Chest Thumping Is Not A Productive Exercise

Sam Walker from the RACING POST made some interesting comments about the $4 million Queen Elizabeth States at Randwick recently. Here is part of it.

“The difference was that this year the prizemoney shot up eightfold to an eye-popping AUS$4million (£2.2m), making it more valuable than Ascot’s Champion Stakes. And did the increased purse see an increase in quality? Or a more cosmopolitan field? Sadly not”.

He concludes that “there seems very little point in giving so much extra funding to the Queen Elizabeth Stakes when exactly the same field would turn up for a fraction of the cost”.

The same question should be asked about the $350k and $250k prizes being offered now for major greyhound races in Sydney and Melbourne. What purpose do they serve? And who decides on them – the club or the authority, or a bit of both? Would owners ignore them if prizes were half that level? I doubt it.

Curiously, this comes at a time when authorities are hell-bent on promoting opportunities for low standard dogs so as to improve the breed’s image (ie ease the tension caused by euthanasia etc). Yet it is arguable that the policy and the cash spent have had a minimal effect on the end result. No figures are ever offered. At the same time, the effort has directly caused a reduction in the average quality of the racing product offered to consumers, partly due to the standard of dogs and partly due to the resultant overcrowding of race programs.

Options are there to use the extra cash in other ways. Boosting some provincial meetings. More marketing efforts. Better PR campaigns. (In fact, any marketing or PR campaigns will do). More coursing. Backing for gymkhanas. Conducting studies on track design. Educating future punters. Underwriting veterinary studies of the breed. Better race cameras. Simplifying grading systems (which would equal smaller clerical expenses). The list is endless.

In total, money should be spent where it can improve the industry’s lot over the long term. An extra hundred grand in a very few pockets today does not do that. Not at the gallops and not at the dogs.

If you need further proof, consider that both thoroughbred and greyhound breeding numbers are flat or declining, and have been for many years now. Yes, breeding can be a lucrative activity but only for a selected few. On the whole, prizemoney is important but it is not a sufficient incentive to stimulate racing in an economic sense, or not when it is distributed too narrowly. Most owners invest not for a financial return but for the prestige and the excitement of getting winners. Most trainers could use better week to week returns.

Incidentally, that is where greyhounds have a significant advantage over the other codes. Not only will horse owners have to spend a great deal more to buy and prepare their charge, but they will have to wait a long time to see it race, and even longer to see it win. And they do not win very often, even at the top level. As soon as they do win, they are off to the paddock for three months. This is one of many points that should be pushed harder in programs aimed at increasing greyhound ownership. The Australian owner or punter is hard wired to expect winners, and the sooner the better.

For all these reasons, the underlying priorities for administrators should be twofold. First, the advancement of the greyhound breed and, second, introducing that unique canine athlete to the general public. Everything else is secondary. But do those two well and betting and prizemoney will look after themselves.

CLOSING THE SHOP

What an odd business we are in! The current saga about Racing Victoria’s refusal to allow big bookie Rob Waterhouse (the father, not the son) to field at Warrnambool gallops big meetings is just the latest in a long line of barriers placed in front of this valuable sector of the industry.

RV claims that bookies serving the track year-round should not have to compete with blow-ins wanting to pick the cream of the crop.

OK, we can see what they mean but does that justify trashing competition? Is there another industry which does this? That’s doubtful because it starts to run up against laws enforced by the ACCC – laws which state governments, aided and abetted by the big galloping clubs, have already shoved aside in setting up rules protecting TABs. All of these were designed to make life more difficult for bookmakers, thereby offering less choice for customers.

By selling exclusive TAB rights, those state governments initially attracted higher tenders and later higher rents than would be the case under a competitive environment. But, in doing so, they ignored the long term potential to increase the size of the pie so everyone benefited. That is, until the NT bookmaking group started driving trucks through the holes in the system. The newcomers are now effectively competing with the two major TABs for online customers, yet in practice all they achieved in turnover terms was the restoration of the status quo.

The problem now – as the NT group matures and has smaller growth potential ahead of it – is that you cannot keep pulling rabbits out of the hat. How will the industry attract new customers or even retain old ones? Are there any fresh ideas? Will the pressure cause TattsBet and its four states to slide further down the totem pole, making their products even less appealing? When will we get a national betting pool? Or will the industry keep giving way to the pokies and casinos as has occurred over the last 20 years?

While some Queensland galloping clubs have been reported as preferring a closed ring (ie one they can control) in this case the Warrnambool people wanted Waterhouse to field there, as did the state’s racing-conscious Premier. It would help promote the carnival, they claimed. But to no avail – RV said not on our watch.

RV is the same mob which previously campaigned to outlaw NT bookies and later voted illogically to charge commission on the basis of bookmakers’ surpluses rather than on turnover. They did not join Racing NSW’ lone hand in going to the High Court to insist on their ability to charge as they preferred. In the event, RNSW was right as both big galloping organisations are now millions of dollars better off than under the profit share system. It sometimes makes you think that some of these committees leave their brains at the gate when they arrive for a meeting. Mind you, RNSW and many others were strongly (and abusively) opposed to the arrival of NT bookies in the first place. That was a fight that they were never going to win.

Racing’s penchant for a return to the good old days is a constant risk to progress.

Past Discussion

  1. The money would be better spread over lower level races. NSW can’t compete and they still don’t get the same quality of dog for the Easter egg that we get in Vic for the Australian Cup because they persist with a 3 week series. Paying more $ for one race doesn’t make you better than a state that does it better in every way.

  2. The money would be better spread over lower level races. NSW can’t compete and they still don’t get the same quality of dog for the Easter egg that we get in Vic for the Australian Cup because they persist with a 3 week series. Paying more $ for one race doesn’t make you better than a state that does it better in every way.