People Power Potential In Toowoomba?

Queensland is again in the news as an inquiry gets under way into how $150 million worth of contracts for racecourse improvements was processed by the previous Racing Queensland organisation under Bob Bentley. Judge Margaret White says the industry “has been mired in controversy for decades” and is seeking views and documents from some 90-odd sources.

Just as topical is the rapid progress of a new jumbo jet-standard airfield at Toowoomba, privately owned by a wealthy family, to handle passenger and cargo business emerging from Bowen Basin mining and gas activity. With its 165,000 population the city is a major service point for the region.

Also at Toowoomba, the cushion track at the gallops has seen its last race and will be replaced immediately by a more satisfactory turf track to keep the local club happy and boost TAB turnover. Punters and trainers never liked the cushion surface. Cost of the changeover is estimated at $20 million, a matter which also happens to be part of the above judicial inquiry.

Meantime it appears that any renewal of Toowoomba’s greyhound facility – arguably once the best of its type in the country since Harold Park, and superior to Parklands on the Gold Coast – is not getting a mention, despite SEQ’s crying need for a one-turn track. Toowoomba’s 457m trip once attracted some elite racers while its 555m trip had to be the best middle distance race anywhere. The latter started from a kind of mini-shute just off the track proper, unlike the awkward bend starts that proliferate today.

Lack of patronage was blamed for the track’s closure yet the massive investments going into the region must surely lead to more economic activity and further population increases.

The Darling Downs is a normally prosperous farming region yet the investment of $100 million in a new airport, together with plans for other industrial developments, indicate a much broader base for the future. I am not normally an advocate for more greyhound tracks but this one has history and it is a no-brainer that progress is on the way. It should not be ignored and could well replace.low quality efforts elsewhere.

Finances in Queensland are not brilliant yet there is a time when you have to pick up the ball and run with it, just as the AFL expanded into western Sydney and the ARL is again looking at Perth and Wellington in New Zealand. The point is that national coverage in itself is a priceless asset – an economic multiplier. By all means get rid of unnecessary duplications but don’t miss out on big population centres. People, not just dogs, are what will make the industry go forward.

MAKING LIFE TOUGH

Very shortly, WA will be joining the NSW-hosted group in the Ozchase data processing facility, offering greyhound form and race results amongst other things. SA and Tasmania are already there and Queensland is expected to join by the end of the year.

That leaves Victoria to do its own thing as it has no intention of joining up. Just as well, too. The GRNSW system is easily the most unfriendly service ever devised in racing. It voluminous fields lists and formguides are completely impractical to use while both those and the results pages are messy to print out and impossible to download effectively. In both cases, GRNSW had the bright idea of telling its computer to delete all box numbers on the way, apparently to ensure that thieves could not get hold of complete data. Customers are now common-rated with thieves.

Victoria has no such problems and offers a far more usable and better designed service for both. All its tracks offer plenty of sectional times, too. And, ironically, WA already had a superior service of its own, one which could well have become a national standard.

Overall, the NSW-based practice will end up with the major part of the code’s Australian operations constituting a major barrier to the development of new customers. How could this happen? It needs to be reversed urgently.

LOW AND LOWER

Wentworth Park’s third meeting of the week has got under way under the “C” class banner, with lowered prize money and a sprinkling of 280m squibs’ races in each program.

No reason has ever been advanced for this venture. The GBOTA website is blank on this subject. Presumably, GRNSW and GBOTA cooked up a deal behind the scenes.

It is hard to see any positives coming out of it as the Monday meeting in town simply replaces a provincial one and is likely to attract no additional interest, except perhaps for trainers who want to give their charges some experience at headquarters.

The first meeting had Win pools of around $10,000, which is normal, except for smaller pools for the silly 280m jump outs.

Whether the public will be impressed by the innovation is also an open question. Trainers of slow dogs won’t mind, though. In total, the state’s new racing calendar includes more TAB races but there are no more dogs to use them so the arithmetic is puzzling.

The Wenty deal amounts to almost a carbon copy of Melbourne’s Non-Penalty meetings which started over a decade ago, also with no particular objective in mind. However, the outcome was to rob provincial meetings of many of their starters, thereby enforcing an across-the-board downgrade of field quality around the state. It’s amazing how one here and one there can end up making a big difference.

Those NP meetings also commenced with below-provincial prize money, as in NSW, but were soon raised to parity and the frequency doubled, which then did further damage to provincial fields.

It is impossible to see the point in robbing Peter to pay Paul. It is hard to tell in today’s overcrowded calendar but it must also have had some effect on the continuing decline in average race turnover.

AND FINALLY …

My suggestion last Monday that a spot like Maitland would benefit from a concerted community-wide project to modernise and better utilise the huge showground area comes into focus when reading a comment by Max Presnell of Fairfax Media about a prominent Argentinian gallops club.

“San Isidro has 8,500 members with two meetings every week on two “lawn tracks”. As well, hundreds of amateurs use its two golf courses … seven polo fields, tennis courts and swimming pools.”

I wish!