Plant Flowers Amongst The Grass Roots

One question board members of state authorities and raceclubs might ponder (see article on 28 May) is whether there is a better way of distributing prize money.

Currently, a good slice of Australia’s $74 million-plus stakemoney is devoted to Group races but it is not clear who decides what. Basically, the authority sets the amount for normal meetings in whatever category but the clubs seems to make up their own mind about feature races. Hence we have the current contest to see who can offer the biggest first prize.

The Wentworth Park Easter Egg held pride of place at $250,000 until just recently until the shock announcement that the Melbourne Cup later this year would be worth $350,000 – up from $200,000 in 2011.

That will mean the winner will take home around 230 times what the average provincial winner gets, or say 80 times a city first prize.

By comparison, the biggest prize in thoroughbred racing – their Melbourne Cup – offers only around 50 times what the standard city club pays. And nothing else gets within cooee of the big Cup. The Golden Slipper is worth only half as much.

Of course, the gallops are keen to entice overseas runners to make the long trip to Australia for the Cup and want to make it worthwhile (they also get help with expenses). No such plot exists in greyhound racing. Previous attempts at international competition failed and were not at top level anyway.

Seven Group races already pay in excess of $100,000, with another nine in the $75,000-plus bracket.

This is very nice for the winning connections – where owners and trainers, particularly trainers, tend to be concentrated on a few – but is it the best way to advance the industry?

No question that we need big events and big prizes, but how big? The industry will prosper or fail on what happens week by week, all around the traps, not just on a few peak events. Cream is fine, but it’s the bread and potatoes that keep everyone going.

Two points are worth debating.

First, will ultra high prize money make any difference to fields in or patronage of feature events? The logical answer is that it will not make a scrap of difference. The same good dogs will turn up for a hundred grand just as they would for two hundred grand. The same fans will attend.

Second, is a thousand or so enough for the occasional provincial win by a battling trainer? Probably not. $1,300 or so is about the average weekly wage these days. How about $2,000 as an immediate objective? And, say, $2,500 within a reasonable time. That might not only help give some solidity to the trainer ranks but it would also start emphasising the importance of racing in the regions. Patronage of those meetings (on- or off-course) is already dismal, in sharp contrast to what happened ten or twenty years ago.

In conjunction with moves in that area, it is probably time that authorities started picking winners amongst clubs. Provide more cash for a few, while marking time for the others. Industry resources are not limitless and are already spread too thinly, so much so that field quality is now dicey all over. There are not enough dogs to justify high standards everywhere, and the dog population is not increasing.

Those major provincial clubs would then warrant strong promotion aimed at encouraging fans back to the game. That would provide a genuine base for the industry’s future – something a $350,000 prize will never do. Besides, promotional expenses go a lot further in provincial centres than in the big city where any greyhound effort tends to get buried.

How to pay for it all? Take 20% or more off all the Group prizes and transfer the money wasted on breeding incentives (which do not work) and put it all into serious enhancement of selected provincial racing. Another measure that could be taken in Victoria is to cut back prize money for the low quality Non Penalty meetings at the two city tracks. They started off at below provincial levels but have crept back up, thereby also having the effect of sucking better dogs away from the provincial meetings.

Of course, all that would need co-operation amongst the states. But surely Greyhounds Australasia could sort that out. That’s what it is there for, isn’t it?

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