Navigating From 1983 To 2003 To 2023

This is nostalgia week so I am taking the opportunity to repeat here some comments made in 2003 in the QGRA Journal (hopefully RQ will not mind the copyright infringement). It looks at the past and makes some guesses about the future. Make of them what you wish. The only thing missing here is the arrival of online bookmakers in strength, and the NBN fibre connection. Still, I did make note of the gaps in TAB coverage – ones which the newcomers were able to drive trucks through.

Everything below was written 11 years ago.

20/20 VISION HELPS

Crystal ball gazing can be useful at times. For instance, I just learnt that in 20 years time many of today’s raceclubs will have disappeared. Of those that remain, the bigger ones will be part of a multi-purpose complex, either jointly with other racing codes or in a “shopping mall” concept. Under good management, they will be very profitable. Those smaller country clubs which hang on will be little different from today but they will be strictly for local enthusiasts and won’t offer much in the way of prize money.

However, one State is rumoured to be on the point of closing down all but one of its racing complexes. The one that’s left will contain three side-by-side tracks – of different styles – and be located on cheap land 200 km northwest of the capital city. The latest CAD techniques (computer-assisted-design) will produce turns where dogs never fall and boxes that always open. Box draws are seeded, of course, in sympathy with the dogs’ running styles. The surrounding 3,000 kennels will be run by the ZammBate Corporation, currently capitalised by the market at $50 million. The company now operates in five countries and is considering opening branches in three more.

Rocky Mountain Ltd will supply most of the dogs, flown in by jumbo freighters after early schooling at the company’s breeding farm at Chow Mein, a small island off the Chinese coast (labour’s cheaper there). Beijing is reported to be very happy with its 51% ownership of this joint venture.

Ti-Tree Gone

Race meetings each morning, afternoon and evening will be broadcast around Australia and to 35 other countries, accompanied by crowd noises from a battery of DVD machines. Race broadcasts will be auto-generated by the same system, using laser beams to identify each dog by the tiny chip embedded in its ear. Computerised voices will have been constructed years before from recordings of oldtime racecallers Dolan and Ambrosoli. Mentions of ti-trees and bands of wild Indians will have been deleted first. Within seconds of the finish, photos, prices and times will be flashed to the media, the National Database and Racedata subscribers, while winnings will be credited to your Smart Card.

On cooling down, all dogs will have their blood analysed on the spot and then pass through one of several MRI machines, which now cost about the same as a top end TV set. Stresses and strains will be detected, recorded and treated with the help of the on-site branch of the State University’s veterinary faculty. Drug offenders will be dispatched immediately to help boost the new racing operation at Mt Isa, a leading mining town in the old days but now host to thriving art galleries, dude ranches and archaeological digs.

AussieTAB, the national tote company, will negotiate coverage with the National Greyhound Commission although Betfair and its local competitor, Packfair, now handle 33% of all betting turnover. Form details will be available to all comers just by calling up the National Database from your remote controller (as soon as the missus finishes using it to organise the dinner menu). Formguides disappeared altogether 10 years ago but most punters subscribe to one of several race analysis services, the most popular being the Daily Greyword, published by Ripkin and Sons at its Long Bay facility.

Your Choice

Your PackPay TV subscription will give you separate channels for live broadcasts from each racing code as well as an additional channel you can use to call up past races on demand. Charges and bets will be recorded on your phone account and debited to your National Smart Card.

Your internet connection is made through the electricity system, which turned out to be more efficient after all than satellite transmission or the ugly thick cables many suburbs once suffered. Actually, some city folk might also see a lot more live races at boutique tracks, in between shopping at the megamarket, taking in a virtual movie, buying a MacDonalds lentil burger or relaxing with a joint at the licensed pot shop. Your electric gomobile is parked in the middle of all those facilities.

All a bit fanciful? Well if you think that’s a bit much, consider that was happening in 1983.

20 YEARS AGO

Thousands of fans attended race meetings.
Punters actually knew something about the dogs they were backing.
Bookmakers were plentiful; some actually used their judgement to take punters on.
SKY Channel did not exist.
The internet did not exist.
Vanuatu was where you went on your adventure holiday.
Governments owned all the TABs.
The Gabba, Toowoomba, Mt Isa, Lawnton and Beenleigh were happily running race meetings.
So was Harold Park, the country’s premier one-turn track.
Big kennels were rare and local Councils quite helpful.
The local formguide publisher was doing a brisk business.
You found the race results in the morning papers (if you were lucky and if you lived in the city).
Most main roads were slow, freeways were rare and air transport very expensive.
NSW used to hold on to all its good dogs.
Ministers were promising to really get stuck into a review of racing.

OK, given the differences between 1983 and 2003, are the projections for 2023 too ambitious? It wouldn’t seem so. By any definition, the industry has seen massive changes over the last two decades. Of course, many were outside greyhound control, while others were just follow-the-leader episodes – SKY twilight coverage, for example. Some of them were forced – such as vacating the Gabba or shutting down Olympic Park for main road development. Unfortunately, Harold Park, in Sydney’s historic Glebe and the birthplace of Australian greyhound racing, closed for no good reason at all.

Anyway, for those who doubt this sort of progression, please check out the history of World Series and one-day cricket, Rugby amateurism, Murdoch-owned football clubs or advertisements on the backs of referees, all revolutions in their own right and all happening in the last 20 years.

Which leaves us with the question: how will our Governments and our racing authorities handle the future? What sort of 2023 might they envisage and how will they plan our progress from here to there?

While there are several options, there’s little doubt about the main issue. Just how will the commercialisation of racing proceed? In this day and age, the countrywide ban on proprietary racing looks pretty silly. After 180 years of thoroughbred racing and 76 years of mechanical hare racing every other aspect of the industry is in the hands of entrepreneurs and professional managers – breeding, training, owning, videos and broadcasting, TABs, feed, medicines, veterinary science, racetrack concessions and the major formguide publisher. So are the illegal betting operations, which can exist only because many customers don’t much like the legal options. Oddly, Governments have been quick to let go control of other functions which they are not good at. Yet they still hang on to racing – or, more accurately, betting – like grim death.

Whether the greyhound developmental process is fast or slow is not so much the point. They key will be to assume that it will happen and then to plan the growth of the industry to best advantage. The greyhound industry has been a follower over the last 20 years. In the next 20 it has the opportunity to take the lead – and leaders win most of the races.

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