The two sides of Sandown greyhound racing

IF Sandown’s provincial meeting last Sunday is any guide the next generation is coming along nicely – never mind some naysayers guessing that over-breeding is a big problem and should be cut back (let’s wait for proper figures before drawing that conclusion).

10 of the 11 515m winners at Sandown comfortably broke the 30 second mark, led in by that smart country performer Pantera Nera with 29.29. The track was only slightly on the quick side, according to my calculations.

Smart times were also noted over the 500m trip in Maiden and Grade 7 races at Bendigo a couple of days earlier.

Poor foundation for policy making

Continuing on from my previous comments about the waffly nature of GRV’s publicity about its trial track Workshop, colleague Kat Ernst related more wisdom from highly respected trainer Rob Britton. However, it was mostly limited to generalities and things Victoria “should be” doing and the need for “support” for existing facilities (ie subsidies). No practical suggestions there.

We wish GRV better luck with its upcoming Engagement Workshop on track design, set up for next Sunday at The Meadows. However, it must be noted that the panel is wholly comprised of people responsible for building and maintaining those same tracks. But will they critique their own work? If so, why has that not happened previously? Sandown and The Meadows tracks are now over 15 years old in their current format (save only for the addition of a dicey 595m trip at Sandown) and both have issues – Sandown at its first turn and The Meadows due to its ultra-high bias favouring inside dogs. Perhaps some independent thinking would be more helpful?

Separately, these two tracks have for 20 years been at the top of the list of average winning dividends in Australia. That is, punters cannot work them out too well either.

The most recent job list in Victoria involved two major programs – rebuilding most of the state’s one-turn sprint distances and installing or modifying middle distance trips. The sprints are still generally high-interference in practice. For example, falls occurred at 11 of the last 20 meetings at Shepparton, on three occasions involving more than one race. That seems a lot.

All the longer trips (except Warragul) start on top of a nearby turn with the expected crash and bash outcomes. In one case, a trouble free start – Bendigo 700m – was replaced by a much scarier one for 660m. Then Warrnambool’s 680m trip was cut back to 650m for unknown reasons. Ballarat’s re-built 550m start is possibly the roughest of them all.

Meanwhile, back at Sandown yet another broken hock was recorded, this time for experienced racer Ima Lonely Boy. It occurred at the usual spot as it was coming out of the first turn. As tarsal injuries have been under study at GRV for years now we have asked them what action is being taken to remedy the problem.

To point the way, there seems to be three areas which warrant investigation: (1) track layout, (2) genetic factors and (3) early education practices. All are relevant to the current big push to improve welfare.

Of course, the thing to watch in all these welfare discussions is partly the priorities attached to various programs and partly the foundations on which they are based. Take, for instance, GRV’s top three welfare objectives – as listed in its draft Development Strategy for 2016-19.

First, “Preventing excessive breeding”. This term has not been researched or defined by the Integrity Commissioner or the state’s Chief Vet whose reports form the base for current policies. Yet Australian breeding has been in decline for over a decade and recent (sensible) moves to stop the use of aged dams will further cut the numbers. There is no excess. We are being told to prevent something that is not happening. Indeed, short field numbers are already evident across the nation, thereby discouraging customers to bet.

Second, “Reducing premature deaths …”. Well, re-homing programs, GAP and the like are desirable, of course. But this is not a welfare matter. Rather, as many professional people have pointed out, it is a social issue. It is also a routine process in all animal breeds, including gallopers.

Third, “Optimising the use of the racing greyhound population” implies either that more slow dogs should be kept in work or that the existing batch should race more often. The former option will degrade the product, thereby endangering the code’s income and viability while the latter is anti-welfare as it prompts over-racing, and so risks animal health.

In short, policies are emerging before the facts are known and without properly considering all the potential outcomes.

The source of it all is political grandstanding following adverse publicity of live baiting. It has not been helped by nonsensical proposals from Greyhounds Australasia calling for a 40% reduction in activity, an idea that would destroy the entire industry.

Western struggle

WA has once again altered its grading policy following “complaints … that “classy” greyhounds hung around too long in Grade 5 company and that there is not enough of a spread of greyhounds … in Grade 4 company and above”. The ability to win three Grade 5 races has been reduced to two.

GWA had previously eased its qualifications for imported dogs after having difficulty filling fields for higher grade races.

Not the right view at all

On the question of videos, one of the stewards’ mums wrote in, rudely querying my call about interference to Brazen Bomber at Sandown a while ago (Race 3, 12 May). As usual, I never make these calls without multiple checks of the film. In fact, I was right again, mum was wrong.

Brazen Bomber (4) was edging left a little and actually checked off the hindquarters of the two dog. At the same time Sailaway Jackie (6) was whizzing down the centre of the track, without having touched Brazen Bomber (or v.v.). It did not get to the rail at that stage (as claimed), but did so down the back straight.