There are two ways the industry can make money. One is to get more people to have a bet. The other is to spend capital wisely and productively. We seem to be having trouble on both counts, but here let’s concentrate on the big jobs involving the building of new tracks or re-building old ones. Not your regular heavy maintenance items such as cables, machinery or kennels but works that involve the actual racing circuit.
What we should be looking for are investments that produce a return over the long term, much like the NBN they are arguing about at the moment. These would be jobs that make racing better for all. Unfortunately, if you look for safer and more interference-free tracks – those which encourage punters to bet – the score is dismal.
At a rough count, some $40 million has gone into new or re-built tracks over the last decade or so. Examples are listed below. That figure ignores inflation and omits the share of jobs attributable to grandstands and other buildings.
Of all these jobs, only two could be said to have produced a really good return – Hobart and Mandurah – while a couple of others have done some good – Angle Park and Nowra – the latter being primarily at the initiative of the local club and council, not the racing authority.
All the others have resulted in tracks with significant faults, ranging from disruptive turns to poorly placed boxes and dubious gradients. In some cases, a refurbishment simply repeated the old faults, or copied bad features from another track. In others, the outcome may be better than what went before but is still less than ideal.
Those views emerge from studies of the consistency of race results (ie dividends), a measure of race falls and interference which we conduct quarterly (and which has been posted on a previous article here) and observation of actual races.
Some folk maintain that greyhounds have mind of their own and cannot be expected to take advantage of a well-built track. It’s just the luck of racing, they say. Yet this attitude ignores the fact that some tracks are better than others, as pointed out above. Of course, there are clumsy dogs, good field dogs and many in the middle. And some dogs have different galloping actions to others. But, in the main, the evidence shows that a better designed track produces lower interference and allows dogs to more readily hit their own performance standards.
In total, some 90% of all the invested capital has returned a negative result. Commercial company boards have been thrown out for much less. That this has not occurred in racing may be partly due to the fact that authorities are not really called to account for what they do. Auditors address only whether the paperwork was right, not whether the investment was productive in practical terms. Racing Ministers, who are legally in charge of them, seem less inclined to intervene.
A wide variety of firms and officials has been involved in carrying out these jobs yet virtually none has the right to claim any expertise in track building. Indeed, it is impossible for them to have that expertise as no-one has ever bothered to study the subject in any detail. Engineers study for years to learn how to build bridges or skyscrapers yet racetracks are built using only people’s opinions or guesswork – sometimes educated guesswork, but guesswork nonetheless. The results reflect that.
There is only one way to start achieving a better return on the industry’s investment – authorities must get together to commission an independent scientific study of track design criteria. The amateur approach must give way to a professional one.
Here is our track summary.
Australian Racing Greyhound Track Analysis
Hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on plans for Logan and Deagon, which both involved consultants with little or no greyhound racing experience. Deagon has already been dumped while Logan is in the lap of the gods. No decision has been made on building a new track, nor on Albion Park’s future.
Projected $1 million to be spent on plans alone for a combined thoroughbred/greyhound track. No further details available but many millions will be required if the plan goes ahead.
Gosford and The Gardens
Both designed by country engineering firms with no greyhound racing experience. Both were forced to shift 400m boxes after a few months. First turns at both tend to be disruptive. Gosford’s home turn is good, The Garden’s is not – too flat. The run into the pen at The Gardens is risky.
First turn remodelled in 2010 in a way which “has proved successful elsewhere”, according to GRNSW. Cutaway turns elsewhere have not done that at all – they all increase the track bias and favour inside boxes more than normal. They create unfair races. The evidence is on the books, but not on GRNSW statistics – the authority failed to re-start winning box data after making the track change. Oranges are mixed with apples, or maybe lemons.
Both turns remodelled in 2001 as at Maitland. Substantial interference occurs at both 520m and 720m first turns. Strong railers can overcome the bias but fields are often disrupted anyway.
A post-flood re-build (for $1m-plus) essentially created a copy of what went before with the exception of an added transitional rail covering an 80m stretch going into the turn. The result is that dogs are confused at the double change and so unpredictable lateral shifting causes routine interference. The flat home turn also throws many dogs off the course.
Designer unknown. Rebuilt at substantial cost yet disruptive bend start for 400m retained and 535m runners must overcome flat first turn (due to the shape of the run-in from the 400m start).
No apparent designer known. Complete re-build yet retained all the features of the previous version, including a too-tight positioning of the 520m boxes (inside dogs tend to move outwardly at the start) and a disruptive first turn.
At club initiative, the home turn was re-built successfully. First turn still disruptive.
GRV commissioned a full re-build yet retained a bend start for 520m while the turn into the home straight is suspect.
Some millions soon to go into improved grandstand and other facilities yet no improvements announced for the track. Crowding at the start, a disruptive first turn and a flat home turn remain.
Re-built/refurbished several times yet crowding at start and disruptive first turn remain, the latter prompting many inside dogs to move out suddenly.
The start of the 525m trip at this $13 million (in old money) complex has been fiddled with three times yet it remains heavily biased towards the inside. That means unfair races.
Shepparton, Horsham, Warragul and Warrnambool
All re-built yet the 390m/410m trips are problematical. Interference and bias are high, results less predictable than for other distances. Frequent interference occurs going into the turns. 650m races at Sheppparton, Warrnambool and Bendigo are on top of the nearby turn and seriously hamper some runners.
Strong (but different) bias present for 400m and 460m races. Runners veer outwards on home turn. Need for both circle and one-turn tracks is hard to understand. Fairly handy options exist for both at nearby tracks.
One of the few success stories although it is still a tight track. Remodelling of the track and re-positioning of 515m boxes improved outcomes. Used some outside advice. However, home turn is less than ideal.
Work done to install a 400m trip which seems satisfactory. The main 531m start is too close to the turn while the 643m trip and its bend start are not satisfactory.
Remodelled in 2001 with a cutaway first turn which immediately produced a strong inside bias. Many dogs cannot handle that turn well. Major events have been disrupted. New track likely to be required when lease runs out shortly.
A new track which had initial problems but subsequent work on the main turn provided much improved running.
A brand new track built with the dreaded cutaway turn which generates a strong inside bias. A dangerous run into the pen at the finish – dogs have to make a right turn after the post.
Excellent running over 461m. Wide separation between the line of the running rail and the boxes helps reduce interference. Dogs run straight after the 461m start and the turn is very serviceable. This is the country’s best investment by far.