VICTORIA’S contrived T3 racing system may well be just the tip of a very large iceberg.
You’ll recall that our recent article pointed out that 21% of all Victorian races were graded in the specialist T3 category, for which dogs qualify only if they have not already run faster than a nominated time for each distance.
We have now done a further check and learned that 57% of all T3 winners actually ended up running quicker than the qualifying time, some by quite a lot. That check covered 318 recent races at seven tracks over sixteen distances.
Arguably, although we have not done the calculations, it is probable that those race times were not too different to those in normal Grade 5 races.
The basic purpose of T3 racing was to offer more chances to slower dogs but it seems it has done not much more than complicate the normal grading system. No doubt there are more slow dogs out on the track but, equally obviously, they are not winning races and paying their way so what is the point?
In short, as with many other industry projects, certain measures have been adopted but nowhere can we see the results of those efforts – or not positive ones. Think Non Penalty races, newly built bend starts, distance bonuses, excessive prize money for a few top races, lots of premiums for maiden events, snap judgements on breeding, a shortage of decent stayers, inconsistencies between states, and a general lack of impetus for the national industry.
Victoria for many years produced between 9,000 and 10,000 races a year. But things changed substantially after 2010 when both NSW and Victoria upgraded some country meetings or added new ones to fill available slots in the TAB calendar. That included Saturday evenings, too, which did not help turnover at The Meadows and Wentworth Park, the nation’s highest rating meetings. The outcome is that in the 2015 year Victoria ran 13,494 races, many of which would be due to the new T3 category. That’s a jump of one third.
In this way, with help from the state government, Victoria managed to keep increasing its income, even though revenue per meeting (including in town) remained static. Greyhound racing did not become more popular – in the basic sense of the word – there was simply more of it. South Australia showed a similar trend.
In contrast, NSW with its financial woes (caused by an unfair share of TAB commissions) started reducing race numbers steadily between 2012 and 2015. A pattern of 14,000 to 15,000 races per year fell to only 12,422 in 2015. Further falls are in the pipeline, according to recent GRNSW media statements.
At the same time, Queensland racing is continuing its decade long fall in numbers in all categories. It is doubtful if Queensland knows what the question is, let alone the answers.
Overlaying these ups and downs is the question of how many NSW (and Queensland) dogs are migrating south. They keep popping up all the time but no statistics are available. Even so, they must be making a significant contribution to the rise in Victorian activity.
So while Victoria may be able to claim that T3 or other devices have allowed more dogs to compete, the national picture is not so cheery. Swings and roundabouts tend to cancel each other out. That is understandable as there has been a small but steady drop in litters whelped and dogs named over the last decade, meaning there are no more dogs to choose from unless you inject really slow ones into the mix. The non-winning T3 dogs are part of that mix.
So what are the impacts?
– On average, field quality has declined and therefore races are less predictable.
– Racetracks are poorly designed, so increasing interference, due to the absence of professional analysis and the domination of guesswork and opinion. Serious punters are not amused.
– In many cases, there is now little difference between investing on a dog race and throwing a few dollars in a poker machine as you walk past. The computerised Trackside does not help, either.
– When the public see a prancing stallion they smile and get a good feeling. When they look at a greyhound they sniff and walk away.
– Two of the three largest states are losing business.
– Grading systems are farcical – mainly because they have evolved on whims together with an urge from clubs to cater more for bottom level dogs (and their trainers). Almost every year someone dreams up a new way of classifying races.
– Regular changes to grading, operating policies and other racing rules mean we end up with ever-increasing complexities which require bigger and more costly bureaucracies to process them.
– The customer profile has degraded substantially over the last 15 years for many reasons but primarily because people have become disassociated from racetracks and the canine athletes which perform for them – all the while assisted by efforts from TABs to stuff extra product into the calendar. Any old product will do.
– Rarely do we hear a word – and certainly little action – about the marketing and development of the industry, which is a prime responsibility of state authorities.
– Happenings in 2015 meant that authorities have been besotted with welfare issues and supposed solutions, nearly all of which have been knee-jerk reactions, many misguided, while the business of racing has been pushed to the margins – or ignored.
That’s a lot to pin on a simple subject like T3 racing but that change is typical of the many measures holding back greyhound racing – not terrible in itself but contributing to the confusion while making it look like those in charge are actually doing something.
In reality, as the interim CEO at GRNSW pointed out a while ago, the biggest problem is “finance”. Yet that is just another way of describing the business of racing. Unfortunately, business nous is not a strong point of the bureaucracies which run racing, a quality which has not been recognised by all the high-priced consultants advising governments. Of course, without business profits (call them what you like) where will the industry get its funds to better service welfare issues? It’s a vicious cycle.
More worrying is that the industry has a very fine set of assets – good dogs, skilled trainers, a theoretically attractive product – which are being poorly utilised. What a waste!
We should ask all the Racing Ministers to forget about fine tuning and instead chuck out the lot and start again from scratch.