixing. Just how that would be judged is not stated.

Bittar’s preference is plain. However, it still begs the question of why those irregularities occurred in the first place. Were racing bosses incompetent? Under-resourced? Misled? Poorly organised?

So far, investigators have made clear that much of the Victorian live baiting problem was caused (or made worse) because of (a) not enough staff and (b) inadequacy of inspection regulations. So staff attitudes and skills have not really been called into question. Not substantially. In fact, more than one review has said the opposite.

Indeed, the only real point made in favour of separation is that it would be “seen” to be better. Whether it would or not is conjecture. Certainly, the Victorian Chief Vet’s claim that integrity and market functions are better separated is no more than an assertion – without solid backing or evidence, and coming from someone with a public service background, not a commercial one.

My own view is that a small degree of internal separation is probably useful but it should not remove the task from the oversight of the man in charge, and therefore from the need to establish and promote a desirable culture and a common objective for the whole industry. After all, they are all supposed to be promoting the same product. If the boss can’t achieve that, sack him and get someone who can.

Anyway, this business of making poorly-backed assertions is often taken too far. For example, take this Paul Bittar quote, as published in the Herald Sun:

“At the same time there has been a range of issues in Victorian racing that, rightly or wrongly, have resulted in a loss of public confidence in the integrity services functions and systems overseeing the sport. These factors led the minister to seek to have the review undertaken.”

This is yet another assertion, supported only by raucous newspaper headlines. I ask: What loss of confidence? Who says so? How was that information obtained? There is no backing for the claim, other than odd cries from people with vested interests. And the public continue to invest their hard-earned in much the same way as they did previously. (Notwithstanding the heavy growth in sports betting at racing’s expense – albeit from a small base. And those sports are certainly not free of abuses anyway (viz drug use, match fixing, salary caps, crowd behaviour, tanking, etc).

It all reminds me of an announcement by a NSW Minister that he had authorised installation of extra CCTV cameras in Sydney trains to combat vandalism. To which the shadow Minister responded that it was a disgrace that the Minister had allowed such vandalism to occur. Such is politics.

Any excuse will do

I note quite a few people blaming live baiting and new breeding regulations for a shortage of nominations for the upcoming Ipswich Maiden series. Not likely! Eligible breeding would have been well under way before any impact of those two matters.

Rather, it illustrates three shortcomings in Queensland; first, the negative trends over the last 15 years or so; second, the failure of management to recognise those trends and take remedial action; and third, the abject failure of a succession of inquiries, reviews and investigations to uncover useful information about the underlying nature of the industry. In the last case, Queensland taxpayers, punters and others have forked out several millions of dollars without achieving a useful result. Or any result, really. We have learnt nothing.

Perhaps I could add a fourth item; the near total absence of decent marketing of the greyhound racing product. How long has it been since Flying Amy’s name was stuck on some buses? How long since the industry actually went out and asked the public what it thought about greyhound racing (Hint: 1994, a survey by Ernst & Young)? Then there was (is?) RQ’s totally ineffective WeRunAsOne campaign for all three codes. Hardly anyone supported it and even fewer managed to keep it current. A dud.

Unfortunately, all the above will be hard to fix while the state government in the background continues to deliver poor economic outcomes, including the latest plot to rob the superannuation till and promise to pay it back later. (Has it also used up the $10 million promised after the takeover of the Gold Coast track?) On top of that, after noting that small committees of management did not work well in racing, the government is about to appoint an even larger committee – an action which will further slow down decision-making and push the lowest common denominator closer to the floor.

Mal Meninga is a proven doer and might have a little spare time now so how about making him the racing supremo, with some expert advice from Alfie and the Walters brothers?

Less talk, more action please

More sad news from Shepparton where two races were spoiled by falls last Monday – a fairly common occurrence there.

In Race 4 Annaley Nae Nae came down as it tried to get through on the rail on the turn. There was not quite enough room and so it fractured its front leg and was euthanised.

Later in Race 11 Little Mix also hit the dirt as the field was racing tightly on the turn. It survived.

The big question in both cases is whether use of the hooped lure would have encouraged runners to stay further apart and therefore avoid some falls. Possibly? Probably? GRV has now been trialling the hooped finish-on-lure since last August, including at Shepparton. After eight months surely it now has more than enough information to make a decision – certainly on the lure type if not on the finish-on bit.

One worry is that action is being stalled by opposing views in the trainers’ camp, as was the case in both Brisbane and Adelaide. No doubt the point came up at the “track design” talkfest last Sunday at The Meadows. However, let’s remember that, no matter how good they are at their day jobs, trainers have no special expertise in track design. Consultation is always good but the exercise is primarily an engineering task, after which management alone should be responsible for making the decision.

By comparison, footballers will quickly tell you if the playing surface is no good but would not be competent to tell you how to fix it. Formula 1 drivers are supremely skilled but few could tell you how to design the car – they could only advise. Top golfers know how to read greens but can only guess at how to maintain the grass. So, too with cricket pitches or tennis courts, etc, etc.

Past Discussion

  1. Produce some figures that prove your ridiculous assumption that breeding losses are not responsible for Ipswich woes, mate you are off target of course the lack of breeding is main cause.

  2. Produce some figures that prove your ridiculous assumption that breeding losses are not responsible for Ipswich woes, mate you are off target of course the lack of breeding is main cause.

  3. Bruce, better brains than ours have been trying to eliminate interference in greyhound racing for 100 years. In the UK they decided to run the lure on the outside of the track instead of the inside and still get interference. The only way to eliminate most interference is to go back to straight track racing like Healsville, Capalabah, or bring back Appin, the old Richmond straight or even Wyong (none of which will happen)
    Another cause of interference that i have not heard discussed is kickback. I regularly have the club vet remove clods of sand from beneath the eyelids of my dogs after a race, i am sure they simply can’t see where they’re going.
    On your favoured hooped lure, it will move the interference to the middle of the track not eliminate it. Engineers can design it but what does that have to do with anything? I think it is an abomination and a pox on the spectacle. Which is important.

  4. Bruce, better brains than ours have been trying to eliminate interference in greyhound racing for 100 years. In the UK they decided to run the lure on the outside of the track instead of the inside and still get interference. The only way to eliminate most interference is to go back to straight track racing like Healsville, Capalabah, or bring back Appin, the old Richmond straight or even Wyong (none of which will happen)

    Another cause of interference that i have not heard discussed is kickback. I regularly have the club vet remove clods of sand from beneath the eyelids of my dogs after a race, i am sure they simply can’t see where they’re going.

    On your favoured hooped lure, it will move the interference to the middle of the track not eliminate it. Engineers can design it but what does that have to do with anything? I think it is an abomination and a pox on the spectacle. Which is important.