So far, seven men and one woman have stated that all our problems are due to overbreeding. And that’s not counting politicians. They are McSporran QC and the interim RQ manager in Brisbane, GRNSW acting CEO Newson, the three new board members at GRV, Victorian Integrity Commissioner Perna and public servant and vet Dr Milne. None of these people have any decent experience in greyhound racing, much less in breeding (apart from Milne).
They are responding to live baiting abuses, the discovery of buried greyhound remains in two states and to raucous noises from leading politicians. But none of them showed the slightest sign of having examined all the facts or studied the subject in any depth. Not one.
In reality, breeding is already declining. The last decade has shown a steady fall in litters whelped. No-one seems to have noticed this, let alone tried to find out why.
The next knee-jerk reaction has been to scupper breeding incentive schemes (BIS) in the big three states – Queensland, NSW and Victoria. Apparently, that will help solve the alleged overbreeding problem. Each state was explicit about that.
At best, all this is based on two wild assumptions: first, that the very existence of a BIS did actually encourage an increase in breeding in the past and, second, that their removal will now reduce the quantum of breeding in the future. Both these are unproven or untested theories. Never has any evidence been produced to justify them.
The irony of it all is that this column has for years pointed out the BIS funds were misdirected. Their introduction in NSW was a classic case. GRNSW sent out a survey to all breeders asking them if such bonuses would be a good idea. Amazingly, they all said yes, we would like more cash please. So the program was launched using funds from GRNSW (ie diverted from prize money) as well as contributions from individual owners and breeders.
There was no economic analysis, no objectives were set, and no results were ever assessed. It was simply chest-thumping politics. So, indeed, was the decision to suspend it.
The Victorian intent was even more obvious. Less than two years ago, The Premier actually provided extra grants in order to increase breeding and boost employment. There was no justification offered but an election was looming.
The nicest thing you can say about these programs is that they were un-business-like. However, when you examine other topical matters the worries increase.
(A) Queensland and South Australia both dumped most or all of their follow-on-lure experiments despite them proving conclusively that they improved injury rates and failing-to-chase offences. Emotional outbursts from a minority of trainers won the day. Balanced decision-making was absent.
(B) Every state has deliberately built, or plans to have built, disruptive bend starts at tracks despite these being unpopular with trainers, dogs and punters. Better options were ignored, including at the upcoming new multi-million dollar facility at Cannington. The desperate need for an independent, scientific study of the art of track design has been ignored.
(C) NSW went to some trouble to get Queensland support for a move of the Tweed Heads club into
Queensland jurisdiction, notwithstanding the massive (indeed, impossible) legal and contractual barriers to that happening. This option has apparently faded away now, along with the CEO and board which supported it.
(D) In a remarkable likeness to the breeding handouts, most states are now offering bonus prizes for longer races, mostly at the provincials. Apparently, having sensibly recognised the shortage of decent stayers, this is intended to remedy the shortfall. This solution falls into the “it seemed like a good idea” category as it also lacked any scientific or logical base. Resultant races are often short of starters and feature dogs which cannot even run out the middle distances at the provincials. Funnily enough, better solutions may have been found had they conducted a thorough study of the whole (over- or under-) breeding process – see above.
(E) Over two decades, the industry has witnessed the disappearance of large numbers of serious punters and their replacement with masses of mug gamblers – aided by Tabcorp’s Mystery bets and the like – and done absolutely nothing about it. The resultant distorted dividends have further discouraged new investment.
(F) To the above list you must add the failure of the industry to project itself into the wider community and build a platform of support for the greyhound breed and greyhound racing generally. It does not inform. It does not promote. It does not market the product to the public. It allows Tabcorp to set the racing scene and meekly follows. The predictable outcome is like a football team with no spine – once under pressure, it gets thrashed.
All these are examples of seriously flawed business decisions on the part of greyhound administrators. They illustrate, at the very least, a failure to manage the industry in a sensible and progressive manner.
The purpose of repeating all this information is simply to underline the extraordinary, some might say incompetent, nature of greyhound administration in this country. And that is not to mention the appalling mess now being uncovered in Queensland. Surely, major reform is not only desirable but essential.
To take another view, let’s ask what really does encourage breeding and dog or horse ownership? Much evidence has been produced for the thoroughbred code to show that rewards to owners average around 50% to 60% of their investment. There is no reason to conclude that greyhounds are much different. In other words, the dominant factor is the hope of getting hold of a good dog, even though the risks are great. It is an emotional decision rather than a considered one.
Typically, prominent sportsmen with big salaries parlay their successes into racing – greyhound owners feature people like Ricky Ponting and Alfie Langer while horses attract Steve Smith, Kevin Sheedy and the Johns brothers. And many others. They are not there to make their fortunes, they have already done that, but to share in the excitement and the glory. Racing is an entertainment to be enjoyed if you have surplus income. As it will ever be.
Nothing to do with us
The Tasracing website includes a variety of items amongst which are some pages dedicated to selections and sectional times for the upcoming meeting. At the bottom of the page is this disclaimer:
“Tasracing Pty Ltd accepts no responsibility for the completeness or accuracy of any of the information contained herein, and makes no representations about its suitability for any particular purpose. Users should make their own judgements about those matters and/or seek independent advice. You assume all risks associated with use of the data provided on this page. Copyright Tasracing 2014. Not to be reproduced or distributed without permission.”
In fact, the data is erratic. Some dogs have it, many don’t. Even when they do, you will have no idea of its accuracy or its source. For example, published sectional data for Tasmanian races (on Ozchase) is as much lies as truths, but you will not know which is which. The three Tasmanian tracks show a single sectional time for each race but assign it to whatever dog won, irrespective of whether it ran the sectional or not.
It’s one thing for Tasracing to try to slide out legally from under its obligations. It is quite another to be a party to publishing rubbish.
Tasracing is a government-owned company.