HAS our uniquely Australian obsession with breeding for speed led to weaker greyhounds? Are we far too obsessed by track records and ever faster times? Should we instead be concentrating on breeding stronger chasers?
Punters are the lifeblood of racing as a financially viable sport. I believe if you asked most punters, even those with little genuine interest in greyhound racing other than as a numbers game to be played while sinking a few beers down at the local, whether they preferred investing in a 21-second 400-metre ‘blink and you miss it’ race or a 700-metre test of strength and stamina, they would overwhelmingly choose the latter.
I must admit to a personal bias here. As a teenager one of my favourite meetings of the year was going to the old Harold Park track on Summer Cup semi-final night. Four close-fought semi-finals over the tough 732m trip made for a great night.
Unfortunately, over the last couple of decades we have watched as the number of genuinely good-quality stayers has diminished to the point where about the only time a ‘half-mile’ race is held is when it happens to be a set of heats and final for a trophy.
Even these are becoming less and less as track managements decide to turn former distance events into middle-distance contests. The Roy Maidment Memorial, Sir John Dillon Memorial and Hume City Cup are recent examples of this.
As the fallout from the live-baiting scandal continues to bite, and as animal welfare has, quite correctly, taken a more prominent position within the racing psyche, isn’t it time we started to seriously reconsider our desire to produce greyhounds capable of shaving one-thousandth of a second off a 350m track record?
Is it time to start thinking about producing racing surfaces that are not designed for fast times but rather aimed at reducing the chances of debilitating injury?
In 1965 the inaugural New South Wales Greyhound of the Year award took place and was won by the staying bitch Blue Autumn. She never established a track record in her career. Other NSW Greyhound’s of the Year such as Shapely Escort (the 1971 winner), Smooth Keith (1977), Fast Sapphire (1980), Glider’s Son (1981), Winifred Bale (1982 & 1983), Classy Spider (1990), How’s The Fort (1992), Bobniak (1997), Kumta Chase (2003) and Take The Kitty (2009) all completed their illustrious careers without troubling racebook compilers with the need to amend their track record lists.
Even the likes of Rose Moss (1966), Pearl Moss (1967), Kawati Boy (1978), Acclaim Star (1979) and Big Sam Banner (2002) only set one track record each during their stunning careers. The above-mentioned five collectively competed 197 times for 100 wins, but only five in track record time.
While I accept the converse to the above raft of runners are all those greyhounds of the year whose careers are filled with track records, my point is that for a greyhound to win such a prestigious award it is not remotely necessary for it to set a new track standard at some point in its career.
The obsession with ever-increasing speed is not necessarily conducive to the long-term good of the sport as a spectacle. After all, we are seeing less and less races over 700m simply because so many greyhounds just can’t run out that trip. So, we’ve watched as 600m has become the new normal for longer races while there are arguably far too many events of 400m or less.
Of course, changing the focus away from breeding for speed and ever-faster times is only one part of a complicated equation towards keeping greyhound racing vibrant and viable for the longer term.