Gilding the lily on greyhound tracks

Richmond Greyhound Track (Source: Twitter)

NSW track improvements are well on the way, according to three recent media announcements by GRNSW, one with the Racing Minister in tow. The last one (except for Grafton and Richmond) is confined to tidying up what is there and replacing various bits of equipment. All these are essentially minor or major maintenance jobs, stuff for which Greyhound Racing News South Wales (GRNSW) is routinely responsible. 17 racetracks and one trial track are mentioned.

No doubt all these steps are fine and dandy but, Grafton and Richmond aside, none relate to the layout of the track. The nearest to that subject calls for fixing “track profiles”, which presumably means levelling out the racing surface to one degree or another. Let’s accept that those jobs are worthwhile in themselves but do they make tracks “safer for dogs”?

The short answer is not as far as we can see. In fact, sometimes the opposite is true. Consider these points on the GRNSW published job list:

  • Richmond: As already noted here, the bend start for 400m (now 401m) races remains in place. No information is offered about levels so the associated conclusion is that the flat first turn for 535m (520m) will still be there, thereby throwing runners off to the side as they try to get around the corner. A simple solution would be to shift the 401m boxes around to allow a direct look at the back straight and then correctly grade the turn. Meantime we have a NEGATIVE outcome.

  • : After a bit of tidying up, the old 400m start is replaced by a new 388m start – both on the bend – so that the field compresses as they move into the back straight and regular falls occur. The 520m start is good but the first turn is still messy and generates interference. Another NEGATIVE outcome.

  • Wentworth Park: “Track profile” is again mentioned but we have no idea what was done or why. In any event race falls at the first turn are still common. The 720m first turn is not much better. Also a NEGATIVE.

  • Gunnedah and Tamworth: Lacking detail, I can’t comment sensibly.

  • Kempsey: Apparently attracted lots of work to bring it up to scratch. However, that has been wasted as this track, together with Wauchope and Taree, will be scrubbed or downgraded and activity transferred to a new Super Track at Taree. Another NEGATIVE financially.

  • Bathurst: Minor jobs aside, its diabolical but recently built 450m bend start will remain, thereby ensuring mandatory interference in the first few metres. The 520m first turn is also suspect. Very NEGATIVE.

  • Taree: See Kempsey above. Whether recent investments will have proved worthwhile is unknown until the nature and location of the Super Track is decided. DOUBTFUL. One reason for that assessment is that all three clubs strongly short races which invariably start on a bend (and lack sectional data).

  • : Has undergone a “safety and upgrade in June 2020” yet the 400m start remains on the bend and the first and home turns are not well contoured (nor have they been since the track was opened). That 400m start was moved from a 413m spot much earlier – necessary due to poor design criteria. CAN DO BETTER.

  • Maitland: Some tidying up but the release fails to mention that the rail at the start of the main turn was indented on the erroneous ground that such a gimmick “had been successful” elsewhere, according to GRNSW. No, it hadn’t. Wherever that occurred it produced greater box bias. Boxes 1, 2 and 8 gained, the others lost. NEGATIVE.

  • Bulli: Money spent on various bits of equipment but none on the track layout, which still causes dogs to run off on the turn as it is too flat. PROBLEM IGNORED.

  • Grafton: Brand new. Seems to work well. Very POSITIVE.

  • Coonamble; Dubbo: Temora: Can’t comment.

  • : Big money spent on lighting and re-surfacing but retains poor bend starts and no straights, which means it is biased towards certain types of dogs. WASTED OPPORTUNITY.

  • Muswellbrook: All GRNSW comment is related to equipment and surfacing but none mentions a horror bend start for 429m races or the shape of the turns. NASTY NEGATIVE.

  • Wauchope: Not mentioned, perhaps because it has some hassles with land ownership. Nevertheless, it is a pity it can’t be pushed as it has its own tourism attraction and is tied up with Port Macquarie which is the biggest town and the major tourism generator on this section of the coast.

By the way, GRNSW also fails to mention the fairly recent reconstruction of the Goulbourn track where a 450m start proved too much of a handful (inside dogs were forced to run an ‘S’ shaped course right after the jump) so enforcing an expensive shift to a 440m start. An old 700m trip was decommissioned for unknown reasons.

It also omitted the big expense committed much earlier to the Dapto track, only to see the revised version end up as no more than a copy of the old track. Early interference is normal, which is why outside boxes do quite well (rare for a circle track). Much the same thing occurred at Richmond, too, in this period

The NSW Greyhound Welfare and Integrity Commission () seems be recording fewer injuries these days, although exactly why is uncertain. It needs checking but it clearly could not be because of kinder layouts, as evidenced by all the above track issues.

So whatever portion of the $30 million Capital Grants Program has been spent, it has certainly has not helped reduce interference or race falls. Shiny new gear is fine but what dogs need is a clear run around the circuit. That is not being achieved.

The Answer

The key point here is not that the GRNSW jobs have not been worthwhile but that the claims about a big improvement in safety and welfare are overstated and that far more important tasks have to be looked at and implemented.

Going back to the Goulbourn case will illustrate the problem. The initial reconstruction overlooked the obvious fact that 450m dogs would be inconvenienced by the awkward location of the boxes on the bend. When this was finally recognised they had to be shifted around to enable a 440m start. The initial design was faulty so money was wasted there. The later correction absorbed more cash. Much the same thing happened with the 413m boxes at The Gardens. More money down the drain to (partly) correct the fault. The new 400m start is still on the bend when the alternative was there to knock down the fence and create a straight run down the back straight, covering much the same distance. You could repeat that exercise for Gosford 388m.

Somehow or other we are missing out on some mandatory design principles (which was one output which might have been expected of UTS). So the designers have been wrong. The approval authority has been wrong. Money has been thrown away. And dogs keep falling and suffering injuries. Nobody has learnt as most of these problems are repeat efforts.

Nor is the subject limited to NSW. All states seem to have the same difficulty, as we are finding out at , for example, or Angle Park 342m, or 520m, or Cannington 600m, or all trips at and Albion Park.

So – repeat, repeat, repeat – the industry badly needs a , dedicated, expert unit to oversee all track works. Only then will it have any hope of claiming that welfare has been improved. Media releases will not do that job.

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