Bloody Sunday Is Still With Us

There was a time, on a winter’s Sunday afternoon, when you could nick out to the Sydney Cricket Ground and watch the NRL match-of-the-day from the top deck of the Ladies’ Stand. You needed to be early to get a good seat, not least because it used to fill up with Catholic priests from the local area.

In those days, supermarkets were closed, traffic was light, there was no racing and Victorian Premiers had banned football on Sundays in deference to the state’s many devout citizens.

Leading NSW clubs were also opposed to Sunday racing due to the higher labour costs and a noisy trainer group that claimed it needed at least one break each week from the early morning grind.

No more, it seems.

Last Sunday, Australians could watch 26 race meetings: 14 thoroughbreds (including 6 from overseas), 8 local greyhounds plus another from NZ, and 3 harness. And you could bet the football would be showing on TV screens everywhere.

Four of those dog meetings ran in the afternoon, four more in the twilight-evening slot. Of those, only Sale, Sandown and perhaps Canberra had much of a history. The others were relative newcomers, which tells a story. The extras had been added purely because the TAB had slots available on Sunday whereas other days of the week were pretty full up already. Take it or leave it, really.

33% of those greyhound races were Maidens and only 14% covered better class dogs – ie above 5th grade. More than half of all races were over short distances. Winners’ prizes varied from $380 in SA to $1,095 in Victoria.

Patronage – based on Victorian Win pools for that state’s meetings and NSW pools for the others – was always erratic from race to race, as it is during the week. Sale and Sandown’s Non-Penalty meeting were at the top of the list, averaging around $16,000, with Mt Gambier at the bottom with $4,600. Even then, Sandown varied from $8,600 to an amazing $29,760.

Clearly, the averages mean little when you can’t be sure whether the upcoming race will be a good one or a bad one. More so as investors will have to bet when not much more than half the final pool will be displayed on the screens.

Taking another example, you will lucky to be able to bet into Quinella pools of more than, say, $1,000 and, once again, much less than that will be evident when you bet. On top of that, you may or may not be able to view a dedicated Quinella screen. You could be betting totally blind.

To put that into perspective, this means that arithmetically about $38 will be bet on each of the 28 possible Quinella combinations. An extra $10 bet would massacre the odds.

Boiled down, Sunday betting is only for passers-by. Even then, pool integrity is more a function of race clashes than investor interest.

But there’s more. In some cases, Sunday fields are competing with the day before and the day after for nominations, with obviously risky results. At Albion Park, for example, Monday night field quality has been declining for some years now yet administrators have just added a Sunday meeting which this week included two 520m races and one 600m race which would have detracted from the “better class” Monday meeting. In practice, that Monday ended up with seven short fields, reflecting the fact that Queensland has long since run out of suitable dogs.

Then the Warrnambool meeting, which was heavily biased to 390m races, followed another meeting run by that club the previous night. Both must suffer as a result.

The question we should ask is – is it all worth it? Administrators may well trot out some figures which show total turnover has crept up due to the extra racing (yet to be proven until we see results of the first year of operation). But at what cost? More races inevitably mean a drop in quality, partly because there are no more dogs to fill the bigger program, and partly because many of them are racing more often than is desirable. What happens in the extra races has an impact on all the other races during that week.

Betting would be improved by creating a national betting pool but that will not improve the predictability of either old or new races. You can’t get blood out of a stone. Nor can you get good punters for crook races.

Nothing wrong with Sunday as such but it cannot be treated in isolation. Maybe your local Catholic priests could offer some advice – they know where good contests are on offer. Remember, it wasn’t Eddie Maguire who built Collingwood up – a check of your history books will reveal that Archbishop Mannix did that (with a litle help from the notorious John Wren).

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