Who’s on first base?

THE age old Abbott and Costello skit seems to be getting another run in the beautiful state.

It’s becoming hard to understand how Queensland greyhound racing really functions. Its latest announcement concerning life bans on some trainers sounds fine but is not available on the RQ website. Apparently it has gone only to selected recipients, including some media. Why is that?

The intriguing thing was that all the major points were laid out in the name of Kevin Dixon, who is chairman of the over-riding All Codes Board. No mention was made of the Greyhound Board although its chairman is also a member of the All Codes Board. Dixon is a thoroughbred breeder and all his experience lies with that code.

It is a strange organisation indeed where the people directly responsible for greyhound racing do not get a mention. What are they there for? Were they actually consulted?

Queensland’s cumbersome pyramid shape four-board structure was set up by the previous LNP government.

However, the new Minister has now appointed barrister Alan MacSporran QC to conduct a $3 million review of the greyhound industry with the support the Department of Racing. This time the Greyhound Board chairman, Michael Byrne QC, said his board will “assist and cooperate with it”. All well and good, but I always doubt the worth of having lawyers, particularly barristers, in charge of such reviews. They may be fine people but their backgrounds are invariably concerned with arguments about words, not with the efficient functioning of industries. Let’s also note that the chairmen of the major states’ authorities, and of GAL, are all lawyers, although two of them are now out of a job.

Meantime, the investigation into breaches of rules by racing integrity commissioner, Jim O’Sullivan (a retired policeman), and the Queensland Police Service is continuing, also with everybody’s support.

It is good to hear that everybody is supporting everybody else. But they may need someone on point duty to direct all the traffic. However, they will all plug along without the help of the Queensland steward’s boss, Wade Birch, because he is under suspension following the live bait saga. Birch is widely experienced in horses, but not greyhounds, and is the interim scapegoat.

The new All Codes Board was itself disrupted when two members quit abruptly for unstated reasons only three months after being appointed. However, some claim it occurred immediately after they were shut out of negotiations for a new contract with Tatts.

All this follows a judicial inquiry into alleged improper tendering processes used by the previous administration for some $150 million worth of work. Chairman at the time, Bob Bentley, strongly denies any wrongdoing, although two top executives quit Racing Queensland just prior to the new guard arriving and joined the staff of the big beneficiary of those tenders. Their final payouts from RQ are also under investigation.

While all this is going on, not a word has been heard about the creation of the new track at Cronulla Park, Logan, to the south of the city. It is getting on for a year since the promised start date of the construction. It was to be partly financed by a promised $10 million grant to make up for the government’s resumption of the Parklands track at the Gold Coast.

One interesting side issue thrown up by the life ban on leading trainer Reg Kay is that he was effectively the leader of the push opposing the use of the follow-on-lure. That year long experiment found that the FOL reduced the number of injuries and fail-to-chase incidents. Yet, to express his disgust, Kay took his bat and ball and decamped to the NSW Central Coast together with some very smart greyhounds.

At the end of the experiment, the small but noisy group of trainers got their wish, management gave in and the FOL was shut down for good. Kay then returned to Brisbane. He has now denied any involvement with live baiting, but to no avail.

Somewhat the same FOL process took place in Adelaide where the authority canvassed trainers in a mail survey to which only a minority responded. Just over half of those objected, despite the success of the program, so once again management dumped the FOL.

All these processes beg the question of who is actually running greyhound racing.

Still, both states may have even more to concern them. Rumours abound that Tabcorp is aiming to make a bid for the wagering arm of Tatts, thereby giving the bigger tote complete control of all Australian racing bar WA, where the state is still pondering whether to privatise the government-owned TAB.

Tatts four-state wagering operation is returning shareholders much less than its bigger lottery activities. Since its pools are smaller and therefore less attractive to punters than Tabcorp’s it really has nowhere to go in the long term.

While that may be just a side issue it would divert attention from the more important matter of re-inventing the concept of greyhound racing in the minds of the public. Currently, it is arguable that administrations have got their priorities all wrong, hence the negative positions they find themselves in today.

Whatever happens after the tri-state reviews and investigations are completed, it does provide an opportunity for greyhound racing to recast its corporate priorities. It would do much better, in our view, if it put them in this order:

1. The maintenance of the greyhound breed

2. The customers who finance the day to day industry

3. The owners who underpin its stability

4. The trainers who make it work.

At the moment, the pecking order is the exact opposite, which is partly why we got into the current pickle. Essential as they are, there is no evidence that trainers should be left in charge of the shop. Their skills lie in much different areas to those needed to run a big business.

More Secrets

Stop Press: Tabcorp today has launched a revised format on its website pages. In some ways it is easier to access than the old layout. But, and it is a big but, the results pages no longer show pool sizes after the race is run. They are there while betting is still in progress but have been deliberately deleted when the race is over.

Additionally, there is no obvious way to select either NSW or Victorian prices – but I will keep trying to find them.

Past Discussion

  1. Bruce share your concerns, anything can happen in the sunshine state, in earlier days a trainer got caught blooding greyhounds on a race track and the magistrate fined him for bringing a live rabbit into a rabbit free area ( reported in the popular press).

  2. Bruce share your concerns, anything can happen in the sunshine state, in earlier days a trainer got caught blooding greyhounds on a race track and the magistrate fined him for bringing a live rabbit into a rabbit free area ( reported in the popular press).