Rumour has it that Greyhounds Australasia Ltd recently talked about the need for a serious study into the art of track design.
It can only be a rumour as GAL, the code’s only national body, seldom talks about what it does. No meeting agendas are published. Few decisions are announced, and then only for matters limited to veterinary subjects, drug investigations or, in the latest case, greyhound welfare programs.
The veterinary area is further limited by a GAL policy to deal only with the Australian Greyhound Veterinary Association (AGVA) and not with other organisations, including universities. In itself, that policy severely restricts the advancement of the sport, given that AGVA is comprised of members who are, by definition, tied up with current industry participants or organisations in one way or another. Conflicts of interest would be present and innovative thinking put at risk.
On the other hand, universities would in theory and practice be keen to engage with outside organisations such as racing authorities, provided only that they get sufficient encouragement. That was the case with Sydney University when it conducted investigations into the use of whips in thoroughbred racing. But it got no such support when GAL refused to deal with it on a suggested subject a year or so ago. Noteworthy also is that projects selected by final year students normally include a large number of dog breeds but none of the greyhound.
Still, going back to the welfare issue, GAL’s recently announced a push into the national sphere of the recent moves by NSW and Victoria to improve regulations and practices. It included a string of measures aimed solely at trainers and their kennels – all to “to help ensure continued improvement in greyhound welfare outcomes”. Nice but narrow.
Even the recent NSW parliamentary inquiry identified problems with tracks, especially those with bend starts, as important factors in racing injuries – surely a welfare issue, as well as a public relations challenge.
These days, the creation of good, reliable and trouble free tracks is one of the few major influences on the code’s future that still lie in the hands of the industry’s managers. Pretty well everything else is controlled by TABs and corporate bookmakers. Unfortunately, those betting organisations have now run out of puff; tote takings are in decline, alternative betting such as Fixed Odds are a financial rip-off for punters and have probably done their dash now, the weekly racing program is already jammed full, expansion is limited to strange and unknowable international events at odd hours, and sportsbetting is on the rise.
So where will future growth come from? The only logical answer is from more betting from existing customers and the attraction of new customers, preferably big spending ones.
To bring that about, it is plain that, as well as better marketing, greyhound racing has to offer a more reliable set of outcomes – ie tracks which enable more interference-free races – which then encourage serious punters to take part.
Obviously that would cost money, but going down that road is likely to be far more rewarding over the long term than doing nothing. In any event, many changes are possible before moving into the million dollar category.
For example, let’s pick out one of the worst problems and use that as a test case. There are plenty of other options but the 600m trip at The Meadows offers multiple opportunities. Its first 100m are invariably a shocking mess as eight dogs try to negotiate space sufficient for half that number. Push and shove are extreme and penalties are always enough to force one or more runners out of the competition completely.
The underlying point is that middle distance racing has become more and more popular over the last decade, indicating that dogs and their trainers, as well as punters, would like to see more of them – but not when they get smashed at the start. That popularity, incidentally, is also being affected by the fact that 700m racing is clearly beyond the capacity of the vast majority of the current dog population, including many of today’s big race winners.
So the challenge is to get out the jack hammers and the concrete mixers, pull that 600m start out and move it around to a spot which allows the field to get a good look down the upcoming straight. Never mind all the mountains and cliffs in the way, just use your nous and do it.
Going back to the track study, we have previously outlined in these columns how greyhound racing lags far behind other codes of racing and virtually all other sports in the way it has failed to modernise and improve its layouts. We pointed out that the technology and the science were basically there to be used, just as the AFL and the NRL have employed GPS monitoring of player movements and used firms like Sportsdata and Champion data to create analysis programs.
But there is more.
Now the Australian Institute of Sport has built a new system based on multi-camera pictures which feed into computers the moves by every player on the field and then pass that on to coaches for evaluation.
Nicole Jeffery in The Australian (June 6) reports that “leading AFL and NRL clubs already use GPS for competition analysis but (AIS sports scientist) Stuart Morgan says the camera data is superior because it allows coaches to track the movements not only of their own players but also of the opposition”.
“We were looking for a non-invasive way to track athletes, how fast they run, how far they run during a game, where they were during set plays, what the opposition is doing from a tactical point of view”, says Morgan.
All this sounds like stuff that track designers could readily use to assess what works well on a greyhound track and what doesn’t, even second-guessing the dogs.
Can we afford not to use it?