Good Intentions Often Don’t Work Out

Great fields, good track, but nobody came. The top quality Horsham Cup heats last Tuesday, on one of Australia’s best tracks, turned out to be a financial horror. The main reason is quite clear; they shifted it from its customary twilight slot to night time and so everyone went home. On top of that, promotion in general was hard to find.

Horsham has been running for yonks in the 4pm to 7pm period but this week the club operated from 6:48 pm to 10:27 pm. GRV is prone to shift major provincial meetings away from their normal times to a seemingly better day or time of day. But it never works.

Takings were disastrous. Win betting in NSW averaged $7,850 per race. The four maidens on the 12-race program did almost as well as the seven Cup heats or a popular 5th grade final from the previous week. Compare that with the previous week’s twilight average of $17,115 and you get a drop of 54%. More amazingly, that previous week comprised all maiden races, with one exception, and every one of those races featured unraced dogs.

Was the home state any better? Barely. The Victorian TAB averaged $16,733 per race compared with $27,018 a week earlier. That’s a drop of 38%.

If you included all the exotic betting as well as turnover on Tatts, the week-to-week turnover loss for the industry would have been of the order of $700,000 to $800,000. That’s a big price to pay for some silverware to put on the mantelpiece.

Shepparton replaced Horsham in the twilight slot this week so did it make up the difference? Not a bit of it, maybe partly because it was made up of 12 maiden races. But it still averaged $10,516 on the NSW WIN tote, or 34% better than the Cup heat program. So much for the attraction of , , Cailyn Bale and all the rest of the good dogs.

On the night, failed again, despite having box 1. It raced like a tired dog, (running only 27.47), which is hardly surprising as it had to travel back from another failure in the Derby heats on Saturday night to the far reaches of , presumably via . It got away with a 5-day turnaround from the to in the previous week but this 3-day gap proved too heavy a burden. Much the same thing happened when it failed in the Cup last year, four days after its victory. Unsuspecting gamblers had backed the dog into odds-on, just as they did at Warrnambool.

Still, the overall racing was pretty good, with four winners and two placegetters getting under 27.10 and Dyna Tron breaking the 27 sec mark, even though it did not lead.

So what have we learnt?

First, Horsham is a fine test of a greyhound’s speed and strength. It always has been, and warrants more attention.

Second, this habit of dogs backing up quickly is very whiskery. Apart from Radley Bale, ten Horsham starters had raced at The Meadows three days earlier. Three ended up winning on Tuesday, two ran 2nd while the other five ran nowhere. But how do you know which will be which? The customers will never know and you might suspect the trainers will have their fingers crossed, too. It is in everyone’s interest to place some limit on this practice. (Yes, feature race scheduling is a challenge but over-racing puts the cart before the horse).

Third, from Sunday to Wednesday, and sometimes Thursday too, night racing is a dead loss. There is nothing unusual about the Horsham experience. Night betting pools are ordinary at best, and also unpredictable. That’s a poor outlook for potential customers. Currently, betting shops see fans disappear as soon as they have had a drink after dinner, checking their watches to see how much sleep they will get before rising early the next morning. The odd one left reminds you of a drunk lurching out of a saloon and peering down every alleyway trying to remember where he left his horse. In sympathy with that, many outlets close down early anyway, and so the cycle continues. Anything after 9 pm should be ditched, never mind what the bean counters at Tabcorp say.

Fourth, the habit of moving meetings around from day to day or time to time is a major disincentive. Victoria is notorious for this practice. You build up custom only by offering people something they can rely on, or plan on. People organise their life around catching the 7:30 am train to work or playing golf on Saturday afternoon. Anything that interrupts that pattern puts them off (and re-building tracks is an excuse, not a reason).

Fifth, all this data emphasises how heavily the industry relies on mug money to make a go of it. No serious punter in his right mind would bet on unraced maidens in the way they did on Tuesday, or the week before, or anywhere else for that matter. No matter what they attract in the short term, these rubbishy races will never help the industry to achieve real progress.

Perhaps the only way to develop a meaningful long term plan is for the industry to first conduct some serious research into what current and potential future customers need and want in their racing and betting opportunities. Just stuffing races willy-nilly into TAB-created slots is never going to work well. At best, you will survive. At worst, the decline will persist and customers will find more and more other opportunities to interest them, as they have been doing for the last 20 years. The evidence is on the board.

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