Time to go back to basics

WE ARE indebted to Robert Gottleibsen in The Australian (27 March) for a suggestion that could be worth millions for the racing industry. It comes (again) from the Sage of Omaha, Warren Buffet, who has an international reputation for profitable investments.

Briefly, Buffet, with help from his partner 3G Capital, is moving away from buying into under-valued companies and into badly managed ones. Once there, 3G “will implement the technique it used at Heinz called “zero-based budgeting”, an austerity measure that requires managers to justify every one of their spending plans from scratch every year.”

Managers must prepare each year’s budget starting with a blank sheet of paper. Then they enter the amount of cash, resources and people they need to complete their task, along with a justification for each project. No more taking last year’s figures and adding a bit.

So far, the technique has worded brilliantly. Burger King and Heinz are returning huge profits and they are now attacking Kraft. These are not small companies.

The approach could work wonders for raceclubs and state authorities which work under systems and structures 70 years old and are, in practice, never brought to account for what they do. Certainly, auditors check the arithmetic but not whether the spending was worthwhile. Rebuilding crook tracks with the same faults comes to mind. Another is subsidising already profitable breeders so as to compete with neighbouring states.

In a similar vein, why not go back to scratch with the Rules of Racing? For the most part they are about the same age as the creaking management systems and are under strain again as managers try to recover lost ground after the live baiting sagas.

To illustrate the point, here are some examples of rules which do not cut the mustard.

Family differences?

An obvious stampede in recent weeks has been the rush to upgrade state racing rules to overcome what can be described only as bumbling policies of the past – to wit, the ability to play musical chairs whenever a trainer is suspended. It was always a rort to allow the wife to take over from the banished husband, or vice versa. It indicated a system out of touch with reality, and concerned only with the looks rather than the substance.

Not just here but everywhere

The biggest clanger in the Australian racing rules would have to be the penalty for a fighter*. For the first offence it is suspended for 28 days, but only at the track where the offence occurred. But why only there?

There is not a shred of evidence to show that the track has anything to do with the act of fighting. A dog fights for one or more of three main reasons: (a) it has a head problem, (b) it is poorly trained or educated, or (c) it is injured. In practice, authorities would be doing everyone, including the dog, a favour by outing it at all tracks. At the least that would give the trainer more incentive to try to correct the problem.

No dough please

The next biggest clanger continues on from fighting penalties. Greyhound racing is the only one of the three racing codes, or any human sport, which does not disqualify, or at least relegate, a runner for fighting or comparable offence. Instead, the offender may well go on to win the race and collect the prize money while the victim gets nothing. Any subsequent penalty is too late for justice to be done.

This is a dumb rule. Absolutely dumb and unfair.

Boxing to win

I saw this again a couple of days ago, but it happens all the time.

Boxes 6 and 8 were emptied by scratchings and there was only one reserve. Where did they put it? In box 6, thereby making the start that little bit more crowded and dicey.

Two systems are in place around the country, one assigning reserves to boxes by ballot, the other by first-in best-dressed. Neither achieves the optimum outcome. So why not use a rule that already exists? For a field of seven (as above) National Rule 22 would leave box 5 vacant. The nearest answer to that in the subject race would be to leave box 6 vacant and put the reserve in box 8. The principle would be to always leave the worst box empty and create the best race possible.

Colour blind

Despite many pleas, no action has ever been taken to upgrade/improve/change greyhound rug colours – with the sole exception of the introduction of the green rug to replace the brown. (Although, long, long ago the nine used to have green spots rather than green stripes).

This despite considerable change over the years in broadcast techniques, track lighting and science generally. 99% of race viewers now do so via SKY or video replays. They are not there in the flesh. Even if they were, there are always some difficulties in identifying dogs at a distance, or in bad weather, or when the sun is coming from the wrong direction.

Make note of three points. Other international jurisdictions do not always follow the Australian example. Some do, some don’t. The availability of dayglo colours is always there, no doubt at increasingly cheaper prices. Even the basic clothing stores now stock them for workers’ jackets. And, while we are aware that authorities may have received advice from manufacturers, there is no evidence that professional colour consultants have been brought in. Remember that the manufacturer may know lots about his cloth but little about the circumstances in which the colours will be used.

Critical matters to examine would be (a) any confusion between red and pink, (b) similarities between 2, 3 and 9, particularly when worn by dogs having white in the mix, and (c) differences between the 4 and 6. In each of these cases they are fine when standing in front of the viewer but not so in the heat of battle in the back straight.

For a start, changing to dayglo green (6) and dayglo pink (8) would immediately help with those problems. However, I would bow to the expertise of a professional who really knows his colours.

Choices, always choices

Much like the laws of the land, racing rules always increase in number, never decrease. Nowhere is this more painful than in grading where trainers now have over 120 different options to pick from across all the states. In most jurisdictions grades 1 and 2 have almost disappeared, instead being replaced by Best 8s, Free-For-Alls or their equivalent.

Wins in many feature races no longer count at all when assessing a dog’s grade. Why so? Where is the logic?

At the bottom end the choices keep doubling as authorities and clubs pander to poor quality racers or, more correctly, to trainers of slow dogs.

To cater for the myriad of possibilities, authorities divert punters’ cash to pay for increasingly complex and expensive computer programs to sort out all the nominations, not only for local runners but also for dogs visiting from other states where different rules apply. This is bureaucracy gone mad.

Note

* I refuse to use what is apparently the politically correct term “mar” or “marring”. Some time back the word “fight” was removed from the racing rules. What we have now is incorrect English. Here are the respective definitions from the Macquarie dictionary. One is basically an outcome; the other describes the specific act.

“mar”: to damage, impair, ruin, disfigure, deface.

“fighting”: to engage in battle or in a single combat, attempt to defeat or subdue, or destroy an adversary, to cause or set (a boxer, dog, etc) to fight.

Please cross out one. And the next time you go out into the street and see a couple of dogs actually “marring”, write in and let us know.

Past Discussion

  1. Bruce, you keep banging on about poor quality dogs and races. Mate you don’t get it. Every single dog can run. Some much faster than others. It’s the grading system that makes the slower dogs uncompetitive and unwanted not the dogs themselves. If the dogs were graded against dogs of equal ability them maybe people would hang on to them a little longer and less would be PTS.
    The way the antis are going we should be coming up with grading systems to prolong the racing life of EVERY dog.
    Not be worried about the quality of the fields or there will be no fields.

  2. Bruce, you keep banging on about poor quality dogs and races. Mate you don’t get it. Every single dog can run. Some much faster than others. It’s the grading system that makes the slower dogs uncompetitive and unwanted not the dogs themselves. If the dogs were graded against dogs of equal ability them maybe people would hang on to them a little longer and less would be PTS.

    The way the antis are going we should be coming up with grading systems to prolong the racing life of EVERY dog.

    Not be worried about the quality of the fields or there will be no fields.