The Bush Wins

It’s becoming clear that Gai Waterhouse believes she is bigger than the sport itself. What a pity, as she has publicised racing well over a number of years. This quote from The Australian tells the updated story.

“After being found guilty, a shocked and angry Waterhouse said she expected only “a slap on the wrist” and told (Chief Steward) Murrihy, “I’m not some hick from the bush” who was unable to determine for herself a horse’s fitness”.

Well, apparently she can’t, judging by the awful performance put up by multi-Group winner More Joyous on the day in question, and the mare’s subsequent actions back home on the Central Coast. Even more amazing is that Gai had already admitted to the crimes, but did not want to do the time. And The Man from Snowy River would not be amused either.

To an outsider, this flouncing around is far more likely to bring racing into disrepute than anything John Singleton did. And it turns out he was right anyway. The horse was crook and raced accordingly.

These Waterhouses just don’t know when enough is enough. Smiling Tom had a good thing going but did not know when to stop. Over-saturation is an annoying thing in advertising. Nor did his father and grandfather, which is why they had enforced holidays, post-Fine Cotton. Still, they may be getting the idea now.

Nothing we learnt here lessens the need for stewards to take a strong leadership role, preferably independently of bureaucratic administrations.

NOT BEAUTIFUL AT ALL

I note that a couple of Queenslanders are unhappy with my “negative comments” about that state’s racing. They used social media where people can rant in a few words without bothering to support their arguments properly. Pity.

There is no need to repeat what has gone before because all the state’s problems are painfully obvious. But there is always new evidence.

For example, in the last ten high prize money Thursday night meetings at Albion Park – the state’s flagship – 24% of races have started without a full field and 15% were limited to maiden or novice runners. Monday meetings are even worse while the other two weekly meetings are padded out with squibs’ races over 331m, or 395m events with disruptive bend starts (which have attracted criticism from many trainers). The shortage of quality racers is clear, as is a decade of failure to do anything about it.

Or what about this experience at a country galloping meeting recently? A bookmaker was refused permission to field there even though Racing Queensland has a rule which declares all meetings should have open rings. The club got around that because another rule says a local club can restrict bookies numbers if it likes. RQ boss Kevin Dixon attended the meeting – via a fly-in on the Racing Minister’s plane – and said it was none of his business as it was a local club matter. Extraordinary!

Recent reports on closed rings in Queensland suggest that they run with books of upwards of 160%, compared with 120% or so at open meetings.

However, Queensland greyhound racing has one good feature. It has a group of highly skilled and experienced trainers. But they need more and better stock to work with. That’s a management problem.

STILL A NATIONAL PROBLEM

A shortage of runners is not limited to Queensland. We have several times mentioned that Victoria has been biting off more than it can chew with all the extra racing. Maidens and higher grade races have been most affected. Overall, between 20% and 30% of races in any one week are short of a full field. City fields are also being bolstered with novice standard dogs.

However, it all came to a head last night at Ballarat when a seven-dog field (as drawn) in a Grade 3-4 race was reduced to two after scratchings. One of the remaining dogs was the well credentialled Ronan Izmir, which had been scratched from the previous afternoon’s Horsham meeting. A mistake, perhaps?

Was this just bad luck? Well, not so long ago Victorian fields were noted for the relative absence of scratchings. But that was before the rapid growth of Tier 3 and Restricted Win races.

Victoria has gone crazy in its already complex grading system. A while back we had a Geelong race restricted to dogs with 1 to 6 wins, a limit which might have covered most of the field in a nearby feature race in town. Now, the above Ballarat meeting included four heats for dogs with 1 to 4 wins – which is restrictive enough, but they also had to have had 15 or more starts.

So they wanted dogs which were not too smart but which had also been trying for some time to improve their lot. A case might well be made that those qualifications would suit many Grade 5 fields anyway, so what’s the point? Or is it just an attempt to give average dogs and their trainers a leg up? Very communistic, you might say. Whatever it is, the proliferation of Grades in Victoria has got to a ridiculous level.

Oh, for the days when Grades were 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and that’s it.