Figuring out Queensland greyhounds

WE have had a couple of calls for the retention of breeding subsidies in Queensland. The stated reason is that current activity is too small to sustain the industry, especially in the long term. However, the argument is faulty on at least five grounds.

First, there is no direct evidence that subsidies actually promote more breeding. Certainly, they may help someone here and there but an isolated case does not justify the policy. For a start, all states apply such subsidies so the economic effects cancel each other out – ie other factors are more important to the bitch owner. As another example, Victoria long had such subsidies, often with boosts from the government (under premier Napthine). They have been cancelled recently but the state persists with races restricted to “VicBred” dogs. Despite all that there is no discernible evidence that breeding grew as a result. In fact, Victorian breeding fell 17% between 2003 and 2015.

Second, subsidies basically interfere with the normal operation of the market and therefore tend to distort prices. When they fail to meet objectives and their outcome is never assessed (as in Queensland or elsewhere) it becomes obvious that they are no more than political ploys, or at best “me-too-ism”.

Third, other things being equal, subsidies might convince some breeders to take less than ideal options for their bitches, thereby lowering the standard of the breed. Cheaper is not always best. In any event, the subsidy is but a tiny part of the overall cost of getting a dog to the racetrack.

Fourth, paying attention to a supposed short term fluctuation may well prove unprofitable in the long term. 2015 has been disruptive for non-breeding reasons but we do not know just how influential those factors have been.

Fifth, to blame current breeding patterns risks ignoring known long term issues facing Queensland. Indeed, none of the heavies conducting investigations into the local industry bothered to examine trends which have caused a decline which has been evident over more than a decade.

To begin with, let’s first note that Queensland statistics published by Greyhounds Australasia are only partially available for 2015 and there are serious aberrations in 2014 figures. Anyway, the basic position is that from 2003 to 2015 …

Meeting Numbers fell by 10.9%

Races fell by 7.9%

Starter Numbers fell by 2.6%

To some extent, the drops reflected the closure of several tracks (Gold Coast, Toowoomba, etc). Even so, they still comprise an overall decline in state activity. The situation would probably have been even worse if it were not for steady support from Northern NSW areas.

Then between 2003 and 2014 (2015 not available) …

Names allocated grew by 1.2%

Litters Registered grew by 38.6% (although that figure needs auditing as it is way out of kilter)

Whatever the accuracy of these figures, the broad picture is that (a) racing activity has declined in the long term and (b) breeding has maintained at least a fairly steady level.

In fact, relatively speaking, Queensland actually did better in the breeding stakes than Australia as a whole or in the two biggest greyhound states, NSW and Victoria. Of course, we do not know where those whelpings finished up but apparently not necessarily in Queensland if we take a line through the declining Starter numbers.

In The End

Put another way, Queensland greyhound racing is not as popular with participants as it needs to be. However, the one sure bet is that it is not breeding that is the cause. This is yet another reason why all those high-priced investigators went down the wrong track – or down no track at all except for their misguided, knee-jerk claims about over-breeding.

Nor is Queensland as popular with punters as it needs to be – evidenced by the flat or declining turnover on Ubet, which regularly attracts public criticism. In turn, some of that trend might be attributed to poor or non-existent marketing by both QGRA and different versions of Racing Queensland.

When you take all these things into account, the main worry is not the kerfuffles of the last year or two that are the real problems but the long term failure of racing administrators to recognise the issues and take remedial action.

I can only repeat what I have said before: racing needs managers, not administrators.

Politics rules

Another reader raised the matter that Ministers are supposed to allow racing authorities to work at arm’s length. Ha, ha.

Mate, the real message is never get between a politician and a voter.

Heaven calls

Still on the subject of welfare and dangerous tracks, Sandown reared its head yet again last Sunday.

Greysynd Hawk (R2) suffered a dislocated hock and was sidelined for 30 days. Zanpa Bale (R8) was not so lucky, fracturing its hock and being euthanised. Both incidents occurred as the dogs were coming out of the first turn and about to put pressure on to speed down the back straight. Zanpa Bale had been quite successful during its 60-race career, however it may have been a bit flat after racing three days earlier at Sandown’s main meeting.

Under the peculiar GRV rules, Zanpa Bale is now being shown as “Retired”. The retirement home in doggie heaven must be getting very crowded.

Lonely stayers

On the Stayers Cup heats at The Meadows last Saturday a few words cover the action. Star Recall, at its first distance attempt, did much better than I expected in running 42.32 (record 41.93). Others varied from fair to very ordinary. No Donuts ran a respectable race (42.52) but it still does not look like a genuine 700m dog.

So which one will back up in the final in seven days’ time? I suspect neither but Star Recall seems to have reserves that it can call on mid-race so you would have to plug for it.