More Power To The Stewards

According to a report in The Australian, the Victorian Racing Integrity Commissioner, Sal Perna, wants to see the formation of a new body “with all the powers of stewards including to seek information from non-licensed persons”.

The operative word here is “seek”. The word hardly reeks of power, does it?

In practice, stewards have no direct jurisdiction over punters. They can warn them off the track but that is hardly a huge penalty in these internet days. They can also invite them to attend hearings but cannot compel them – only the police can do that, providing there is sufficient reason.

If you look back over stewards’ performances, their heavy work is concentrated on drugs, drugs and slow dogs. Yes, there are lots of other things they check out – equipment failures, race cancellations, a runner’s eligibility and so on, but these are all pretty routine matters.

Quite often, they also ask about fast dogs. That is, one that has done better than expected. But the facts suggest this is a total waste of everybody’s time. A trainer can trot out one of a dozen factors that lead to his charge having a better chance on the night and there is absolutely nothing the stewards can do about it. But maybe it keeps the fans happy, or happier than they might be otherwise.

However, there are two areas where improvement is possible.

First, like fast bowlers or footballers, many dogs will be carrying niggling injuries during a campaign. The trainer will be working furiously to overcome the problem and get it up the next time around. That’s par for the course.

But the issue here is that the public rarely hears about it. Although racing rules demand that a dog be presented in good shape, failing which stewards should be advised, it is a rare occurrence for that to happen. Worse, sometimes they hear about it after the event, rather than before. It’s not hard to recall a couple of leading stayers that were retired because the trainers concluded that they were no longer able to overcome their injury shortcomings. Yet that news never arrived at the steward’s desk or, if it did, it was kept very quiet. Meanwhile, the public’s money went down the drain.

It’s time the rules were applied more stringently. They certainly are at the gallops.

The other issue concerns stewards’ reports. They are full of notes about A bumping B which then bumped C but never about why this happened. As an independent observer, an experienced steward is in a good position to tell us about different aspects of the track which lead to interference. Are the boxes well placed, can the dogs negotiate the turn reasonably, do the gradients contribute to erratic running, and so on.

The steward is the manager of the race situation so let’s hear some management information.

Finally, since we are on this subject, it is time to again bring up the question of fighters. The rules should be changed to require them to be relegated. It is a nonsense to allow them to profit by perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars (yes, it will happen one day) while the victim is in practical terms the only one penalised.

A view has been put that there is not sufficient time to properly review the race. Stewards are too busy. Nonsense! They go through the motions anyway and an appeal process has nothing to do with the bare fact of fighting. Whether or not an injury was the cause of the misbehaviour is irrelevant. By all means argue about the eventual disqualification but not about the physical act which affected the race result.

If you bust the rules at the gallops or trots you will be relegated – immediately. Note, for instance, last year’s Magic Millions amongst many others. Why can’t greyhounds do that?

In any event, the so-called penalty of a ban for 30 days at the track in question is equally silly. This leaves the fighter free to offend again at the track down the road. Yet the problem is not at the track but in the dog’s head.

As for the Integrity Commissioner’s recommendation that a new multi-code body should be formed – no thanks. Nearly all inquiries end up saying yet another supervisory body is needed – ie more bureaucracy. What they should be doing is putting more strength into existing bodies, if that is deemed necessary and wise.

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