Greyhound stewards’ erratic decisions a worry

NO SOONER had I said nice things about the Victorian stewards’ increased attention to variable form than the following happened.

Stewards Report, Race 7, The Meadows, 8 July. (In part).

“Chucka Bone raced wide in the home straight and collided with Gun Smoke Stumpy several times. Chucka Bone was vetted following the event. It was reported that there was no apparent injury found. Stewards issued a warning to Mr S. Ryan, trainer of the greyhound Chucka Bone regarding the greyhound’s racing manners in the home straight.”

In fact, Chucka Bone moved up to second place on the home turn, veered to the right, turned his head and absolutely hammered Gun Smoke Stumpy, not once, not twice, but all the way down the home straight, forcing both off the track. That cost both dogs any chance of winning. The third dog had been beaten off but then moved up steadily along the rail and won nicely in a moderate 35.10, paying $31.50. For all that, Chucka Bone got a “warning”.

What on earth is a “warning”? It is meaningless twaddle. The trainer would have been smiling the second he got out of the office.

This would have been one of the greatest efforts of fighting or failing to chase (these days you can take your pick) I have seen in years yet it attracted no penalty at all. We have seen trainers fight behind the boxes over much less. The victim, Gun Smoke Stumpy, which was leading at the time, was robbed of a possible 1st prize, backers of both it and Chucka Bone did their money cold and the public would have been dismayed at the fickle nature of greyhound racing. (Such events always produce a big roar in the local TAB). Backers in future races will also have to take their chances – probably unknowingly.

As a judge might ask, “how would a reasonable person regard this incident?” Unfortunately, no reasonable persons were available at the time so the crime went unpunished. That’s disgraceful. It is equally unsatisfactory that the of racing permit an offender to hold on to whatever it earns while the victim may well lose everything. (In this case the offender ran only fourth and the victim was forcibly relegated to third place). Comparable offences in harness or gallops races would involve relegation and/or disqualification.

The same judge might well ask why the industry continues to use the term “marring”. It is incorrect English.

In Contrast …

A day later, stewards correctly pinged two offenders at the meeting, although for much less severe incidents than Chucka Bone’s. These were quickie “one punch and let me through” type deals as the dogs found someone in their way, snapped at them and charged on through.

They could be compared to the difference between a footballer bumping an opponent out of the way or grabbing someone’s jersey and hanging on for dear life. The dog is guilty either way, of course, yet the worst case at The Meadows got away scot free.

Inconsistencies like these are unacceptable if the public is to put their trust in the stewards.

But Then to the Big Picture …

The above variations are by no means isolated cases, some of which have been mentioned before in these columns.. Similarly, we have pointed out numerous examples of race comments which are figments of somebody’s imagination. Many more have occurred but left unmentioned. Yet the errors continue unabated, suggesting that supervision, training and remedial action are inadequate or non-existent.

It is simply not acceptable for stewards to claim they are right and we are wrong. The evidence is far too obvious and our criticism comes only after repeated viewing of the subject races.

We don’t know, but it is possible that the poor comments on interference are generated by the steward positioned behind the boxes, in which case they have only a limited and oblique view of incidents occurring on the way to the first turn. This longitudinal view gives them no accurate idea of which dog did what, whereas a check of the video would provide a much more objective picture, particularly at city tracks where the camera position is much higher.

All told, this situation is one reason why I have suggested that, on balance, taking the stewards out of the existing organisation and putting them into an authority of their own is not a desirable change to make. More than one of the official “investigators” (into live baiting) has gone down that road but have based their proposals more on theory than on practical events. In most cases, these reviewers have no direct experience in racing. (The Commission does but it has not reported yet)..

Primarily, stewards also need to be held to account by the board and top management of the organisation. Were they out on their own, they would be responsible to no-one on a day to day basis, which is not in the public interest. The negatives outweigh the positives.

By comparison, football umpires are applying rules set by others and are subject to remedial measures and training to achieve outcomes decided by general management. Cricket umpires answer to the ICC and have been disciplined on occasions. Tennis umpires are in a similar position. They all should and do contribute to the broad objectives of the sport in question. Everyone should be part of the same team. They should never be masters of their own fiefdom.

Finish on lure still looks good

We had a query from a reader concerned about the potentially greater use of the finish on lure in . Of course, there are as many opinions here as there are commentators, maybe more as some change their minds later.

Note that this subject involves two areas: the running of the race and what happens at the stationary lure.

In the latter case, advice from authorities is that the design of the lure is continually evolving. For example, they are working to achieve more flexible construction so that any dog hitting the stationary lure at speed will find some give when or if the two collide. This would further reduce the chances of injury.

Actual NZ figures are not available publicly but they claim to experience only “a small number of injuries”..

No specific figures are available in Australia for injuries in the pen but, anecdotally, we do hear about a lot and not just to dogs – humans get in the way on occasions. This is hardly surprising considering there are 35kg missiles hurtling around a confined area looking for a vanished lure.

Broadly, both Queensland and experiments came out emphatically in favour of the FOL in terms of both failing to chase and injury numbers. In particular, at problems fell as soon as the FOL arrived and increased again when it was discontinued.

Like many areas of racing, there is probably no perfect solution. However, the evidence in favour of the FOL is strong and consistent. As for the lower interference seen in NZ races, both the FOL styles and the quality of the track design may well contribute. Either way, Australia has much to learn. That may happen only when a genuinely independent review takes place.

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