Eyes Bigger Than The Stomach?

When it comes to productivity and profits, more may not be better. Consider how racing programs are put together.

Half way through this calendar year it seems the number of dogs actually racing in Australia is still creeping upwards. Between 2010 and 2013 that figure was actually rising by an average of about 1% a year. The first two quarters of 2014 continued that trend. The average annual figure is now 13,900.

We obtain that figure by identifying every dog starting in a race, and then deleting duplicate names.

What we don't know is where they are coming from. The latest breeding data from are for 2011. However, we know that there was a small decline over the previous 10 years while snippets from some state reports indicate breeding activity is still flat at best.

Since there are more races being run, it follows that the extra dogs are from the bottom of the barrel, probably encouraged by the addition of low class races to the program (T3, Class C, etc).

The next step is that some of those slow dogs tend to filter through to normal provincial meetings, thereby lowering standards there and making more difficult.

The positive aspect is that a higher percentage of dogs are enjoying a useful racing life. Even so, the actual numbers involved would be tiny – probably a miniscule percentage of the 15,000 or so whelped annually.

Move along to another aspect of this subject – one that was highlighted recently when the gallops in Victoria decided to add a ninth race to the standard 8-race Saturday city meeting, but offered only 50% of normal prize money. Nominations may not be a problem but quality will be.

This copies steps the greyhound code took many years ago to turn traditional 10-race meetings into 12-race meetings, mainly because the TAB system could cope with the higher number and clubs wanted some extra cash. It's still working in Victoria and WA and to a lesser in SA. But elsewhere they are flat out getting numbers for 10-race meetings. Even in Victoria, one in five races starts with an empty box, while in WA it is noteworthy that one race on the customary program has been turned in to a country standard 297m event – also due to a shortage of nominations. And programs are splattered with 302m events, which are jumping contests rather than true races. In fact, in every state shorter races are making up a bigger proportion of the total. That suits lower quality dogs but generally punters prefer longer races.

The question that arises is whether the gallops or the greyhounds are doing better under the expanded regime.

Short fields are a negative to start off with as they discourage exotic bets. But equally as critical is whether programmers are robbing Peter to pay Paul. The constant overlap in starting times, exacerbated by delayed harness races as well as clashes between SKY1 and SKY2, results in gamblers jumping from one to the other and back again. Even if they wanted to, customers are physically unable to bet on both and will certainly not be able to sort out the prices in time.

There is every indication that the industry supply has already exceeded the demand from customers. Hence the terrible pools for some provincial events – $4,000 or so in a Win pool is certainly unworkable and would turn off serious punters. Remember also that not only are the three racing codes competing with one another but on several days each week with football matches in their four codes, all of which attract gamblers.

Racing authorities may claim they are getting higher overall incomes from all the extra races but that is an assertion, not a proven fact. For example, I watched a delayed dog race the other day increase its Win pool from $10,000 to $15,000 purely because it was sitting up there on the screen for a few minutes longer. People had a few dollars in their pocket and intended to invest in something, no matter what. And what they put on the dog race could not go on another race.

There will be an ideal middle ground somewhere but all the evidence suggests that we have gone past it into an area of diminishing returns. Meantime, the whole process has reduced the quality of the average race and turned off many serious punters. What is the cost of that, and was it worth it?

And will the Melbourne gallops come up against the same barrier?

Only a serious independent study would have any hope of uncovering the real truth and establishing whether the costs exceed the benefits. Meantime, releases will contain the usual waffle.


This information should be seen in the light of the recent Commonwealth change of policy to deregulate university fees. It comes from the Centre for Social and Economic Modelling and AVA, reported by Fairfax Media.

Direct cost of six-year veterinary degree – $57,568 (under current conditions)
Starting salary for graduates – $47,300 (assumed to rise at 3% pa)
Expected HECs debt – $101,470 (with interest at long term rate of 5.21%)
Payback period – 22 years.

If universities were to increase course fees by 20% under new conditions, then …

Total debt – $250,330
Repayment period – 31 years.

80% of veterinary graduates are now women.

Note that any fee increases are now in the control of the universities, not the government. Effectively, repayments would rise if the student ends up staying out of the workforce for any reason including – for women in particular – starting a family. Nevertheless, a statement attributed to AVA president Julia Nicholls that “fee deregulation would have a disastrous impact” is quite misleading. It's the cry of an organisation that wants more taxpayer support at a time when the nation cannot afford it. Anyway, it may not be justified.

It is not the concept of deregulation that is the key, but what universities do under that deregulated regime.
Fees could go up or down and by varying amounts from one to the other. If they charge too much then students will go elsewhere. They must also be considered in the light of future changes in salaries paid to veterinarians.

It's certainly a field that racing administrators should be watching closely.

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