Racing Minister to hold NSW’s purse strings?

IN AN unusual turn, NSW Racing Minister Troy Grant seems to be adopting a new approach to managing the racing industry.

The Minister’s statements reported by Fairfax (April 15) suggest that the government is certain to ease the tax burden on NSW racing to bring it more into line with rates in Queensland and Victoria. A decision in principle seems to have been made with the details to follow when the new state budget is announced.

But there are provisos. The government will not give the cash directly to the racing codes but instead favours a system whereby it keeps control and allocates funds only if the purpose suits its own ideas – specifically to cater for “sustainability and infrastructure”.

This marks a radical change from the longstanding policy of allowing the racing codes to operate “at arm’s length” from the government – as regularly claimed by successive Ministers.

This takes the Minister’s thinking down two possible routes. Either he believes the government can do a better job itself or he has given up hope of the industry (ie GRNSW) spending its money wisely. Whatever the reasoning, the outcome is that a reduction in the tax rate will not really put NSW on an even keel with Victoria, where the authority not only makes up its own mind about expenditure but also obtains nice grants from the government every so often (in recent times for track building and breeding subsidies).

So Victoria’s income is X-Plus while NSW’s is mooted to be Y-Minus. This adds up to an improvement in the GRNSW capital account but is no help to the week to week profit and loss account – the one interim CEO Paul Newson has been concerned about.

The prospect of the government running anything to do with a commercial enterprise is not encouraging. Generally, they have poor track records. It is also contrary to COAG principles agreed to by all states. At the same time, much of GRNSW’s capital spending has been badly planned. Notably, millions of dollars have gone into big upgrades of tracks at Newcastle, Gosford, Richmond, Goulburn and Dapto yet all ended up with flawed layouts which produced high interference levels (Newcastle, Gosford and Goulburn) or maintained pre-existing faults (Richmond and Dapto). Smaller amounts have gone into changes at Wentworth Park, Bathurst and Maitland which produced no improvement at all – mostly the reverse.

As an aside, note that Dapto’s major issue is that the 520-metre boxes are positioned hard up against the line of the running rail. The result is that dogs coming out of boxes 1 and 2 tend to veer to the right, thereby adding to interference risks. Even worse are the starts at Goulburn 457-metres and Lismore 520-metres where the inside dogs actually have to shift to the right to avoid crashing into the upcoming rail. Equally, Casino, which has just been converted from grass to loam at great expense, saw no change at all to its bend starts, so an opportunity was missed there.

The totality of these investments is a terrible waste of money.

So which is the frying pan and which the fire? Surely it is plain that a competent racing authority should have the ability to create state-of-the-art track designs when the opportunity arises. Sadly, this is one of the greatest single failings of the Australian industry, and one which necessarily discourages keen punters from taking part. However, it is hardly likely that a government department would do any better. It is a professional challenge which should be tackled only by experienced professionals. Regretfully, there are none of those because no-one has ever bothered to study the subject properly. But it could be done.

All of which is why the outcome of all the reviews will be so vital. What sort of authority will NSW end up with? Or any other state for that matter?

Keeping track of figures

Two odd incidents occurred recently.

At Wentworth Park last Saturday Zola Icon fell at the first turn and took no further part in the race. It was badly injured and given a ticket for 90 days. The stewards report correctly stated “Fell FTF”. However, the race report, prepared by the club and then recorded in the GRNSW system, showed only “FTF”. So the official statistics will fail to include it in the count of fallers, which is an obvious error.

Over at Gawler in SA last Sunday, Emerley Wizard did a nice job of winning a Veterans 400-metre race, taking the lead early and running away with it. However, neither the race report nor the stewards report showed what happened next. After passing the post the dog collapsed and died. Here is how its career record ended up on GRV’s FastTrack program:

EMERLEY WIZARD

1,7,30.40000,400,GAW,R9,12/04/2015,22.9,22.42,3.50,UNO OSCAR (23.12),8.86,4111,4111VDECEASED,10.9,SNP,

For the same run, the GRNSW Ozchase entry (which would be supplied by GRSA) made no comment at all about the death. Nor is there any record of why the death occurred, which you would assume would be an urgent task for the SA stewards and vets.. In fact, any owner or trainer would be interested in an explanation

How often these sorts of things happen is unknown but it casts doubt over the worth of greyhound statistics and the integrity of reporting procedures.

Still no improvement

Stewards Report, Race 6, Sandown, 16 April.

“Crackerjack Burn (7) and What’s Chewing (6) crossed to the rail approaching the first turn checking Fuelish (3), Voight (2), Cuervo Shot (1), Kayda Shae (4) and severely checking Midnight Ride (5).”

Not true. Crackerjack Burn checked nobody as it was well clear. What’s Chewing may have leant slightly on the inside dogs but the impact was not substantial. And Midnight Ride was the real cause of the interference as it moved towards the rail straight after the jump – thereby checking itself, not the other way round.