A Bridge Too Far

We have gone too far in recent times.

SA has been busy filling in holes in the weekly TAB program and scheduling more short races; WA has been carefully edging up race numbers (quite often to 14 per meeting); NSW and Victoria have sucked dogs from the bottom of the barrel to fill extra low class races; Queensland, long a nett loser in dog number terms, added a Sunday meeting along with 330m boxes at Albion Park to provide opportunities for squibs.

Last night – Thursday – showed where it is leading. Two of our leading clubs, Albion Park and Sandown Park, in their prime weekly spots, offered poor dogs for mug gamblers to play with.

In Brisbane, three races were dedicated to dogs with no more than 1-2 wins. The delicate nature of field quality in that state was illustrated when four of the ten races produced First Four dividends of over $1,000 on the NSW TAB (two over $3,000). Those figures are just a general guide as Tabcorp tells lies on a daily basis when a jackpot occurs (and sometimes when it doesn’t). Through some magical arithmetic it manages to declare imaginary dividends which are greater than the amounts in the pools.

At Sandown the cream of Victoria’s crop delivered one race where five dogs had only one win and the others just two. In another race, four dogs had only one win and three others none at all. Sandown ran with one short field and there were no reserves for most of the other races.

Despite that trend, Sandown and The Meadows are persisting in running 12-race meetings where before 11 were considered OK and before that again, 10 were the norm. These changes are simply a way of spending extra cash made available following better commission deals done with the government and Tabcorp.

In other words, surplus money is being spread more widely rather than being concentrated on better meetings with better dogs. This Victorian practice is nice for some but it is resulting in the same group of dogs being spread more thinly across the state – hence poorer fields for punters to combat. Tier 3 races, for example, are limited by law to dogs which cannot run fast.

Yes, some dogs were being held back for feature events starting at Wentworth Park on Saturday. And SA dogs were battling for the local Sprint Championship last night – but they were all locals anyway. At the same time the other main Thursday venue of Dapto was running four maiden races and a mixed bag of others on what is always a dicey track.

In total, starters are being squeezed out of a sausage machine irrespective of the ingredients used in the first place. Some will claim that only the numbers count but even then the risks are apparent. Statewide, our surveys show that a good 20% of Victorian races are short of a full field, another deterrent to betting. And even Albion Park’s main race had no reserves and ended up with a 7-dog field.

There have been no significant changes to the Australian dog population for many years now. But we have managed to get blood out of the stone to keep the TAB flag flying. Punters will not be impressed.

BOXING DAY IS FOR CRICKET

GRV has done it again.

Last year we pointed out how dangerous it was to switch days of the week when a Cup night comes around. Horsham was one example where the chosen night time option proved much less popular that the customary Tuesday twilight spot (attendances were fine but not betting).

Now Cranbourne has just run its Cup heats on a foreign Wednesday night. Monday twilight is its usual spot these days.

On the NSW TAB, those heats averaged pools of $9,353 on the Win tote. Two days earlier the average for a very ordinary Cranbourne meeting, several maidens included, was $7,560. A week earlier again the average for the Monday was $15,065. Victorian pools were larger but comparable in shape. Whichever way you look at it, switching days has to be a loss for the industry.

Sale was similar. Its Cup was switched to a Wednesday night, Boxing Day in this case, and pulled in an average of $10,422, or $9,243 if you ignored the Sale Cup itself. Normally, Sale runs during Sunday twilight, not a great time of the week for betting anyway, and averages around $9,000 a race. The change was hardly worthwhile.

Whatever the reasons for this policy, it is not pulling in the punters. Tens of thousands of dollars have been thrown away over the last year. People like consistency and they don’t much like evening racing from Monday to Wednesday at the best of times. Twilight, yes, but not nighttime.

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