In attempting to solve the puzzle of ever-shortening Australian races, it seemed sensible to make some comparisons with other countries. This survey collected data on race distances from the last 24 meetings across Australia and put them up against random samples from USA, England and Ireland (three tracks each) and four tracks in New Zealand.
Use the figures with caution as the survey employs small numbers. They will vary from time to time but the broad proportions are consistent with previous Australian surveys done by myself and others.
It turns out that we are on our own.
Greyhound Race Distance Comparison By Country
|Race Distances*||< 350m||< 401m||< 500m||> 500m||> 600m||> 700m|
The point is that Australia and New Zealand, which happen to share similar breeding patterns, are massively out of kilter with other major greyhound countries. They like longer races, we like short ones. Why is this so?
There are only two possible sources for these preferences; state administrations and trainers (possibly more so than owners).
Because they control prize money and track expenses it is obvious that administrations can make changes at the stroke of a pen. But they seldom initiate much at all. Instead, they appear to react to whatever the clubs ask for – never mind their reasons. And cash does not seem to be a problem – a few short races do offer smaller prizes but many are just as high as they are for longer races.
Administrations also have the means of improving track layouts and thereby reducing interference or falls. But they seldom achieve that; many building jobs have been ham-fisted, glaring faults take time to fix or are never remedied and some new works repeat previous errors. The practice does not equal the corporate spin.
Alone amongst all the states, Victoria bumped up race distances to at least the 385m/400m mark in recent years (Cranbourne 311m is an exception but still pays well for graded races). Every other state has actually added shorter races to the program, including in the capital city. South Australia, for example, is about to reduce Angle Park’s already shortish 388m trip to about 340m as part of an overall track reconstruction. Changes to provincial programs have been even more extreme (see below). The process has been cancerous.
At the core, trainers have the immediate ability to organise race distances via the nomination route. But they don’t – or at least they are selecting shorter trips in ever-increasing numbers. In small part, that may be influenced by owners and trainers being forced to hang on to too many slow or weak dogs out of each litter but the trend is there regardless of that.
There’s another parallel if you move over to the thoroughbreds where a string of sprinting sires support the lucrative six furlong Golden Slippers and Everests. Several Group races have also been cut back in length for obscure reasons. Sadly, the two mile Melbourne Cup now includes hardly any locally-bred horses, leaving Kiwis and imported/visiting Europeans to rule the roost. Do we want to go there?
The three distant countries we looked at have their own problems today but none of them are looking to replace decent races with glorified jump-outs. It’s not hard to conclude that Australia is looking down the barrel of a fading breed.
Who Does What
Here’s an interesting coincidence. In NSW, the most common programming of ultra-short races is the work of GBOTA clubs. Lismore (259m), Gunnedah (340m), Bathurst (307m), Bulli (340m) and Wentworth Park (280m-Wed) have all increased their numbers and/or added the distance in recent times. GBOTA also had a hand earlier in re-floating The Gardens club where 272m racing is featured – often making up half the program. It is also responsible for Gosford where, at great expense, a messy 400m bend start was replaced by an equally messy 388m bend start. Notably, during December alone four dogs (10% of runners) came to grief over this trip.
Independents like Richmond (330m), Casino (300m), Grafton (305m – under reconstruction), Dapto (297m) and Albion Park (331m) are also major contributors to the “shorts”, as are all the newly promoted country tracks.
(A re-built Grafton will have 350m, 450m and 650m trips, starting in April 2021. No prizes for guessing which will be the most popular. The 350m and 650m starts are neither one thing or the other – both begin half way down the straight so are not “bend starts” but neither do they have a long run to the turn. The final Grafton layout is now set in concrete but has never been put out for public comment. Its turn radius is also unavailable or impossible to read on the plan).
If your club does not own short races like these, you can be sure that it will have something around the 400m mark, which is why over 60% of all Australian races are now of that distance or less – and still growing in importance.
That then leaves us with two critical issues. The majority of these short races start on or near a bend, thereby creating an extra level of interference. Our own surveys routinely show a high proportion of race falls for these trips – often double the national average. Yet, at the same time, administrations are regularly trumpeting about the need to improve safety levels. Obviously, you can’t have both at once.
The other quandary is to work out where the trend will finish and what it will do to the breed as a whole. Once again, those same administrations are frequently allocating the same prize money to 300m or 400m races as they do for longer trips. Effectively, they are encouraging shorter races and have taken no account of the long term impact of additional weaker dogs in the system. Vision is absent but they are also ignoring an opportunity to restore a balance by applying differential prize money.
Even more impetus is generated by the modern practice of stimulating the use of the maximum proportion of members of each litter and so reducing any need to euthanise or otherwise dispose of slow dogs. It’s a nice objective but it doesn’t always help the industry. It forces a reduction in the quality of the average race. And that’s without counting the dead-set non-chasers. More imagination is needed. So is some admission of the need to cater for declining field numbers.
Since there is no sign of any reversal of policies, these trends have to constitute – to coin a phrase – a clear and present danger to the advancement of greyhound racing.