Mixed Blessings

Last Monday was a horrible day for some, while others came out in front. Racing at and succumbed to the rain gods while Victoria’s fire storms managed to bypass the racetracks.

Notably, the evening produced some surprise results as , with only an ordinary card, doubled its normal takings. did likewise, while even , the only other night meeting, improved on its usual pools. The only night harness meeting was cancelled, leaving three dog meetings on their own.

Shepparton and Angle Park were busting the $25,000 mark on the NSW Win tote, at least until 10 pm or so when folks started thinking about work the next morning. This gave both gamblers and punters something fairly sensible to bet into. What it tells us is that there is only a finite number of dollars to go around. And Shepparton and Angle Park got what was available.

The current wall-to-wall racing concept may or may not bring in more in total but, in a normal week, it certainly plays merry hell with the quality of the betting product.

That symptom is evident on busy Saturday nights, where the 2010 addition of three extra dog meetings (usually , The Gardens and Traralgon) caused an and continuing reduction in pools at the two major meetings at Wentworth Park and The Meadows.

Sadly, in both cases, it is the lower quality racing that is trumping the quality events. Underneath all those figures is the rise and rise of mug gamblers. I wonder if anyone has measured the effects of their race programming policies? (See also last Monday’s article, WHERE WILL THE MONEY COME FROM).

What has happened is that the extra races were put on without any conscious effort to expand the market to patronise them. Any extra business is therefore accidental or limited to a few locals in each case. Much the same thing will happen to the latest addition – Saturday’s midnight marauders at .

It’s all like a retail chain opening a new store and not telling anyone about it. And all this has been done with no increase in the pool of dogs available to fill the new spots. That same chain has not asked manufacturers to supply it with any more goods – hence the shelves are being filled with stuff other stores used to have, or with rejects and seconds that nobody else wants.

In the end, an advance in one area is being matched with a decline in another. That’s a business model that makes no sense, particularly when racing has been watching a longstanding decline both in their customers’ knowledge of the product, and in the racing industry’s share of the overall gambling market. Greyhound programming has also compounded the problem by adding more ultra-short races which are much harder to predict than longer ones, partly because they contain poorer quality dogs. One thing leads to another.

The extraordinary thing is that industry authorities have not only downgraded the product but have continued to worsen the situation by repeating the efforts that caused the problem in the first place. This confirms what we already know – that short term cash is seen as more important than trashing the sport and failing to expand the market, or even hang on to the customers we once had.

Just to emphasise that distortion, consider Tuesday’s meeting where favourites won half the races. Yet, in two races, well-backed winners ($4.20 and $3.20) were, on disclosed form, the slowest in the race. How do you deal with that? The were certainly not interested as their reports showed nothing other than which dog which dog bumped which other dog in every single race.

While I hate to go down this road, it might be that the only way left to stop the rot is to follow the lead of many NSW trainers and boycott the crook races, the crook dogs and the ultra short events (350m and below). To that list you might also add disruptive tracks, of which there are plenty.

No doubt many punters have adopted this position already – hence the numerous sub-$10,000 win pools where sensible betting is impossible, even using Fixed Odds options. (In practice, Fixed Odds prices broadly follow the normal tote anyway). In addition, all the figures now show that many discerning punters are now choosing First Four options rather than risk the volatile odds in more conventional bets.

There was a time when big punters dominated the betting rings and the price structures. It seems that now owners and trainers have taken their place, with the result that less attention is being paid to value betting. That trend is also consistent with the popularity of Mystery betting, where you lose before you start, and hopelessly unprofitable “boxed” bets recommended by many tipsters.

My observation over many decades is that trainers – whether on the plunge or not – tend to rate one facility above all others: the ability of the bookie or any other betting operator to take a sizeable amount. Whether the value is there or not is secondary. The fact that many such investments have ended up in the pockets of corporate bookies would explain why those same bookies are recording super profits – as evidenced by figures disclosed by GRNSW and others, and by the rapid and lucrative takeovers of local bookies by international firms. Super profits can come only from bad punters or bad value. Or maybe both.

Finally, the plea that giving more opportunities to poor dogs helps them to enjoy a better life is a weak and left-handed way of justifying all the low quality races. Any difference they make to the lifespan of those dogs would be miniscule in the context of the 20,000 or so dogs whelped each year. Surely, more imaginative ways of handling the problem can be found. Anything would be better than ruining the normal racing product.

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