THE new group running the Newcastle race club was licensed by GRNSW just a few months ago and has finally got its website up and running. It’s got a few pretty pictures but not much else. Some of the menu items on the home page – “upgrade completed”, etc – are obviously works in progress. They don’t actually lead anywhere. However, if you dig deeper you can reach a reference to the GRNSW website.
About the only thing the site does offer the public is a summary of what greyhound racing involves. Here’s a verbatim copy.
“Greyhound racing is a sport whereby greyhounds race by chasing an artificial hare or rabbit round a track. The first greyhound past the finish line is declared the winner. Other than the prize money that goes to the winning greyhound, persons that correctly predict the winning dog can place bets also win.
“Though the first recorded attempt at racing greyhounds on a straight track was made in 1876, the sports’ current recognizable form that features circle and oval tracks came about after the invention of the artificial hare in 1912 by Owen Patrick Smith. In Australia, the sport is run by the Australia Greyhound Racing Association. Greyhound racing takes place every Mondays and Saturdays through out the year with The Gardens Greyhound being one of the most prestigious venues”.
The fractured English and poor spelling suggest they could well use a good writer and a fact-checker to go with a website expert. Much of this copy has been lifted, without acknowledgement, directly from a Wikipedia entry on greyhound racing which is full of errors and massively biased by anti-racing lobbies.
Owen Smith actually invented the concept of a mechanical hare track, not just the lure itself, and experimented with tracks in a few US states between 1906 and 1919. And, as almost everyone knows, the sport in Australia is run by each state authority with some items co-ordinated by Greyhounds Australasia. The Australian Greyhound Racing Association is a grouping of major clubs which largely concentrates on getting Group race calendars sorted out. It “runs” nothing.
Then, rather than racing “every Mondays and Saturdays”, the club’s main meetings are on Friday and Saturday. You would think the club would know that.
The reference to “upgrade completed” is not explained but would concern work done on the track surface following inspections and advice from GRNSW’ new track maintenance expert. He has covered all NSW TAB tracks and has prepared an improvement program for consideration by GRNSW management and board.
No work whatever has been done on what many would consider an unsatisfactory layout. Notably, first and home turns are poorly cambered while both 400m (still) and 600m starts are on a bend. These faults were ignored by the previous operator (NCA), which claimed it had all been set up by “experts”. The only exception has been the small but useful change from a 413m to a 400m start.
The Newcastle club may well earn a classification as “prestigious” in the future but it has a long way to go yet. It should start by remodelling the track, getting a new website designer and thinking a lot harder about what it puts on it.
Incidentally – a helpful hint. The club should get the word “Australia” into a prominent position on its home page. The Newcastle greyhound club in the UK has a very busy website itself so web surfers might easily be confused.
That’s not all
However, there is another major gap. The club has ignored a huge asset: the long and once successful history of greyhound racing in the Hunter region. Shortly after the start of Australian mechanical hare racing at Glebe in Sydney, near the site of the legendary Harold Park track, the Hunter saw four raceclubs emerge in December 1927, two in Newcastle and one in each of Maitland and Cessnock. Dogs with monkeys on their backs paraded down the main street the day before the meeting and the Newcastle Herald ran advertisements larger than those for department stores.
That evidence is close at hand. Microfiche copies of the 1927 Newcastle Herald are easily accessible at the local library. In fact, the Newcastle Jockey Club, which formerly ran the city’s greyhound club at its Beaumont St site, adjacent to its Broadmeadows thoroughbred racecourse, posted framed copies of the old newspapers next to the grandstand.
That track disappeared following the loss of TAB coverage, reduced prizemoney, a trainers’ strike and the refusal of the GRA, GBOTA and NCA to take up the NJC’s offer of $3 million for the lot – that’s in 20 year- old-money and it included freehold. The site was later sold to property developers for much more.
The result was the loss of a quarter of the Hunter region’s income, which was already shaky following the closure of Harold Park in 1987. It had been a mecca for big-striding dogs from the Hunter which loved its open spaces, as did the tens of thousands of spectators who once patronised the track. The move of the GBOTA to the tricky Wentworth Park track, rather than the establishment of an alternative one-turn track, had an immense influence on the structure of greyhound racing in the state.
Sadly, the home of Hunter champions Chief Havoc and Black Top has never quite recovered its former glory, nor its breeding dominance.
Otherwise, it’s hard to blame the NJC for anything as it sponsored the greyhound facility only to sustain regular weekly away-betting services for its thoroughbred patrons. (Horse racing was only fortnightly). The advent of an auditorium licence for Broadmeadow, helpfully supported by local member and former racing minister Richard Face meant it no longer needed Beaumont Park.
Nevertheless, the whole saga was a terrible indictment of the lack of interest, business nous and foresight from the state authority and its major clubs. The more recent failure of the NCA and GRNSW to put together a workable package for the current site serves only to emphasise those shortcomings.
Much was hoped of the new proprietor’s efforts to revitalise the Newcastle club, and therefore boost racing in the Hunter region. Unfortunately, aside from tarting up the grandstand, we still have a questionable track and some ill-judged marketing measures to take us into the future. In addition, the neighbouring Maitland track still needs fine tuning and its public facilities are ramshackle. What a pity the Show Society, the local council and the community could not take a greater interest in what is a huge but badly underutilised sporting complex.
We are talking about an area with Australia’s largest population outside the capital cities, fine parks, gardens and restaurants, lots of tourists, much history, world-class wineries, famous horse studs, enormous coal mines and a revitalisation program going on in the centre of the city. Excellence is a by-word now. Competition is strong.
I suggested previously in this column that the region needed a high-powered marketing and business supremo to take over greyhound racing in the Hunter in order to build a popular and profitable operation, run professionally. It still does.