The Treasure Hunt Continues

First sectional times are vital information – right? They tell us how the race will be set up. Forget 2nd sectionals and run home times as they will tell you very little on their own. But you can’t do without that first sector information if you want to bet properly.

So why are they being kept hidden?

As we advised on 12 September, Tasmanian sectionals are hopeless fiction while 1st sectionals at Canberra, Grafton, Casino and Lismore are not making it to the results pages published by GRNSW – or not those for 400m trips where early pace is even more vital. Even if they did, it would be for one dog only and the other seven runners would be ignored.

Yet, if you are at the track, you can see those times being posted on the semaphore board. It does not tell you what dog ran them but the times are there. So either the clubs or GRNSW are not bothering to tell us about them.

They are available for all runners in 520m races at Lismore, while at Casino sub-3 second sectional times are shown for 484m trips (although, being so small, they are pretty useless – statistically and practically). In theory, therefore, the system is working.

The missing times are being recorded somewhere in the Finishlynx system, as otherwise they would not make it onto the semaphore board. But there they stop. Why is this so?

THREE WISE MONKEYS?

Queenslanders – trainers and the like, that is – are being asked to take part in a statewide “We run as one” campaign dreamed up by Racing Queensland. The idea is to avoid saying nasty things and to tell the world what terrific entertainment racing offers. All codes are involved. A special website is being constructed to allow everyone to tell their great stories and so build up momentum which will help the state leap out of its misery.

The good thing about this is that RQ recognises it has a PR problem. And there is nothing wrong with asking participants to help.

The other side of the coin might be tagged “Is that all there is”. There is no hint of a more general marketing plan – such as a program to rope in more customers or get them to “”bet more” as a previous announcement from the hierarchy promised, or even to find out why they are not betting more – ie conduct research.

In fact, a thorough search of the RQ website did not reveal any mention of the new program. Nor, for that matter, did it contain any announcement about the appointment of its new CEO, which is really strange.

By and large, marketing manager jobs in racing organisations around the country seem to concentrate almost wholly on promotions – marquee parties, group functions, meal deals and the like. This is a far cry from more conventional definitions of the post which concern many different aspects of getting the product to the end customer. It varies from company to company but can include sales, product development, advertising, merchandising, pricing, consumer research and so on.

However, aside from flogging the product, I can help RQ with a starting point: Queensland’s prime problem is that its fields are not up to scratch. Failing improvements, there is not a lot to sell. In greyhounds, the average quality is down and the numbers are only a shadow of the old days. Tonight at Albion Park, for example, they are offering two chancy Novice races and the Best 8 is actually only a Best 6. Amazingly, in this climate RQ has decided to increase SEQ meetings from six to seven each week with the addition of a Saturday night low-class Ipswich meeting (for which it will have stern competition at the TAB).

Other commentary suggests harness and thoroughbred codes are no better off.

Of course, to get better fields over the long run more cash would be helpful. Even so, this is a chicken and egg issue. Better fields, well marketed, could attract more investment. Conversely, inaction in either area will encourage a continuation of the dismal trends of the last several years. But another 100 good dogs would make a very big difference. Only mugs will bet on mugs. Real punters demand consistent performers.

Its second major challenge is that none of its tracks are satisfactory. They have major design faults which have been ignored for many years. Except for one, that is. Toowoomba was one of the best in the country but they dumped it for financial reasons.

For example, for more than a decade I have been calling for some relatively cheap upgrades to the Ipswich layout.

Shifting the 431m and 630m boxes to friendlier spots and re-shaping the 520m first turn would make an enormous difference yet none of the club, the QGRA or RQ could be bothered addressing the task.

Townsville is getting a run despite its appalling 90 degree turn just after the 484m start. The circular Lawnton track and the diabolically laid out Beenleigh got the bullet for financial reasons, not because they were unsatisfactory designs. The much-vaunted Parklands ran, in grass or loam mode, with two major faults – unusual disruptions in the early part of the turn and a flat home turn – yet never got any attention. And Albion Park with its bend starts is no bed of roses either.

Queensland’s third major hassle is that its income is confined to a fading TAB. The small size of Tattsbet pools mean that serious punters would be crazy to patronise it when better options are at their fingertips. Only the creation of a national betting pool will ever overcome that shortcoming, never mind what deals are struck when the contract is revisited next year.

All this indicates a massive disregard for the code’s basic needs and the structure of its product. Over time, these shortcomings must have a significant effect on patronage. One outcome came from a letter writer to QGRA’s The Journal, who said, “I will no longer bring guests to Albion Park to watch 6-second races”. And that was several years ago when the grandstand was still in one piece.

TIME IS NO HEALER

The two above cases in NSW and Queensland illustrate how the history of greyhound racing has evolved.

In the first 36 years, from 1927 to 1963, local customers had nowhere else to have a bet legally and raceclubs had only to keep the beer cold and the pies hot while the state authority tried to keep the books tidy and the trainers in line. Clubs succeeded or failed on the quality of their own efforts. In the next 50 years, particularly in the last 25 years, the influence and the attractiveness of the raceclub waned as betting devolved to remote customers while authorities and TABs micro-managed the process.

Well, “managed” is too strong a word; actually, they just administered everything, periodically going to the government for a handout. The quality of the tracks and the fields became secondary to the flow of dollars from distant and largely unknown sources. And administration still outranks management.

In short, no-one is really in charge now. It all just happens.

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