There should really be no comparison between Horsham and Sandown Park. The city meeting will have better class dogs, four times higher prize money and an established spot in the national hierarchy. Yet the public are not so sure. Horsham may be three and a half hours from Melbourne and only a modest sized town yet it often puts more into the GRV coffers than Sandown.
The greater city of Horsham has 23,000 people. It thrives on wheat, tourists and people taking a break on the way to Adelaide. The first week of next month will also see a week-long gliding festival at the local airport – a sight to behold! It’s their 50th anniversary and once hosted the national championships.
Horsham greyhounds run on Tuesday afternoons, which is not the greatest time of the betting week. However, the twilight slot is all the rage these days and this is no exception. Folk stopping off for a bet on the way home from work might be one reason for its popularity. It’s also a pretty reliable track, far more so than the often disruptive Sandown. Read any steward’s report to see how much bump and shove occurs there.
But the proof is in the pudding.
Last week, for example, Horsham actually outranked Sandown in the betting stakes. Here are the Win pool averages per race.
|NSW Tab||Vic Tab||Total|
That was no accident. At Horsham five races pulled in over $20 000 on the Victorian TAB but only four did at Sandown. On the NSW TAB seven races at each track managed to get past $10 000.
Of course, there is a contributing factor. Horsham’s afternoon-twilight slot is shared with only three other well spread out greyhound meetings although a number of gallops and harness meetings usually get preference. On the other hand, the relentless forces of Tabcorp/SKY and racing authorities have forced nine greyhound meetings into Thursday night programs (two at twilight and seven at night) plus four or five gallops and harness meetings, some from overseas. All these are there simply because they can be stuffed in and shown on two SKY channels.
Basically, the outcome at the premium meetings is that race quality and betting pools are being trashed. There is virtually no opportunity to talk up the chances of the top dogs – which on that Thursday included the heats of the SA Sprint Championships at Angle Park, featuring Ernie Bung Arrow. Albion Park had a fairly ordinary meeting but still attracted about the same amount of money as Sandown on both totes. The average gambler is simply getting in the long queue of races and hoping for the best.
Personally, I like Horsham and would be little concerned if Sandown disappeared altogether – it’s just too hard to make money there. But is that the way to run the industry?
Other items of interest:
(1) Turnover by race at Horsham (or anywhere else) is unpredictable. Races before 4 pm do not do so well but otherwise betting volumes bear no relation to the time of day, the grade of the race or the quality of the runners.
(2) The biggest influence on turnover is the amount of betting space available prior to the jump. Clashes or delayed harness starts reduce turnover.
(3) First Four takings at Horsham in both TABs vary wildly – from under $2,000 to almost $9,000 – and are not consistent with the fluctuations on Win totes, with the class of the race or with the price of the favourite. However, this might indicate that serious punters take an interest on occasions.
(4) Turnover at Sandown drops substantially after 9:30 pm, Albion Park turnover a bit less so, despite it running nearly an hour later during daylight saving periods.
(5) On my calculations, race outcomes at Horsham over its three distances are more consistent than any other track in the country, suggesting that no more than minor adjustments need ever be made to the layout (some significant but unknown changes are in the offing).
All of this points up a shift in the long term pattern of greyhound patronage, no doubt mostly in sympathy with social preferences. Originally, daytime racing was the most dominant while night racing was limited to more prominent tracks which could afford the lights. This paralleled people’s habits of knocking off work and then going to the track for a night out. Gradually, the advent of suburban TAB facilities made twilight racing more accessible, and then the arrival and rapid growth of SKY pictures completely changed the ball game. Even so, greyhounds were still pushed towards night slots because the space was there and they avoided clashes with gallops meetings.
However, in recent times work and other obligations have seen twilight timings and early evening races become more important to casual punters. Simultaneously, overcrowded programs have reduced average pool sizes at night. Late betting habits and the increase in mug money (from Mystery bets and the like) have made races more difficult to fathom.
All of which is being accompanied by a clear reduction in the amount of business coming from serious punters – as indicated by erratic or poor value dividends and such things as the introduction of Fixed Odds betting. The latter may be popular with some but they routinely involve books of 130%, and therefore scrounge twice as much out of the punter’s dollar as normal tote pools. If small tote pools are a problem then moving to Fixed Odds is going from the frying pan into the fire. (GRV is aiding that trend by also presenting 130% odds in its own formguide).
The reasons for all this are not hard to work out. Supply has exceeded demand. At night, there is too much racing for the volume of business on offer and there are virtually no resources going into the education of future punters. Tipsters dominate and greyhounds have become four-legged poker machines. In what must be years I can recall no gambler ever consulting his own formguide at a TAB outlet. Tragically, no known poker machine is as greedy as Fixed Odds betting is, something which has caused huge dramas in America where high tote takeouts have seen patrons move from the track to the adjacent casinos, with many tracks then closing down.
Both those elements need careful treatment from industry bosses. They should focus not just on how much cash they will bring in this year but on what they are doing to the structure of the industry over time. Indeed, there is a strong case that a slightly smaller operation, when coupled with the above two “fixes” could well produce much greater profits than what we are doing now. More and better Horshams, that is.
And, to those who might want to point out that this is a not-for-profit industry – well, it’s about time that changed.
Stranger Than Fiction
Do you know that at Wentworth Park last Saturday Victorian punters bet 2.3% more on the Sydney meeting than NSW people did? That was despite the home track offering two heats of the Summer Cup and eight heats of the Paws of Thunder. These were some of the best dogs in the land. Was everybody at the cricket? Or the tennis?