Don’t Follow The Croquet Mob

Just recently, I have been exchanging views with a forward thinking club manager about practical subjects.

To help with that, I stood back and made some notes about the state of greyhound racing – mostly for my own benefit to clarify my thoughts.

However, this is a matter which warrants more public debate so I am repeating those thoughts here and hoping that more people can write in and share their views.

Here they are.

There are two long term issues that impact on today’s racing operations.

  • 1.
  • (a) Clubs and authorities cater for trainers, not customers. That’s a costly approach. You risk ending up like croquet with lots of hardy players and no spectators.
  • (b) Notwithstanding that point, the industry has great assets which can be better optimised – in human skills in breeding and training, as well as in numerous supporting services.
  • 2. For 20 or 30 years breeders have been progressively favouring sprinting sires – Head Honcho, Brett Lee etc – and bypassing those that can stay, with just the odd exception.

That leads logically to the next steps.

  • 3. An increasing proportion of the greyhound population is sprinter-oriented. Some might get 500m but many will not. That’s always been the case but it is accentuated now. (A greyhound’s peak speed is attained, on average, over about 435m).
  • 4. As trainers develop their dogs they find that they need more races for dogs capable of only 400m and sub-400m trips.
  • 5. Clubs and authorities have reacted not only by adding lots of new 400s, mostly with messy bend starts, but also by introducing 300/350m races where not already available, or by increasing their number (Albion Park, Grafton, Dapto, ACT, Mandurah, while even Wentworth Park 280m is in prospect again. Heaven forbid! Why can’t they leave these to the Jack Russells?).
  • 6. Simultaneously, NSW and Victoria have promoted crook dogs by offering more money for Class C and Tier 3 races (ie more than country levels). To one degree or another, those dogs have now infiltrated the old Grade 5 ranks, and so on up the line.
  • 7. By default, TABs have taken control of customers and now concentrate on lottery-like products with high potential dividends. They believe they are competing with the poker machines next door. And they are probably right.

The outcomes are unavoidable.

  • 8. Average field quality is declining and, with it, the quality of the customers.
  • 9. Few genuine stayers are available and those that are there are mostly plodders. Staying races are being won by good 600m dogs like Irma Bale – Flashing Floods – Bentley Bale. Miata was not designed; she was an accident (Bombastic Shiraz never went past 535m).
  • 10. Authorities are pushing staying races to encourage that sector but all they are getting are dogs that are no good over shorter trips.
  • 11. Breeding incentives are offered on a state by state basis, rather than to plug holes in the genetic makeup. In any event, there is no evidence the incentives achieve anything.
  • 12. Clubs end up with a strong demand for squibs races. Trainers have to get money somehow.
  • 13. Industry profitability is being sustained (or sometimes not) by structural changes in government-controlled sharing of betting commissions, rather than by enhancing the nature and presentation of the product.

Solutions

  • 14. Halve the prize money for 400m and sub-400m races and increase them for races over 600m and beyond. Then wait.
  • 15. Divide the provincial structure into premium and other, with corresponding prize money, so as to create more good races for genuine punters. Remove any “others” from peak viewing times.
  • 16. Non Penalty and Novice city races are illogical and/or non-productive. Get rid of them or chop prize money in half and turn the balance over to premium provincial clubs. If numbers run short, cut out the 11th and 12th races – 10 is plenty.
  • 17. Allocating half a million dollars to a single race or series is economic nonsense – cut it back and boost premium provincial clubs instead.
  • 18. Study the genetics and provide direct incentives for sires which have the best chances of producing hardier dogs. Carefully monitor the results, but it won’t happen overnight.
  • 19. Cater for customers rather than trainers. The industry has the cart before the horse. Only owners and customers bring money into the sport so the better they fare the more cash will be available in the end to trainers and other workers.
  • 20. Fix the tracks, particularly the starting positions. Barely two or three in the country are professionally satisfactory and I suspect that even those occurred by accident. Serious studies are needed.
  • 21. Create a national betting pool. Betting into pools of $5,000 to $10,000 is a gamble, not a punt (do you know that race 12 at Sandown last Thursday pulled in only $5,545 on the NSW Win tote?).
  • 22. Create more opportunities for dogs which are not suited to mechanical hare racing on the circle, starting with more coursing activity. (If 600m and 700m dogs can race in the middle of summer, why can’t coursers, judiciously managed?).

In passing, despite their current fame, note that the Wheeler camp went through a longish period a few years ago when very few of their dogs could get the 500m and many were fading over 450m. They regrouped and eventually returned to their present dominant position. Others could do that, too, so perhaps the dam line is one to watch as well. Thank you, Emiline Bale.

And it is little consolation that the thoroughbreds are suffering from many of the above problems, mostly self-inflicted – and are doing equally little about them. Their share of the gambling market is declining more than most but all racing has failed to hold its own over the last 20 years.

So there you have it. Comments welcome.

A Related Note

SBS has been running a series of programs titled “The Farm Fixer” which involves a business-marketing guru going out to battling small farms in Ireland and advising them on ways to upgrade, widen their business outlook and achieve prosperity. It’s well worth a look. It may still be available online but a DVD of the series is on sale anyway. If I was running the Australian Racing Commission I would certainly hire the guy and get him out here for a year to do the rounds of clubs and authorities. The dividends might be huge.

And, no, he is a bit old to play for the Swans.