In the old days the threatened sackings at SPC in Shepparton would have been a disaster, not just for local farmers and the town, but also for patrons of the dog track. Similar impacts have occurred in the past at Warrnambool or Ballarat with Fletcher Jones downturns, at Geelong where half the town is in strife, and when steel mills closed at Newcastle and Port Kembla, affecting half a dozen dog tracks in those areas.
Fortunately, customers now come from far and wide, courtesy of SKY and the TABs, so the impact is minimal.
The national approach has a lot going for it, even though at times there are many clashing races and the kitty is split up into chunks that are too small for serious punting – which are matters racing bosses could bring under control if they wished. .
But it does bring up the question of why racing management is not also a candidate for the national approach. The current pattern of differing conditions and rules in each state cannot possibly optimise the welfare of the industry. Grading, stewards’ policies and penalties, track standards, betting pools, commission arrangements and just sheer political influence are all matters that would benefit from a heftier and more consistent approach. The entire would be much better than the parts.
Indeed, the fact that regular national meetings of both stewards and administrators have failed to achieve more consistency is a blight on the industry. There is not much point in getting together if everyone goes home and does something different – the voluminous local rules applying in each state is evidence of bureaucracy at its worst. So, for that matter, is the lack of industry statistics for 2012 and 2013.
Think for a moment what might happen if cricket, tennis and the football codes all changed rules as they moved from one state to another. Bedlam, surely.
There are other parts of this country which have seen the light – aviation, for example, could not possibly work if state-by-state rules applied. Planes would start running in to each other. Yet dogs in their hundreds fly and drive over state borders every day. Customers could not care less and probably often don’t even know what state the track is in. It makes no sense.
Indeed, a national initiative is possibly the only way that the industry would be able to mount serious public relations and marketing programs, thereby telling the real greyhound story to more and more Australians. Doing that piecemeal is just not a goer. Worse, it means episodes like the current parliamentary inquiry in NSW will lead – and has led – to literally hundreds of people throwing rocks at the sport, regardless of their accuracy or balance.
YOU WERE WARNED
More topical is the fact that Shepparton was able to stage its Monday meeting at all. Maximum temperatures then, and on several previous days, had exceeded 40 degrees, cooling down only at night.
That may have contributed to an extraordinary event. Its 650m race was reduced to three starters, including the highly talented Phenomenal. Despite warnings from this column about odds-on pops, punters sent it out at $1.10, not much more than bank interest. Yet Sisco Rage jumped in front and led all the way in a sparkling 37.28, only a length outside Nellie Noodles track record, after an equally quick sectional of 17.12. Although it got close on the line, Phenomenal never really looked the winner.
Sisco Rage has displayed ability previously, winning at The Meadows in 30.24, Ballarat in 31.11 and Geelong in 25.82. Still, its time at Shepparton easily bettered any of its career runs. Actually, it is amazing how often some in this kennel are able to jump well and lead the field a merry dance, as was the case here.
BEWITCHED AND BEFUDDLED
GRNSW has just told us that takings boomed in the first half of the financial year, yet only a short while ago it told the parliamentary greyhound inquiry that the code faced the prospect of scrubbing some clubs due to a dismal financial outlook. So which is it? .
The current “vibrant betting market”, according to CEO, Brent Hogan, is reflected in a national rise of over 5% at TABs and much more for online bookmakers and Betfair. Turnover in NSW was up 11.2% on the same period in 2012 which included some weeks of the trainers strike.
Tabcorp has already recorded a fall in traditional tote business but a rise in Fixed Odds betting, albeit from a low base. Somewhat similarly, TattsBet figures are up but mainly because it took over the Tasmanian business from the state government. Its prospects in Queensland and Tasmania are not looking bright as customers are indicating a preference for betting outlets which offer more reliable dividend potential.
NSW racing codes are currently calling on the government to remove the 1.5% cap on racefield fees, thereby allowing market forces to set the rates. This is a good move. Governments are best left out of commercial matters.
However, note that GRNSW still charges fees on the basis of a percentage of bookmaker’s surpluses, rather than on a commission on turnover basis. Since the latter system has proved far more lucrative for all the major players, including Racing NSW, it indicates that something odd is occurring at the dogs. Clearly, either the bookies are making excessive profits or NSW punters are very bad at what they do. Can that continue in the long term?