So Far – No Plans, Few Dollars

Queensland is still finding it hard to avoid the quicksand. CEO of the recently formed Racing Queensland Limited authority will be Darren Condon, who gets promoted from the role of CEO of the thoroughbred’s Brisbane Racing Club. Chairman Kevin Dixon also hails from the gallops and owns a prominent stud farm, so it all sounds very friendly. Very sound, Sir Humphrey would have said.

Simultaneously, Racing Minister Steven Dickson has just advised a Parliamentary Estimates Committee that racing will be $30 million in the red this financial year. He plans to attack that problem by doing a better deal with Tatts, whose contract is up in mid-2014. Dealing with an entrenched monopoly is never easy, although a shift to a national betting pool could be the light at the end of the tunnel. Good luck with that.

At the moment, amongst many other pressing jobs, the Dickson/Dixon alliance has to find $7 million to fix the Toowoomba cushion track, upwards of $15m for a new grandstand at Albion Park, probably over $20m for a new greyhound complex at Logan or wherever, over $1m for a study of a new thoroughbred/greyhound joint venture at Ipswich, another $1m-$2m to handle the judicial inquiry into alleged contract mishandling by the previous administration and whatever it costs to handle a supposed takeover of Border Park from NSW. The last one is almost certainly pie in the sky, of course, but will need lots of lawyers to study the possibilities. All this will be done in a state which is short of funds anyway.

Minister Dickson, you might remember, is the author of the extraordinary four-board structure now in place – one for each code and one in charge of everybody. Like the new CEO, the majority of those board members have long had key roles within a declining industry before getting their current gigs. They have form. Even so, the Minister wants them to be bright and innovative. Just how that will help improve finances is unknown. No clues have emerged yet. Good luck again.

More evidence of the state’s challenges, or maybe Australia’s challenges, is identified by Phil Purser of the Queensland-based justracing.com.au. He says that we are not breeding or developing enough good competitors at the gallops to fill spots at the medium to upper levels.

He claims “the problem with “Open” company horses in the modern day is that we don’t see anywhere near enough promising young horses coming through the system to give these “Open” company races some depth. The Open company races are invariably filled with the same what I’d call “crappy slugs” every week. Most acceptors are way past their best and haven’t won a race since soon after Cookie landed here, yet these “crappy slugs” still head the weights, indicative of their being clearly the “class runners” of the field”.

Purser provided examples from the three eastern state capitals to support that view.

Broadly, this equates to greyhound’s current difficulties in filling fields and creating enough good class races to satisfy serious punters, doubly so in Queensland. Particularly at risk are staying races and higher grades at the provincials. Nationally, with no increase in the dog population, the explosion of 12-race meetings, topped up with TAB starters dredged from the bottom of the pile, has led to a significant decline in average field quality. Queensland owners and trainers in both codes have also been diverting to northern NSW tracks in large numbers (although quite a few move in the opposite direction, too).

The very top level may not be an issue but the bread and butter meetings are – hence the erratic and generally small betting pools we have today. In both codes the proliferation of races ends up satisfying TAB shareholders and mug gamblers but not your serious punters.

I have yet to see a business or a sport prosper by concentrating on low level competitions, yet that is what racing is trying to do. So far, there is no evidence of action being taken in Queensland to reverse the trend. Waffle, yes, but no action.

Clearly, Queensland needs a major reform in the supply of greyhounds and in the way it looks for support from the betting public. More of the same will not cut the mustard.

Porkies or Just Good Sense?

On a related issue, other reports from justracing.com.au note that local gallops bookmakers are continually surprised by official starting prices which list SP figures substantially below those on offer in the ring. This brings to mind a time at Wentworth Park one night when I camped near the bloke responsible for sending away those prices to other tracks. Leaning over his shoulder, I noted he rarely ever wrote down the best price on offer, but one which was a fair average of all bookmakers in the ring. You can imagine what a mess that made of the percentages.

But how many punters will walk past a better price and take a shorter one? And who told this guy to do that?

It brings to mind a visit to a lively meeting at Muswellbrook dogs years ago (no TAB, bookies only). Handling the away meetings was an even livelier bookie, whose name I think was Al Gore. Long before the prices service call came though over the speaker, Gore would put up his own prices (which was unusual in itself) and then offered punters an incentive. If you bet early you got a throw of the dice. If you threw the number of the dog you had backed he would pay you double the figure on the ticket. It worked, too, because I got it once and walked away very happy.

The point is, of course, that the prices service, whether at Brisbane gallops or Muswellbrook dogs, is there to support the bookies’ pension fund. Who does that and how do they get away with it? Yes, I know bookies are not bound by the call but how many vary from it in practice?

In principle, I am a strong supporter of the bookmaker option, but sometimes they are their own worst enemy. Tough regulations don’t help the oncourse bookie but they could do a lot more to help themselves. Well, some have, but they now live in Darwin. I wonder if that message has filtered through to racing administrators yet?