If you had just arrived from Mars it might take you quite a while to work out how the greyhound world operates.
- Do you know there are now 19 Grades in operation around the country, and still counting? Here they are: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, Maiden, Graduation, Novice, FFA/FTA, No Grade, Open, 1-2 Wins (or similar number), Restricted Wins, No City Wins, Non Penalty, Tier 3, Mixed – versions 1 and 2. Some of these are similar and about half are designed for bad dogs, but our visitor would not know that
- Aside from Grades, some states put meetings into different ‘classes’ with different qualifications and offering different prize money. Most of these are not obvious, or they demand that readers first carefully study rules, regulations and formguides. Promotion rules vary from state to state. Trainers will know but the public is hard put to work it all out.
- In some states, boxes for reserve runners are decided by ballot, in others by giving the 9 the first crack, 10 the second. Anywhere, with two vacated boxes and only one reserve, the one used is sometimes not best for the conduct of the race (eg 1 and 5 empty, reserve into 5). Applying the existing national rule for boxing short fields would avoid that problem.
- Some race results offer a sectional time without denoting what dog did it, some do it for the leader only, some do it for all runners. One state publishes results in box order, not finishing order. Formguide layouts and contents vary from state to state. Track codes and other abbreviations vary from one to the other. No national form database is available to the public. (One does exist but it is kept secret).
- Three or four years ago the green rug – replacing brown – arrived in some states many months before others. Each state found it necessary to get their stewards to first conduct an evaluation. Consequently, races shown on SKY within minutes of each other showed different colours. (You might therefore ask about the purpose of having national steward’s conferences).
- The successful New Zealand style finish-on lure was evaluated state by state, and decisions made mostly on emotion. Hard evidence was forgotten.
- All states offer tracks with bend starts, but are some more horrible than others. Some tracks have features which directly cause interference, often on the first turn. Seldom is action taken to remedy the fault. Moreover, some clubs or authorities resent any such advice and may try to shoot the messenger.
- The arrival of Betfair and NT bookmakers prompted a range of reactions amongst the states. NSW, Queensland, SA and WA were strongly opposed. All are now in bed with the newcomers yet some apply different commissions to others.
- Australian racing rules apply across the nation – except that they don’t. All states have local rules as well, many of which directly contradict the national rules.
- But here is the biggie. Unlike virtually all other forms of racing – human or animal – if your dog busts the rules and fights it matters little. It can still win, run a place or whatever. At the gallops, harness racing and athletics you will be disqualified and/or relegated for comparable offences. In any code of football you will get penalised immediately and may be dismissed from the field. In cricket or tennis you will lose the advantage. In everyday life you will go to jail. In greyhounds you collect the cash and then go down the road to another track and do it again. How crazy is that?
In respect to fighting, other greyhound jurisdictions are not so bashful. Here is an excerpt from UK Rule 53:
‘The term ‘Deliberate Interference’ shall refer to the intentional interference by a Greyhound with one or more Greyhound(s) during a Trial or Race. The Local Stewards shall disqualify any Greyhound which deliberately interferes and the Owner of the Greyhound shall forfeit rights in that Trial or Race as specified in Rule 95. Such decision shall be final for the purpose of such Trial or Race.’
That seems fairer and more realistic. The victim is not unduly penalised.
Incidentally, Australian dogs do not fight any more. Instead, they ‘mar’ – ie ‘damage, impair, ruin’ (Macquarie dictionary). That hardly seems accurate, especially as the offender cannot get its teeth into the victim. On the other hand ‘fight’, which means ‘battle, combat, struggle’ is much more to the point. Why did we change? On the other hand, the British term ‘deliberate interference’ is pretty clear.
What does all this add up to? Well, at best it’s messy. At worst, the contrary ideas retard growth and risk allowing the industry to slide backwards in a very competitive world, bearing in mind that thoroughbred and harness racing are no better off, governance-wise. Betting on racing once accounted for half of all gambling turnover; now it’s generating only 10%. Enough said.
The code’s national organisation, Greyhounds Australasia Ltd, is a powerless body. Its decisions are voluntary and non-binding. Its deliberations are confidential, its agenda and minutes unseen. It has representatives from each state and New Zealand but it has decided to award itself no executive power. ‘We can only advise’.
Action depends on each individual state agreeing to implement any changes, and often they don’t.
Anyway, GALtd addresses only ‘regulatory’ matters, leaving individual states to be picked off, one at a time, by outside companies such as TABs, SKY, Betfair or NT bookmakers. The power to negotiate with governments or impress the public is diminished.
It’s time for GALtd to stand back, evaluate the industry, evaluate itself and find a better way forward.