Greyhound overbreeding myth exposed

Now that Greyhounds Australasia has published the final stats for Australian greyhound racing in 2015 we are in a position to confirm a point made by a couple of readers recently.

Over the 12 years from 2003 the number of litters whelped in Australia fell by 6.3% to 3,006 (all these figures exclude New Zealand where conditions are often different). The numbers are quite erratic from year to year, for unknown reasons, so the drop would have looked even greater had you started in the busier years of 2004, 2005 or 2006.

By far the heaviest losses were in the major states where NSW numbers fell by 6.7% to 1,232 and Victoria by 16.5% to 1,029. The Victorian result contrasts sharply with the heavy attention given to local breeding incentives, especially by the previous state government.

Fairly naturally, the number of dogs officially named lagged a little but still fell by 2.6% over the 12 years. That clearly shows more pups from each litter are being utilised.

However, there was one major anomaly. In Queensland, the third largest state, litters whelped increased by 12.5% to 426 yet at the same time Dogs Named fell by 16.5%. The litters figure for 2014 was also very high. These and other figures may well need careful auditing.

All told, there is no doubt about the broad pattern – breeding is dropping off and a higher proportion of pups is hitting the racetracks, thereby lowering average field quality. Talk of overbreeding is basically rubbish. The 2016 results can be expected to accentuate that trend following the full impact of new rules which restrict breeding from older females.

Conversely, measures to artificially control breeding numbers – as prompted by Greyhounds Australasia and its study by KPMG – are largely pointless. Nature and the market are doing the job for them.

The changes are not without cost, though. Over the 12 years the average number of starters per race has fallen from 7.72 to 7.57 and therefore has reduced exotic betting opportunities.

Training Stayers

Out of the many comments on this column recently, a couple of interesting ones emerged. One is a view staying dogs need regular hard work to achieve sufficient fitness to compete well over the 700s. Perhaps so, but the implication there is that such a training regime (whatever it is) applies to any or all dogs.

Plainly, the relatively small number that actually compete over the 700s shows few can achieve that aim. Many fewer can actually win or even finish on over the long trip, whether at top level or not. Indeed, there is often the suspicion that many ordinary dogs are put over the longer distance simply because they are not good enough to win over shorter distance.

An alternative view would be those which can succeed are not only well trained but also physiologically suited to the task. The results suggest many fail on both counts.

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A further alternative is that many fail because they have had too much (distance) racing.

We have frequently demonstrated the last option is always a worry. Whether the first two options are valid is up for serious evaluation – see below.

Readers might also consider the implications of the WDA investigation into live baiting, education and socialisation matters which attracted a pretty widespread attitude from trainers that the traditional ways were good enough. WDA showed more modern (and more legal) methods were much more likely to produce good outcomes – both before and after racing – and so recommended paying more attention to educational programs. To paraphrase a reader’s comment, on those subjects I would much prefer to accept the independent WDA view than those of recalcitrant trainers, many of whom have now been banished for all time.

Seeing the Light

Another comment, this time from former bookmaker Jeff Holland, pointed out that “So many of the tracks are designed for the main distance, with obviously not much thought given to the run to what is the first bend for stayers, but the 3rd bend for sprinters. Distance events are in many cases like races on u-turns, because the interference happens so far away from either where people stand to watch the race, or from the camera, that feeling we have for judging the interference is lost”.

Generally speaking, this is true, although I think he was headlining problems in the Sandown Cup whereas my view is that interference in that race was no more than average, if that. That is not to dismiss the importance of boxes in a given race or that some runners will not be favoured by how the race is run. However, in the long term, the winning possibilities in long races are not a lot different to those in shorter ones.

More annoying is that there is a large variation between the quality of the film and often the lighting from one state to another. For example, Melbourne and Brisbane are mostly good, while Sydney and Bulli are poor. The Sydney screens are slightly smaller and expanding them produces only a fuzzy picture – neither helps explain what is happening in the back straight.

It also points to an all-round need to review just how staying races are organised. The view, the short back-ups and bend starts over middle distances are some of the obvious issues. Another is rug colours are far from ideal when in distant view and in ordinary light. Start with the pink and red and work down – they are fine when in front of you but not in a skirmish on a rainy night. These are key factors when you consider that 99% of customers never go near a track.

Early to Bed

It may have its problems elsewhere but Sandown and GRV have come up with a brilliant idea. Throughout winter, Thursday night racing will commence at 6:02pm and finish at 9.52pm. This experiment makes a lot of sense, not just because of the cold weather but because any midweek betting tapers off after 10pm as fans remember they need to get ready for work the next morning. Could it work all year? I suspect trainers might all prefer to get home earlier.

Be Nice to Each Other

Abusive behaviour on the internet is now attracting attention from the police. The Australian reported “The man was arrested at a business on Victoria Road in Woy Woy yesterday and charged with using a carriage service to cause offence”. The offence was recorded on Facebook when he rudely criticised outgoing Parliamentarian Nova Peris.

Worth noting by all website commentators!

More Track Wisdom?

While I am not keen on a lot of Islamic policies I am indebted to Nikkki Gemmel in The Australian (28 May) when she wrote:

The man … “spoke about his father teaching him the Prophet Mohammed’s sayings, especially the principle that “if one sees something wrong, one has the duty to try to change it”.

Could we apply that to track designs?

Past Discussion

  1. WDA didn’t investigate live baiting, they accepted a cheque to delve into and report on the greyhound industry based on limited research on an unknown number of property inspections and interviews along with a biased survey infiltrated by anti greyhound activists. All of the above research compiled in a very small timeframe.

    I in no way support live baiting or the opportunistic over reach of WDA in their findings. The PTB under political pressure accepted the reports findings because they wanted to hang their hat on something. Cognitive dissonance is as applicable to AA aligned WDA as it to some of the “old school” in the industry.

    I agree with Bruce re backing up stayers being a welfare issue, along with the need for research into injuries and track design. Alas not as topical as the LB issue so receives limited attention.

  2. UnNamed2 If you think running dogs over 700 meters every week is a welfare issue you would have a wonderful time in rural Australia where sheep dogs run 20 or 30 kilometers several times a week rounding up sheep, they love it and so do the greyhounds.  Where is the welfare issue?