Too many cooks – and other matters

WIKIPEDIA may not always be completely reliable but on the subject of committees – a system which controls every aspect of Australian racing – it seems to have got it right.

“Design by committee is a disparaging term when a project has many designers involved, but no unifying plan or vision.”

It goes on, “the term is used to refer to suboptimal traits that such a process may produce as a result of having to compromise between the requirements and viewpoints of the participants, particularly in the presence of poor leadership or poor technical knowledge, such as needless complexity, internal inconsistency, logical flaws, banality, and the lack of a unifying vision.”

If you would like a more scientific basis for these thoughts, a study by the University College London points out that “People are incredibly bad at taking differences in competence into account when making group decisions. Even when we showed them exactly how competent they were, they still gave each other more or less equal say.” (The Times of London, reported in The Australian).

Or, as mentioned here previously, committees tend to seek the lowest common denominator and almost invariably avoid risk taking.

Is the world any different?

But are we always nice to dogs? One of the world’s leading dog shows – Crufts of the UK – has just featured the fatal poisoning of one top contender and serious illness in others. How bitchy can you get?

Once again, The Times offered its perspective.

“It’s strange, she says, to live in a nation of dog owners that mourns the passing of a single red setter while thousands of healthy dogs, some pedigree, are killed every year at the pound.”

“All breeders are sensitive about how maligned they have become since a 2008 BBC documentary revealed breed-standard perfectionists were mating brothers and sisters, daughters and fathers, or exaggerating desirable traits that damaged the health and shortened the life expectancy of breeds including bulldogs, ridgebacks, pugs, bloodhounds and german shepherds. The BBC dropped Crufts from its TV schedule soon after the program was shown. King argues the documentary was one-sided: “Breeders aren’t horrible, (it’s) jealous people who murder dogs.”

This somewhat parallels comments by the RSPCA and other animal groups at the NSW Inquiry recently. They were forever trotting out figures about greyhounds but were unable to provide similar information about other breeds, or even horses – many of which are well known to end up in animal feeds or, in Europe, butcher shops.

But even more important is the implied comparison with the greyhound breed where, like thoroughbred horses, the purity of the breed has been maintained for thousands of years (longer in the case of greyhounds). That can happen only because humans placed a high value on that breed.

Backing up

On a partly related matter, it was interesting to see Patrick Smith in The Australian (9 Mar) comment on the Sydney v Melbourne clash of Guineas events for three year olds. In part, that included this …

“Alpine Eagle’s finish, so remarkable and compelling in last week’s Autumn Classic at Caulfield, was slightly sluggish on Saturday by comparison (it finished second). Trainer Tony McEvoy thought it due to backing the horse up for two runs in seven days and coming back in distance from the 1800m of the Caulfield race.”

A “sluggish” performance at its second run in seven days is more or less how I described the run by Space Star in the Superstayers final. Some folk were critical of my assessment, which was based not only on repeat observations but also on career data for it and other dogs. However, they failed to offer any real evidence to the contrary.

Whether you are a horse, a dog or a human there is always an impact when you decide to do too much too soon. So, on the basis of all the dog histories I have analysed, a firm conclusion is that “trainers do not always know best”, as some readers claim. You can add Tony McEvoy to that list. But at least he admitted it.

Nationalise or bust

While on the Patrick Smith subject, he also took racing to task for the poorly devised programming that allowed those Guineas clashes to emerge. A major reason he offered was:

“There is no genuine desire to pull racing together under a national independent commission. And, it is true that the issues that must be overcome on that journey are volatile and complicated. For starters, how do you get the state governments to agree to common financial formulas?”

I can answer that last question very readily. The industry must demonstrate to governments that (a) racing is riddled with inefficiencies, (b) profits (ie taxes) would improve with bigger and more reliable pools, (c) rewards to participants would rise accordingly, and (d) customers would get a better deal. It is a no-brainer.

Unfortunately, I do not expect all the high powered reviews of greyhound racing to delve too far into this minefield. They will obviously seek to satisfy their separate paymasters and, so far, there is no indication that they will be comparing notes, one with another. It is also highly likely that GA will do little better as each state will be claiming it has local differences to cater for. More’s the pity.

Nonetheless, the clear shortfall in standards across at the three biggest states gives a hint that stronger and more effective management is needed to put greyhound racing on the right track. That can come only from an organisation that is totally independent of things such as “local differences”.

And then …

Finally, it was a little surprising to hear one reader complain that racing authorities should be working closer with animal-lover groups in order to avoid some of the catastrophic outcomes we read about now. That is a perfectly reasonable call but, according to all the statements and annual reports, it is supposed to be happening now. Apparently, it is just not being done well.

Past Discussion

  1. The purity of the greyhound breed has been maintained for thousands of years? I don’t think so. It’s well known that in the 18th century Lord Orford tinkered with cross-breeding in order to “improve” the greyhound breed. And if you go back far enough in the greyhound data pedigree database, it trails off in the early 19th century to “Unknown Dogs”. I don’t know how anyone can say with any confidence that today’s greyhounds are the same “pure” breed they were 300 years ago.

  2. The purity of the greyhound breed has been maintained for thousands of years? I don’t think so. It’s well known that in the 18th century Lord Orford tinkered with cross-breeding in order to “improve” the greyhound breed. And if you go back far enough in the greyhound data pedigree database, it trails off in the early 19th century to “Unknown Dogs”. I don’t know how anyone can say with any confidence that today’s greyhounds are the same “pure” breed they were 300 years ago.

  3. No problem with the greyhounds funding  a vote for welfare and a regulatory group attached to GRNSW providing services as long as these services  do not compete in an “over mature” market of adoption organisations providing services in animal adoption. The animal welfare adoption groups at the recent greyhound inquiry were uncomfortable about the close relationship between the GRNSW funding of adoptions schemes and the preference given to their own in house scheme.. 
    When the Government reforms came in allowing regulatory boards to, in some instances, take on commercial functions  there was a requirement to have a due process referred to as principles of competitive neutrality. That is that the function must be value for money and outside competition must be given a chance to compete.
    GRV signed up to observe  the above principles and statements to this effect appeared in previous annual reports.
    The possible non competitive nature of small agencies such as GRNSW providing commercial services problems is outlined in the sessional Committee of the Commonwealth Joint Committee of Public Accounts- Public Business in the Public Interest- Report 336 April 1995. (Forerunner to commercial arrangements including the TAB reforms 1997).

  4. No problem with the greyhounds funding  a vote for welfare and a regulatory group attached to GRNSW providing services as long as these services  do not compete in an “over mature” market of adoption organisations providing services in animal adoption. The animal welfare adoption groups at the recent greyhound inquiry were uncomfortable about the close relationship between the GRNSW funding of adoptions schemes and the preference given to their own in house scheme.. 

    When the Government reforms came in allowing regulatory boards to, in some instances, take on commercial functions  there was a requirement to have a due process referred to as principles of competitive neutrality. That is that the function must be value for money and outside competition must be given a chance to compete.

    GRV signed up to observe  the above principles and statements to this effect appeared in previous annual reports.

    The possible non competitive nature of small agencies such as GRNSW providing commercial services problems is outlined in the sessional Committee of the Commonwealth Joint Committee of Public Accounts- Public Business in the Public Interest- Report 336 April 1995. (Forerunner to commercial arrangements including the TAB reforms 1997).