GRNSW will be playing musical chairs next financial year when a few country tracks gain more meeting dates while others miss out. Its monster two-page media release lists a pile of goodies but fails to mention that Dapto lost all its C Class dates on Wednesdays (no loss there, mind you, as the track has never been up to standard).
Richmond, which is apparently designated a “regional” club, gets the benefit and will race twice weekly all year.
In total, the new program will offer an average of 17.8 TAB meetings each week compared with the current total of about 18. Not much in that. Currently, give or take one in each case, Victoria offers 20 TAB meetings each week, SA 6, WA 6 Queensland 8, Tasmania 3 and the ACT 1.
Shifting Bulli back to its former Wednesday night slot means it gets away from the dreaded Monday night timing when betting pools are poor. If you like Bulli, that makes sense. I will be waiting until they improve the turns before I invest there. Viewers could also do with vastly improved pictures of the racing.
Grafton gets more meetings, albeit half are on Monday nights, but this is a good thing for the North Coast region. The Grafton track is far superior to those at Lismore and Casino but perhaps needs more attention to the turn into the straight. Its fairly recent introduction of 305m races does not impress, though, and is not a move in the right direction. Squibs should not count. To attract good punters we also need to see many more sectional times than are offered today. Leader-only times are just not enough, especially when we are not really sure which one did the leading. Results as published by GRNSW are often confusing.
The addition of a third weekly meeting at Wentworth Park on Mondays is really strange. According to the GBOTA chairman this “will provide participants with entry level racing at the home of the sport”. But why is that necessary? Why do entry level dogs need such access? Indeed, some would say that some current Wentworth Park fields are little better than entry level anyway. And any prospect of staging 280m racing there again – as one commentator suggested – beggars belief. That is rubbish racing. It measures only a dog’s ability to jump out of a box. And the public always prefers longer races.
More importantly, the more racing at Wenty, whatever the class, the worse off will be the surrounding provincial clubs. Ideally, two or three of those should be selected for further upgrading, including higher prize money, and so offer a strong lead in to the city track.
In any case, the Wenty increase will rip 80 or so dogs out of the provincial circuit. This is precisely what happened in Melbourne a decade ago when each of the city clubs started taking it in turns to run a weekly Non-Penalty meeting (now both do). They started at below-provincial prize money but soon moved up to parity. Starters comprised about equal proportions of youngsters and experienced dogs which otherwise would have been racing at Ballarat, Geelong, Cranbourne, etc. Strategically, that move made no sense then and nor does it now. It adds nothing but weakens the structure of the week’s racing.
Overall, the new plan fails to address the continuing degradation of average field quality across the three eastern states, coupled with the fall in pool sizes on a race by race basis, including at Wentworth Park. GRNSW has highlighted the increase in cash going to country tracks but omitted to mention the decline in betting at headquarters (and also at The Meadows on Saturday nights).
Good luck to the guys in the bush and to trainers with mediocre dogs but the cost of bringing that about has been enormous. City fields today are only a shadow of what they used to be while the overcrowded programs have resulted in a mad scramble for punters to get set. You cannot reduce the worth of the product without suffering the consequences – which is why mug gamblers are now starting to dominate the takings and serious punters have moved to other options. The evidence is overwhelming.
At the same time, field sizes are slipping away due to the shortage of dogs able to compete in TAB events, not just in NSW but also in Victoria and Queensland, where short fields are common. Remember, there are no extra dogs available, rather the opposite.
Figures produced by Greyhounds Australasia show that between 2003 and 2011 the number of dogs named has fallen by 5% while the number of litters registered is down by 10%. Note the difference. More dogs out of each litter are getting a run, with the obvious inference that less well qualified dogs are now in the mix.
None of these issues have been attacked by racing authorities. In fact, they have gone in the opposite direction by promoting racing stock out of the bottom of the barrel and looking for short term cash. By comparison, how would the fans react if the TV channels started showing C Class football matches? Would the codes still get $1 billion-plus in broadcast fees? Would 50,000 strong crowds still turn up? No way.
It’s all a question of priorities. Racing has got them wrong.