THE evidence is there. Now we need to act.
The Gold Guide was just as much a part of greyhound history as Jack Woodward’s Greyhound Recorder and the Wigley’s deFax formguide. Maybe more so as it made a real attempt to spread the word about Victorian racing to other states. Copies were always available at Val Anglim’s Dog Shop (now a newsagency) in Devonshire Street near Sydney’s Central railway station. In those pre-expressway days, you could also pick up your deFax and head off to Gosford or Dapto on the 5pm train.
Time passed, yellow paper became too expensive so it turned white, a weekly newspaper emerged to accompany the guide, form coverage extended progressively to all states bar NSW, where the GRNSW/deFax combo jealously guarded the borders and then, in company with the times, it went digital as well so it mattered little where you lived.
Sadly, patriarch and founder Bill Pearson, himself a legend in greyhound racing, passed on and the sons shared the load. Around the same time, punters had started fading away, replaced by newcomers in pubs and clubs who knew little about the game and even less about how to read a formguide. SKY Channel, tipsters and Mystery bets ruled the roost, making mugs a valuable commodity. Corporate bookies jumped on the bandwagon, bringing in the often dubious Fixed Odds (soon copied by Tabcorp) and then selling out to overseas operators for squillions.
Now, the multi-state coverage from the NSW-prepared Ozchase formguides – free online – would have cut at the margins, although Gold Guide/National Greyhound Formguide was long backed by income from breeder advertising and preparation of wall sheets for various TABs. The latter have been in decline while the horror 2015 live baiting year would not have helped patronage from breeders.
Now, gold or otherwise, NGF is no more, leaving a large blank where punting knowledge was once dispensed. The formguide will not be replaced because the underlying demand from punters is a thing of the past. The king is gone, long live the king. The mobile device is now the be-all and end-all.
GRV’s formguides are easily the best of what’s left but still have a few faults. Ozchase guides have lots of information but are hard to read; pretty to look at but impracticable to use. Unlike the Gold Guide, they were designed by non-racing people. The Recorder is virtually unchanged from 20 or 30 years ago and lacks essential information like sectional times. Ditto for the deFax racebook on sale at the track. TAB wall sheets in NSW are prepared by contractor DFS – all horse people who made their gallops format serve for the dogs without real success. Perhaps it was because they changed all the track codes for some unknown reason. In total, a mixed bag really.
Does it matter? Well, yes.
Racing in general and greyhounds in particular may be unique in Australian commercial life in that they possess very few real customers and instead rely on funding from TABs and others to survive. Take no notice of figures for oncourse takings – it nearly all comes from trainers and their families. Offcourse income is now dominated by the above-mentioned mugs while a large slice of invested capital involves only existing owners and trainers moving blocks of cash back and forth amongst themselves. Top breeders do well while the rest scramble for the crumbs. In short, racing is controlled by others. It cannot lead, only follow. And it is fragmented anyway. Strong or any leadership is absent.
The cause of all this?
From the smallest club to the largest authority, greyhound racing is heavily introverted. They all exist to service trainers. Raceclubs are made up of trainers or ex-trainers and owners. Authorities see the same group as their purpose in life. At best, customers run a distant second, seldom attending the races and with an alarming predilection to have a quick stab at what’s on offer. Races may be short but customer attention is even shorter.
At the outset, even when Gold Guide started up, raceclubs dominated the scene, providing a dubious mix of tracks maintained mostly by working bees, and only occasionally disturbed by the bosses in town (who were often ex-trainers and ex-owners anyway). It was done “my way”.
Yet customers came in their thousands despite all that, fascinated by the glamour of the races and the ability to have a bet on the outcome. Indeed, at the time, the track was the only place you could have a bet legally.
For racing, the turn of the millennium actually came a decade early. By 1990 TABs and SKY Channel had radically changed the picture. Clubs no longer had to bother about customers as they could sit back and rely on the cargo cult operation of the TABs to send them a cheque every month or so. Often facilities started degenerating. Formguides became less essential and so circulation fell steadily. Gradually, dedicated fans dropped off or actually died without being replaced.
The Australian DNA still prompted many folk to have a bet and a beer after work. They got help from the rapid rise in technology and communications, resulting in a betting device they could slip into their pocket or a touchscreen they could use to support their favoured runner. For people bred to accept dumb poker machines, the fine points of racing no longer mattered. Having a bit of fun became their sole objective.
In fact, the difference between a poker machine and a greyhound race more or less disappeared – literally in the case of the Trackside machine. Following the numbers or choosing a favourite tipster became the norm. Just use your thumb rather than your brain.
It is little wonder that, in such a climate, the industry had no defence when disgraceful behaviour emerged in three states in 2015 and gave life to anti-racing causes and a myriad of newspaper headlines. Greyhound racing had few supporters outside the training ranks and so politicians were on a sure thing when they queried the natural right of racing to continue at all – a specific question asked of the Special Commission in NSW.
Formguides, which once formed the background for wider commentary on the sport, are all on a downward slide now. The failure of Gold Guide is just a symptom of the disease. What used to work no longer does so. Don’t try it again.
The only answer to all the trials and tribulations is to go out looking for new customers, promoting the history and the worth of the greyhound – the world’s greatest canine athlete. Massive change is the only option – in the product, in information, in management, in the care of the animal and in the way the industry educates and interacts with the public. Whatever you were doing five years ago is not working. So stop it and start again.