Sometimes it is easy to get caught up in the bubble of the localised greyhound world, with usually the same people with the same team of dogs showing up at the tracks and trials each week. Since the inception of the tote, and then later live televised racing, the racetrack itself has lost much of its appeal to those not directly involved with the day-to-day operations.
It has now got to the point where it can almost feel isolating being there, watching those transport greyhounds to the same empty tracks several times per week. Also, with the relationships between owner and trainer growing more distant, remembering the public impact that trainers/handlers can is now truly hard to recognise.
As the Nationals approaches each year, we do get that awakening that the Australian greyhound industry is really all one entity, and not made up of spasmodic clusters of people working kilometres apart.
However, one thing that we all probably fail to realise is the far reaching audience that our sport can attract. Technology is a wonderful thing nowadays, and folks from far and wide have the capacity to be exposed to things they weren’t ten years ago. This is something that may seem very hard to perceive for those putting on the lead and collars each and every day.
Last week, I was in a local casino in Queenstown, New Zealand spending time away on holidays. As I weaved my way through the rows of pokies, a small monitor near the bar caught my eye, as thankfully, there were the Australian greyhounds being shown. Once I had perched myself comfortably down to watch the Victorian final of the National Sprint, two gentlemen next to me laughed how a greyhound could be named after a world class soccer player, Cesc Fabregas.
Of course we now know that Fabregas indeed won the race, which for those connected with the greyhound would have been quite the thrill. However, watching those two gentlemen, thousands of kilometres away, get the same excitement from a sport they most likely know nothing about is something we all take for granted.
For the sport to survive long term we all need to remember that in the end, we are in essence, selling a product. For trainers to have dogs, they need owners to supply and fund. For owners to win prizemoney to do so, they need punters to gamble. For punters to gamble there needs to be a professional, reliable and entertaining product in which to showcase, not only to those at the track, or to the television audience in Australia, but something that the world can be attracted to.
Even this very column and website contributes to the display of the product. Last week I had a gentleman from Germany send me an email in response to an article relating to the career endings of Goosebumps and He’s My Future. He simply wished to know what happens to dogs off the track, as the welfare laws in Germany indirectly prohibited the racing of dogs. While I am not the most experienced person in the process of GAP or breeding, I felt the obligation to tell him all that I knew in an accurate and honest fashion, or else point him in the direction where he could fill in the blanks. Why? Because here is somebody in a country that has little to no exposure to the sport except maybe that article he read on this site, and if we, as a whole, can present a great impression from the start, than who knows where it may lead. Every great journey begins with a small step, remember.
So I can’t help but wonder whether we take enough small steps to promote our product from the base up. Should on-course dress codes be reviewed? Are we doing enough to profile our top-end trainers/owners? Are we heading in a direction that sees Australian greyhound races feature international interests? I read with disappointment the debacle that faced two of our great trainers when they tried to contest the Irish Derby last year. Looking at how horse racing has done a great job creating a win-win for overseas racing; Black Caviar and Ortensia’s victories showcase the strength of this country, while the international carnivals get their attention focussed back here.
Sadly, our code is still one stop behind on that train. Some may not think that growing the sport across borders would really be that cost-effective or beneficial as a whole, but from what I can see, the wheels are already in motion. It may just need a little further push from administrators. But for now, all we can do is remember that the simple things at track level matter when being put on the world’s stage.