Short Measures

Both GRV and GRNSW claim the current increases in betting turnover show the world things are fine in greyhound racing.

Well, it’s nice to start with but the conclusion is debatable, not least because the extra cash is coming from meetings that did not exist before (Victoria), or were recently promoted to the TAB category (NSW).

And all the evidence points to mug gamblers, not informed punters, delivering that cash.

While all that has been going on, another big trend in clear – races are shorter on average.

There are many ways of checking that but what your correspondent could easily access were comparisons of race distances between 2004 and 2011 at Ballarat, a strong greyhound centre and handily located for many trainers. These involved random samples of meetings covering 200 races (not a lot but they are indicative).

They show some stark results.

Ballarat Comparison Of Race Distances By %

    390m :

  • 2004 – 0%
  • 2011 – 35%
    450m :

  • 2004 – 82%
  • 2011 – 42%
    550m :

  • 2004 – 13%
  • 2011 – 20%
    650m :

  • 2004 – 5%
  • 2011 – 2%

The fairly recent addition of a 390m trip at Ballarat was accompanied by modest changes to distances and boxes at re-built tracks at Horsham, Shepparton and Warrnambool, where the short trips are also popular. New tracks at Warragul and Geelong also strongly feature 400m racing.

The trend continues in NSW where “C” class meetings at Bathurst, Grafton (newly added 305m), Nowra, Wagga and Dapto also embrace trips in the 300m-400m bracket. And in Queensland where a 331m distance has been added to the 395m already available at Albion Park.

Similarly, South Australia has introduced 400m trips at Gawler, Strathalbyn and Mt Gambier. In WA, Mandurah’s 302m and 405m races lead the way.

All told, this category now accounts for around one third of all races.

So what does all this mean?

First, there has been a general transference from the “bush” to the main provincial centres. What was once mostly out of sight is now front and centre. Lower quality dogs are now in view across the nation.

To do this, in NSW the authority simply re-tagged existing low prize money meetings. Victoria, which has no “bush”, so to speak (although it did de-license Wangaratta), started playing around with the grading system at existing tracks by introducing more Non Penalty races, more Restricted Win races and the Tier 3 category where slow dogs are compulsory by law.

(Note: When was the last time you saw a Grade 1 race? Or even a Grade 2? Back in the 1980s they were routine. And, no, Best 8s and FFAs are not the same).

Second, because there are more TAB races in total but no increase in the dog population, the average field quality has dropped. So has the average meeting quality. It is inevitable that some of the slower dogs will filter through the system into meetings they once could not have hoped to enter. Even so, on given days a third of all TAB races can be short of a full field.

Third, while some of the extra races/meetings are at genuinely off-peak times, others are not. Together with a steady increase in maiden races, this displays the worst of the code’s product to more and more fans.

Fourth, the resultant mix of good and bad discourages better punters as fewer races at each meeting bear working on. Added to which is the thinning out of turnover as Tabcorp pumps obscure overseas meetings into an already crowded calendar. In particular, Saturday night pools at Wentworth Park and The Meadows have suffered.

Fifth, nearly all the shorter races in question start on or very close to a bend, thereby creating a high interference environment. Yet TAB dividends show that outcomes at 400m or shorter races are less predictable than those over longer trips. They tend to be jumping contests rather than real races. Not a good punting outlook.

Sixth and more conjectural, what does all this mean for the future of the breed? If so much of the dog population can earn good money over the “shorts”, and in races for slow dogs, why bother to look for more stamina? Is it there anyway?

Finally, some may note the useful increase in 550m racing at Ballarat. However, the numbers are still small, some of them are maiden events and it is often noticeable that many middle distance candidates are there only because they can’t really hack it over 450m-500m.

Another theme is that low quality racing gives more dogs a chance to avoid the worst possible fate. Perhaps, but it’s not proven the current plans will do that. Better still, why not find other options to keep them occupied – more coursing, for example. Anything to preserve, or even improve, the standard of real greyhound racing.

The fix?

As outlined once before, if you make a superior product the industry’s first priority everything else falls into place. That’s why we get big turnover for Easter Eggs and Melbourne Cups and small and erratic pools for midweek nights.

It’s not rocket science.

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