Warrnambool greyhounds illustrate some key issues

THE 14 Warrnambool Classic heats have been run and won – some in very quick time (Sausage Sizzle 24.93 and One For Me 24.94). Betting turnover was average in NSW for these time slots but punting success would have been mixed. Despite huge differences in ability, favourites won five and lost nine of the races. Odds-on favourites, which are common in this series, won three times and lost in six. No profits there.

Typically, races were run in two divisions – well-supported placegetters in one and the rest just making up the numbers – also common in the Classic. Not exciting.

However, the Wednesday meeting offered a side view of the extraordinary Victorian grading system. In a supporting Mixed 4th/5th grade event, Aston Bolero (20 wins from 34 starts) and Black Frenzy (18 wins from 35 starts), both brilliant performers over the 450m trip, shared favouritism. The former won narrowly in a BON of 24.80.

Despite their form and ability, both those dogs were 5th graders at Warrnambool, mainly because they had never raced there before. The ability to win 5th grades all over the state without being penalised a grade is unique to Victoria. It is why so few higher grade events are on any program.

It is also madness. It makes a mockery of the long-established system of having five grades through which dogs can progress as they gain experience and maturity. Victoria would be the worst offender as it not only has seven basic grades plus Maidens but a host of other designations which allow dogs to pick and choose how, when and where they race. The last time I counted, Australia had 123 different grades and classifications for its races. When in doubt, they just add another one. The tail is now wagging the dog.

That proliferation justifies only one thing – more complex and more expensive IT systems to process all the nominations, thereby confusing customers (and possibly trainers) and interstate authorities and diverting cash which would be better used for prize money, track improvements and welfare programs.

All this has it source in one area only: authorities are never really audited for the effectiveness and efficiency they achieve when they spend (punters’) money. They simply do it and so tough luck if you disagree.

Opposing views – not always accurate

The discussion about over-racing is a worthwhile one but we are still short on hard evidence from readers. Some of their claims warrant correction.

The thrust of my article, Greyhounds need to go to the fair work tribunal, was specific – the industry needs a detailed investigation into the merits or otherwise of quick backups. Hence my use of what I called a “quickie survey” to point in that general direction.

Pure Titanium raced at Sandown on April 3 and April 7 – ie a 4 day break – recording four lengths slower time in the latter race.

Leading up to the subject race, Sandave Sapphire’s last six runs showed Win, 4th, Win, 3rd, Win, 5th. Times in the losing races were 12 lengths, seven lengths and nine lengths slower than in the preceding race. But that inconsistency was not the biggest point. The critical question I brought up was whether the gutbuster (LAW in 41.84) on April 9 affected its poor performance on April 16. That quick LAW time was six lengths better than any in its career – ie way faster than its “normal” level. Anyway, is there any better evidence that stayers cannot maintain good form when racing constantly every 7 days?

It’s “Purely (my) opinions”? Hardly. This year alone I have instanced backup problems in four articles, each with detailed evidence of performances. Several other articles in 2015 did the same. Critics have offered no evidence at all. None. (Save for “Hugh” on matters to do with metabolism etc).

On a more topical matter, what can be said about Chrichton Bale’s dismal performance over 715m at Sandown on Thursday night? Following two smart LAW wins on April 7 and 14 – “recapturing his best form”, according to the Watchdog – he led long through the back straight on April 21 and then collapsed like a pricked balloon to finish five lengths 5th in 42.43. That was some seven lengths slower than in its earlier wins. Did he run out of petrol?

Viewing problems

We have had some rude comments from “Tony Davis 333”, which may be a pen-name for the steward’s mum, regarding my assessments of stewards’ reports at The Meadows meeting on April 16.

I have reviewed these several times and find that I was absolutely correct. On Race 12, it may be that the reader omitted to note that Jalapeno Flash was injured during the race.

However, she does make an intriguing remark about Race 5 – “Are you saying when entering the information into your computer that you would give the inside 2 dogs nothing back?” This implies that she is aware that some form students have a habit of going through each race and giving some dogs a credit for interference suffered. Well, each to his or her own, but the trouble with such a policy is that dogs which do that have a tendency to do it again and again. For example, I could hardly offer Jalapeno Flash any credit for running into the backside of another runner. It was just clumsy, as some dogs (and humans) are. For a more extreme example, check out Sweet It Is, which did it all the time.

The breed’s destiny

Many folk will have noted the animated discussion about whether greyhounds should be utilised for human recreation – ie by racing. Reader “Hugh” has been a longstanding opponent, primarily because he claims the industry cannot do a good job of it and because it is not the breed’s natural environment.

So be it, but I wonder if he has considered the perspective of working dogs in general. Many breeds are assigned to tasks constructed by humans but which suit the skills available in each breed – or perhaps developed over time. In each of these cases the dogs themselves offer clear evidence that they do so happily and willingly, no doubt partly as a function of the value they place on having a close relationship with man.

Examples include watchdogs, police dogs, military dogs (inch bomb disposal), drug sniffers for customs, hunting dogs, shepherding types, guide dogs for the blind, and who could forget those providing the backbone of the pastoral industry – the cattle dog and the kelpie, without which Australian farmers would be in a sorry state. Also note that SA farmers used greyhounds in the 19th century to control kangaroo damage to their crops.

In fact, many animals of all descriptions seem to have no trouble conforming to the needs of humans looking after them. One obvious example would be milking cows making their own way back to the sheds once or twice a day.

In any case, the greyhound has a centuries old tradition of seeking out and running down prey in company with their masters. Whether in open country or behind a mechanical hare the task is essentially the same. The important variable is how well man plays his part in the joint effort.

Strategically, the greyhound now has two primary uses – as a pet or as a racing animal. Both are vital for the survival and welfare of the breed.

Past Discussion

  1. Bruce I think you mischaracterise my view when you say I oppose greyhound racing “primarily because he claims the industry cannot do a good job of it and because it is not the breed’s natural environment”.  I’m not entirely sure what you mean by “cannot do a good job of it”, good job of what precisely?  As for it not being their natural environment, greyhounds don’t have a natural environment since they were bred by us.  But they still have natural behavioural patterns.

    I’ve said many times that I would be fine with greyhound racing if it didn’t come at a welfare cost to the animals (any animals).  You raise an interesting point regarding “working animals”, and I actually have not considered this before.  To that I would say, that unless there is some darker side I’m not aware of to the breeding of the dogs you mention (sniffer dogs, guide dogs, etc.), which is possible, I don’t see many of the welfare issues that concern me about greyhound racing.  Firstly, none of those “animal professions” are competitive, in the same way as racing is.  One of my major issues with greyhound racing is that an abundance of animals are bred to obtain a smaller number of top performers, and this creates unwanted animals who’s welfare suffers.

    Additionally, the pressure to perform for those that are promising is so high that there is far too much potential for their welfare to fall by the wayside in the pursuit of profit.  I’m sure we all remember the footage of one owner punching his dog in the side of the head at a trial track.  Also, the dogs in the other roles you mention, to my limited knowledge, are not pushed to such physical extremes.  I would be pretty surprised if the injury rate of dogs in any of those roles begins to approach the injury rate of racing greyhounds.  I could be wrong.  But assuming I am not mistaken, then it would follow that dogs in those other roles remain useful and productive on average for a much longer period of their lives, which means they are unlikely to suddenly lose their value due to injury and be discarded.

    Lastly, as I’ve said many times before, the value of the role the animal is playing needs to be balanced against the cost, or potential cost, to welfare.  It’s hard to imagine what the welfare cost is to a guide dog, and the role they play is incredibly valuable.  I would say the same for sniffer dogs (though we could debate the value of the war on drugs).  As for dogs that herd sheep or other farm animals, well, as you might guess I don’t agree with the farming of those animals to begin with, but again I’m not aware of any welfare issues for the dog.  But when it comes to racing, the “value” is entertainment and profit, and for me those are things that can be found elsewhere and don’t justify the welfare cost.

    I would say that I would have to know more about police dogs and exactly what they are used for and exactly what benefit they provide is, because I could imagine there would be uses that I would question if they are regularly put at great risk of injury or death, but even then I would probably put a much higher value on the service they provide.  I certainly rate the importance of law enforcement higher than gambling, and I tend to doubt the police would use dogs if they weren’t an effective tool, they don’t just use them cause it’s fun to do so.

    However I don’t need to know anything else about the dairy industry to say that the fact that cows might come in for milking on time doesn’t mean their welfare isn’t compromised.  I know everything I need to know about the dairy industry and it’s a disgrace when it comes to animal welfare (except for a tiny minority of farms that sell expensive milk and use their high welfare standards as a selling point).  Cows must be constantly pregnant to produce high levels of milk.  Every male calf born (except the few kept for breeding) is killed, so that’s 50% of animals born, killed straight away (or rather after 30 hours of starvation crammed into a truck).  Calves are taken from their mothers soon after birth causing huge emotional distress to both calf and mother.  The cows that are milked have been bred to produce so much milk that they suffer bone problems due to calcium being liberated from their bones to go into the milk.  This constant impregnation and milking cycle is so intense that these cows only live for a fraction of their natural lifespan before they collapse and die.  What do you think happens to a cow that doesn’t come in for milking on time?  Ever watched farmers herding uncooperative cows?  It will get beaten with plastic pipes, kicked and yelled at.  Cow’s are smart, they learn quickly what to do to minimise their own mistreatment.  Slaves learn obedience too, doesn’t mean their lives are good.  So I would view cows more as miserably but obedient slaves rather than happy participants.  Why is the dairy industry so appalling?  Because it’s profit driven, and where animals are used for profit their welfare suffers.

    So just to be clear, I don’t have the view that a greyhound is having its welfare compromised simply by being trained to run around a track.  Not at all, I realise full well that it requires no undue or unpleasant coercion for them to do this and that they enjoy it, it’s the other things I’ve mentioned that prevent me from being able to support the industry.  But of course I do support positive welfare reform in the industry for as long as it remains in operation.

  2. Bruce I think you mischaracterise my view when you say I oppose greyhound racing “primarily because he claims the industry cannot do a good job of it and because it is not the breed’s natural environment”.  I’m not entirely sure what you mean by “cannot do a good job of it”, good job of what precisely?  As for it not being their natural environment, greyhounds don’t have a natural environment since they were bred by us.  But they still have natural behavioural patterns.


    I’ve said many times that I would be fine with greyhound racing if it didn’t come at a welfare cost to the animals (any animals).  You raise an interesting point regarding “working animals”, and I actually have not considered this before.  To that I would say, that unless there is some darker side I’m not aware of to the breeding of the dogs you mention (sniffer dogs, guide dogs, etc.), which is possible, I don’t see many of the welfare issues that concern me about greyhound racing.  Firstly, none of those “animal professions” are competitive, in the same way as racing is.  One of my major issues with greyhound racing is that an abundance of animals are bred to obtain a smaller number of top performers, and this creates unwanted animals who’s welfare suffers.


    Additionally, the pressure to perform for those that are promising is so high that there is far too much potential for their welfare to fall by the wayside in the pursuit of profit.  I’m sure we all remember the footage of one owner punching his dog in the side of the head at a trial track.  Also, the dogs in the other roles you mention, to my limited knowledge, are not pushed to such physical extremes.  I would be pretty surprised if the injury rate of dogs in any of those roles begins to approach the injury rate of racing greyhounds.  I could be wrong.  But assuming I am not mistaken, then it would follow that dogs in those other roles remain useful and productive on average for a much longer period of their lives, which means they are unlikely to suddenly lose their value due to injury and be discarded.


    Lastly, as I’ve said many times before, the value of the role the animal is playing needs to be balanced against the cost, or potential cost, to welfare.  It’s hard to imagine what the welfare cost is to a guide dog, and the role they play is incredibly valuable.  I would say the same for sniffer dogs (though we could debate the value of the war on drugs).  As for dogs that herd sheep or other farm animals, well, as you might guess I don’t agree with the farming of those animals to begin with, but again I’m not aware of any welfare issues for the dog.  But when it comes to racing, the “value” is entertainment and profit, and for me those are things that can be found elsewhere and don’t justify the welfare cost.


    I would say that I would have to know more about police dogs and exactly what they are used for and exactly what benefit they provide is, because I could imagine there would be uses that I would question if they are regularly put at great risk of injury or death, but even then I would probably put a much higher value on the service they provide.  I certainly rate the importance of law enforcement higher than gambling, and I tend to doubt the police would use dogs if they weren’t an effective tool, they don’t just use them because it’s fun to do so (I assume…).


    However I don’t need to know anything else about the dairy industry to say that the fact that cows might come in for milking on time doesn’t mean their welfare isn’t compromised.  I know everything I need to know about the dairy industry and it’s a disgrace when it comes to animal welfare (except for a tiny minority of farms that sell expensive milk and use their high welfare standards as a selling point).  Cows must be constantly pregnant to produce high levels of milk.  Every male calf born (except the few kept for breeding) is killed, so that’s 50% of animals born, killed straight away (or rather after 30 hours of starvation crammed into a truck).  Calves are taken from their mothers soon after birth causing huge emotional distress to both calf and mother.  The cows that are milked have been bred to produce so much milk that they suffer bone problems due to calcium being liberated from their bones to go into the milk.  This constant impregnation and milking cycle is so intense that these cows only live for a fraction of their natural lifespan before they collapse and die.  What do you think happens to a cow that doesn’t come in for milking on time?  Ever watched farmers herding uncooperative cows?  It will get beaten with plastic pipes, kicked and yelled at.  Cow’s are smart, they learn quickly what to do to minimise their own mistreatment.  Slaves learn obedience too, doesn’t mean their lives are good.  So I would view cows more as miserably but obedient slaves rather than happy participants.  Why is the dairy industry so appalling?  Because it’s profit driven, and where animals are used for profit their welfare suffers.


    So just to be clear, I don’t have the view that a greyhound is having its welfare compromised simply by being trained to run around a track.  Not at all, I realise full well that it requires no undue or unpleasant coercion for them to do this and that they enjoy it, it’s the other things I’ve mentioned that prevent me from being able to support the industry.  But of course I do support positive welfare reform in the industry for as long as it remains in operation.

  3. differentview Bruce invited discussion of this issue within his article and put forward an interesting question.

    “Full of crap” usually means someone is making inaccurate claims, feel free to point out where I’m doing that, I’m always happy to be wrong and readjust my view.  If you just don’t like my opinion then I’m sorry, feel free to make your own argument.

    Perhaps you just find my comments to be uncomfortable truths and that is why you respond unpleasantly?

  4. differentview Bruce invited discussion of this issue within his article and put forward an interesting question.

    “Full of crap” usually means someone is making inaccurate claims, feel free to point out where I’m doing that, I’m always happy to be wrong and readjust my view.  If you just don’t like my opinion then I’m sorry, feel free to make your own argument.

    Perhaps you just find my comments to be uncomfortable truths and that is why you respond unpleasantly?

  5. You raise an interesting point about sniffer dogs. Apparently the greens are upset with their presence for some unknown reason. Jenny leong took offence to people comments. If only your parents took the same advice.

  6. You raise an interesting point about sniffer dogs. Apparently the greens are upset with their presence for some unknown reason. Jenny leong took offence to people comments. If only your parents took the same advice.

  7. Tony Davis 333 If memory serves the recent objections raised regarding sniffer dogs are not to do with animal welfare, they are to do with drug laws and civil liberties.  The argument was that sniffer dogs often show interest in people that have not used and are not carrying drugs, which was leading to completely innocent people being subjected to unjustified and invasive strip searches and other very demeaning and invasive treatment.
    I can’t speak to how true this is, but there were recently a bunch of articles written making this claim.  Perhaps that is what you are referring to.  The greens don’t support the criminalisation of personal recreational drug use, so they voiced an opinion about this I believe.

  8. Tony Davis 333 If memory serves the recent objections raised regarding sniffer dogs are not to do with animal welfare, they are to do with drug laws and civil liberties.  The argument was that sniffer dogs often show interest in people that have not used and are not carrying drugs, which was leading to completely innocent people being subjected to unjustified and invasive strip searches and other very demeaning and invasive treatment.

    I can’t speak to how true this is, but there were recently a bunch of articles written making this claim.  Perhaps that is what you are referring to.  The greens don’t support the criminalisation of personal recreational drug use, so they voiced an opinion about this I believe.