It’s been fascinating to see general sports push racing out of the headlines for a change. But probably not for very long. Until names are named, there is very little substance in the reports anyway.
What will happen, I suspect, is that a small number of players will end up being under the gun, much as the occasional horse or dog, trainer or jockey, is pulled out and thumped by the racing police.
That’s not to understate the importance of a good integrity system in any sort of human activity. One where industry leaders show the way, unlike the previous administration in Victoria, which simply lost the plot. (I should add that I see no problem in authority employees betting in races outside their control. If nothing else, it at least gives them some exposure to how the betting sector works in practice. But never on their own patch).
Potions, pills and witches brews have been part of sporting contests for a couple of thousand years that we know of. That includes racing, where hyped up horses dragged chariots around the arenas, with whips flying and nostrils flaring. Today the questions are more what sort of potion, when was it administered, and whether the laboratories have caught up with it yet.
In most sports a large range of “drugs” is on the approved list, even caffeine in your daily coffee (remember our Olympic athlete who demonstrated his high reading was due only to drinking 14 cups a day). However, as Fairfax reports – quoting Wayne Goldsmith, a high performance sports consultant, on February 10 – “You go to a footy team and everyone is taking stuff. It’s all legal but it’s vitamins, creatine, beetroot juice – they’re taking the stuff routinely. It’s a culture thing that needs to be broken. The other thing is that half the stuff they are taking doesn’t work”
That last point brings up the question of EPO, once the drug of choice amongst racing shrewdies. Yet EPO, or its substitutes, has never been shown to boost an animal’s performance in short to medium length events, only to return it to its normal peak. Of course, a three week bike race is a different story.
Which takes us to the real point. Is there leadership in the sport/code/industry which is sufficient to generate the right attitude amongst the participants, or among those in positions of responsibility? Apparently not in some cases. In racing, or particularly greyhound racing, authorities have a head start over general sports in that there is a zero tolerance for nominated drugs.
Given today’s highly technological world, that’s probably overdoing things. It is not hard for tiny traces of various substances to get caught up in the day to day handling of the needs of the canine athlete – whether in feeds or medicines. Still, the process seems remarkably successful in keeping the sport clean. Offenders are regularly picked up although there is far too much variation in penalties from state to state. Those getting away with it must be very few indeed.
I suspect the public’s attitude to greyhound racing is far more influenced by husbandry habits than by drug use – using live quarry, for example, is still prominent in street talk, whether true or not. One of the main reasons for that view is that the greyhound industry has been far too backward in developing a more positive image to present to the public. The vast majority of the public never come in contact with a greyhound or, for those who do, they are confronted with a muzzle which must be intended to restrain a savage animal. That outcome is a far cry from the truth yet it dominates uneducated thinking.
This is a great time to mount a campaign to demonstrate the greyhound’s athleticism, its unequalled history, its purity, its basically gentle nature.
And we can thank the stewards on the way. For their drug controls, that is, not for their supervision of form variations which leave something to be desired. Far too much is left unchecked, unlike the other racing codes. Dogs are like people, of course, and will have their good and bad days. But questions should always be asked.
THE STARTING POINT
One measure which will assist the above form supervision is an improvement in the code’s presentation of sectional times. Far too many gaps exist in this vital area.
Of all the states, only WA achieves excellence in its sectional coverage.
Victoria is nominally good but sloppy work at the source continues to leave gaps or insert errors into form records. SA and NSW are OK in town and at major provincial centres with circle tracks but come up very short elsewhere. Queensland does not even try outside the two main SEQ tracks and even those are full of holes. It also suffers from the shortage of times from Northern NSW tracks, where many dogs are regularly crossing the border. Tasmania is hopeless as it records nothing but leader’s times, a method which is sure to mislead future form assessors. It’s like offering formguides which contain only winning runs.
If you can’t predict how fast they will go early, you have no hope of coming out in front. It is worth the effort.