Greyhounds working in the dark – mostly

The NSW Greyhound and Commission (GWIC) is not responsible for everything that happens in a greyhound race but it is influential and has made serious attempts to provide that often abused slice of magic – transparency.

It was a pleasure to read the latest quarterly report – Oct-Dec 2020 – on Greyhound Racing Injuries from GWIC. Not just for the final figures but because they told us in detail how they got hold of all the data and why, graphs included. Likewise, we also get regular updates on breeding numbers.

This contrasts sharply with many other matters dealt with by state authorities. Typically, you might see a decision announced but rarely the reasons behind that decision. Of course, mysteries don’t always belong to Integrity departments and include such items as:

  • Lures – type and positioning
  • Results obtained from GPS tags on Meadows runners
  • Turn cambers – as designed and in practice
  • Follow on lure usefulness
  • Justification for drop-in boxes
  • Rug Colours
  • Track Minimum Standards
  • Actual track “improvements” made
  • Current betting turnover by track and source
  • Why breeding is still in decline

For each of these subjects we rarely know what actually happened, what was studied, and why some matters were accepted or rejected. To illustrate, SA and Queensland (twice) got quite different outcomes from their studies of the FOL (Follow on lure) and, predictably, made different decisions. Geelong has been experimenting with the FOL for yonks but not a word has been published to explain what went on, how good it was and what will happen in the future. NSW had a quick stab at it at two tracks, and then forgot about it altogether.

Then a couple of million spent on the Gosford track failed to improve the first turn and led to a 388m bend start replacing a 400m bend start – from which race falls are fairly common. They may well have copied where a 413m bend start was replaced by a 400m bend start. Who owns those decisions?

That is not to say that GWIC is perfect or that it is not capable of improvement – as it states itself when it welcomes comment. It’s just the first cab in the rank. Still, it missed the boat badly in the case of the pad injury to Tornado Tears at when there was a general denial of any shortcomings in the state of the track, the poor decisions of or trainers or the potential to present a recommended future practice sourced from suitably vets. GWIC failed to address the big picture but hopefully that’s an isolated case.

So GWIC is producing lots of good stuff but what are we doing about it? The next step is for GRNSW and other states administrations to act on the advice. If it is doing that, it is hard to see where. UTS is also pumping out valuable material but that unit is not armed with greyhound expertise and so it is management’s responsibility to merge the fresh information with other requirements or limits and then come up with a considered decision.

There are vague suggestions that UTS has helped with changes made to several tracks in NSW and elsewhere but we barely know where, what or why. Improving turn cambers has been good but, for example, no reason has ever been advanced to support the installation of drop-in boxes at Horsham and Shepparton – both have failed to improve the running, rather the reverse.

UTS would also favour a state full of straight tracks in order to cater for its fixation with injury reduction. That’s nice but it would also destroy the heart and soul of the industry – a good idea in part but why not find some other ways of solving the puzzle? Wentworth Park has been extensively studied and worked on but what exactly has happened? Falls are still routine.

It will not get any help from (GA) which produced a half-baked study of and arsenic, showed poor public relations capability and has offered no national statistics for the last six years.

Equally, we are getting scads of announcements about turnover growth in recent months but not about the actual amounts or where they came from. Who is doing the spending? This is vital for critical business decisions – all important to numerous people who depend on the industry, not just the bureaucrats themselves.

It’s interesting to note that in NSW once offered turnover data by month for every track, thereby enabling anyone in the industry to assess the worth of the dates in use and the programs put on by clubs. But no more. Tabcorp ceased doing it on the ground that it had obligations to Stock Exchange rules. OK, so why not send them a copy, too? What a load of codswallop!

Some Outcomes

GWIC’s report showed that the greatest proportion of nasty injuries occurred in two distance categories – 300m+ and 500m+. It does not need a huge amount of racing knowledge to realise that the first contain mostly races which start on a bend while the latter group involve dogs running flat out into a turn. Obvious solutions would include a ban on starts close to a turn and critical checks on turn radii and camber to see where adjustments could be made. (Sadly, Angle Park is about to see its rebuilt track include two trips with bend starts plonked down on the bend).

Matters deserving more follow-up:

  • GWIC says “Catastrophic injuries were more frequent over 300m race distances”. OK, well let’s avoid running them. Or, if you must, make sure that starts are pushed out wide on the track, or off it, so runners have a better chance of avoiding clashes. Highlight tracks which fail to do this.
  • GWIC offers excellent figures on the nature and number of injuries to greyhounds. Nevertheless, this data has a way of being presented by anti-racing people in a biased way. So it would help if GWIC also published figures for pet dogs or other dog breeds at the same time. Put pressure on RSPCA, vets and others to locate and present those figures publicly. Just what happens in the backyards of the nation? How do soft tissue injuries to footballers compare with similar ones for greyhounds where proper attention puts them back into action in a week or two?
  • If there is one gap in the GWIC reports it is that possible sources of major injuries are not stated or not known – we know where they happened but not whether contributions involved early education, weakened bones, over-racing or even suspect generic strains. Selective post mortems could be worthwhile.
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