Tasmanian owners and trainers have been doing quite nicely in prize money terms recently, but that largesse is mostly due to their government achieving preferred commission arrangements with Betfair, which then located its head office in Hobart, all of which threw cash into the treasury. The sale of the tote to Tatts also gave the government a capital windfall.
Similarly, Victoria is mooted to increase prize money shortly as a result of commission changes initiated by the state government (following the renegotiated Tabcorp licence, etc etc) and political grants aimed at keeping the regions happy. In NSW, Racing Minister Souris, while in a happy election mode, promised grants to all racing codes. SA has already organised a bigger cut of total TAB commissions. Queensland greyhounds may also get some help, depending on how the March 24 election turns out.
These bonuses are all terrific but they have little bearing on the patronage of racing, whether in greyhounds or the other codes. Note, for instance, how little betting there was on the $40,000 to the winner Horsham Cup recently (see Good Intentions, March 8), despite a top class field.
More critically, they do not avoid the need to address the downturn in genuine punter numbers, the need to chase new business and the urgent need for a national betting pool to encourage the last item to become a reality – all measures guaranteed to result in bigger prize money, and to continue for years to come. Bonuses are once-off.
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Since Albion Park introduced Sunday meetings there has been a sneaky decline in field quality on Monday nights – historically the second best meeting of the week. Part of the reason would be that they slip in 520m and 600m races on Sundays to go with the short stuff. There were three such races last Sunday. The next day they could manage only five graded fields, accompanied by four Maidens and a Novice.
Given the general downturn in dog numbers and/or quality in Queensland, extra meetings can lead only to over-racing, more scratchings or thinner fields. Plenty of dogs are backing up two, and sometimes even three, times a week, with all the uncertainty that creates. Not a good outlook.
Besides, Sundays are normally the worst betting day of the week. Too many family obligations, no doubt. On this occasion Sunday WIN pools were 17% lower than on Monday night – which is hardly the pick of the week itself. Seven Sunday pools were well below $10,000. To say nothing about higher weekend costs.
Anyway, the biggest turnover is not always the best. More profitable turnover should be the aim. And the most profitable rise in turnover is on the meeting you are already running. A fresh approach to programming and promotion is called for.
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Winning isn’t everything. Not sure how Paul Wheeler’s $5 million prize money was split up last year but a quick check of recent meetings suggests that just over a third of it came from running 2nd and 3rd. The big wins must have been good for profits but the place prize money would have supplied meat and potatoes week by week.
In the last two main Melbourne meetings, the Wheelers scored 9 wins, 9 seconds and 3 thirds out of 22 races. A huge performance. And it took only 37 years to get there (Matriarch Emiline Bale whelped July 1975).
PS: In the Horsham Cup mentioned above, the Wheelers ran 1st and 3rd.
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Still on the Wheeler subject, in the middle of the last decade, with only a few exceptions, it became obvious that their dogs were not running out a good 500m. Extensive surveys revealed they were leading up but fading, even over 450m.
Since then, the problem has been corrected in no uncertain terms. However, the current successes are also a function of one key characteristic – they all begin pretty well. They may not always lead, but they are normally very handy, which is why they often run Quinellas and Trifectas (as occurred in last week’s FFA at Sandown, where they also ran the First Four).
Is this nature or nurture, or a bit of both? And do our track designs help leaders too much? Comments welcome.
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So far this year the four major eastern state tracks – Albion Park, Wentworth Park, The Meadows and Sandown Park – have run 593 races at their prime weekly meetings. Of those, only 45 or 7.6% were distance races (those over 700m). Half of those started with a short field.
But Wentworth Park, which provided 38% of total races, was responsible for 62% of all distance races. Queensland and Victoria (especially Sandown) rated poorly although they are quite strong in the 600m bracket, which Wenty cannot provide.
The parlous state of the staying art was well illustrated in the Betfair Cup last Saturday at Wentworth Park, when Thrilling Frank and Thrilling Bloom, starting at 25/1 and 50/1 (correctly priced, too), ran the Quinella, finishing in a very moderate 42.98. Old faithful Slick Lee put in its usual honest run to claim 3rd spot. The 720m first turn is no help at Wenty but even so the better credentialled dogs disappointed badly.
All too often, distance races are a raffle. It’s a far cry from the days when an adage of greyhound racing was “back the favourite in the distance race”. Yet, apart from throwing a few dollars at them occasionally, the industry is taking no obvious or practical action to enhance or even maintain the staying sector – one the public always loves. Improvements must necessarily start with attention to breeding.
Perhaps we should ask Paul Wheeler what the problem is. His dogs are seldom seen in distance races.