SEPTEMBER 2017 will mark the 30th anniversary of the closure of Harold Park. That closure reduced Sydney city racing to just one venue, Wentworth Park, and now, three decades on, isn’t it time we gave serious consideration to letting it go as well?
It is the country people of NSW who saved greyhound racing in this state. If the National Party led by Troy Grant had managed to hold on to Orange in the recent by-election, with only a small swing against them, it is possible Premier Baird might well have stuck to his original decision to ban greyhound racing.
As it was, the result was a damning indictment of his unilateral decision and forced Troy Grant to fall on his sword.
Nonetheless, as has been noted elsewhere on this website, greyhound racing in NSW is far from secure as we move into an uncertain regulatory future. There is no doubt from the statements the premier has made since his turnaround that he still believes greyhound racing should end, and I have little doubt he will be doing all he can from behind the scenes to make sure that comes about. If he couldn’t achieve by direct action, then stealth will have to do.
From the Northern Rivers, the Hunter Valley, the Southern Tablelands and elsewhere, the real heart of greyhound racing has always been out in the country. The inner-city, with all the inherent problems of negotiating the traffic, is no longer where the centrepiece of greyhound racing in NSW needs to be, or probably should be. After all, Wentworth Park on anything other than a major race night is about as busy as a cemetery at midnight.
To paraphrase that much overworked karaoke favourite My Way, ‘Crowds, we get a few, but then again, too few to mention’. The wagering landscape has changed enormously in the three decades since the closure of Harold Park and greyhound racing has gained in popularity as a wagering sport since that time, but we don’t really see that in the numbers attending the course.
Crowds will come, but they need a good reason to get out from behind a TV screen. We saw that with the Adelaide Cup at Angle Park last year when the great Fernando Bale was in action. The Melbourne Cup is another that attracts the bums on seats, as does the Golden Easter Egg, but for much of the rest of the time owners, trainers and officials outnumber the punters.
Obviously, there would need to be some serious negotiations regarding the compensation to be paid to NSW greyhound racing for quitting Wentworth Park.
Forget about somehow being seen to cave in to the ultimate wishes of our benighted premier. Think of it more as just sensible business in the modern era.
This would leave a win-win situation for everybody. The State Government gets control of Wentworth Park, trainers get to race at a location which is far closer to where they live and work, thereby reducing the costs of travel significantly, as well as reducing the equally important loss of time, and because the new ‘city’ circuit is sited within the greyhound belt, for want of a better term, it is likely the crowds will be just as good if not better than they were at Wentworth Park.
So, while Harold Park was the ‘jewel in the crown’ from the start of the sport in 1927 until its closure in 1987, and Wentworth Park has held that mantle since then.
Given the simple demographics of change, perhaps the new centre of the NSW greyhound crown should now be passed on to Richmond, a track with an already long history and one which surely would suit a majority of trainers.