No Maidens, Please
The current debate about running maidens in premium events – usually age classics – skips over some of the major issues. Not the least of those is that the quoted “rules” preventing this are those of the AGRA, which is a grouping of major clubs. Its main function – an important one – is to sort out a national calendar for feature events.
But racing rules are fundamentally the responsibility of Greyhounds Australasia and, if absolutely necessary, of the individual state authorities. Already that's one too many. To add a third is to invite trouble. The system needs cleaning up.
Indeed, it points up the inadequacy of the GA organisation itself. (For GA membership and objectives, see galtd.org.au). It has no power of its own and depends on member states taking any mutually agreed action. It does some useful internal work (naming, stud book, etc) but often it functions as no more than a post office. Nor is it accountable to a government or the public. Its agenda and the results of its deliberations are usually kept secret. As such, it compares badly with the structure of most other sporting organisations.
For example, governance standards and national rules are in place for cricket, all codes of football, tennis, athletics, swimming, netball, basketball, bowls, golf, probably tiddlywinks and others too numerous to list. In fact, most of these would also have internationally consistent rules. Leg-before-wicket is the same in Sydney or Perth as it is in London or Mumbai. Clubs are always able to create interesting options within the confines of those rules.
Why, then, is racing different in every state?
One answer – not a particularly good one – is that racing has grown up like topsy. It got its start when a few blokes (always blokes) got together to race against each other at the local park. Only when wagering became too big and complex and the governments stepped in, nominally to protect the public, did someone think about building a more understandable network. With that growth, groups of clubs became associations, bigger clubs became dominant and eventually state racing authorities emerged, themselves often changing at the whim of an incoming government, soon to be seen in Queensland. All done at a different pace, of course (Victoria still had proprietary racing into the 1950s).
Similarly, state governments, also with a staggered start, set up TABs to deny illegal SP bookies their opportunities and grab themselves some extra taxes. Later they started selling off those TABs as private monopolies to help balance their budgets – also in fits and starts and under different conditions. The taxes continued but state laws and other restrictions on bookmakers become more onerous.
In essence, state governments have been doing what governments should never do – trying to pick winners in a commercial field.
By and large, all that erratic behaviour is what led to the development of the NT bookmaker group, starting in the 1990s and escalating in the following decade. The differences and the discrimination had become more than a sensible businessman was prepared to accept. In turn, that has led to the disruptive situation we have today, where interested parties squabble, making lawyers richer and punters poorer as they all trundle through the law courts.
But history is no justification for poor practice today. A quick look around should tell racing supremos that they are out of step with the rest of the world. The public, especially punters, have long since indicated their dissatisfaction and are walking out. Which is why racing is now incapable of achieving real growth. The structure is obsolete.
But back to our maidens.
This column's view is that maidens, especially unraced maidens, should be banned from premium events. Anyway, very sensibly, unraced dogs in NSW are now banned from competing anywhere until they run in an official trial. That should be reflected in national racing rules, and for two major reasons.
First, throwing an untried youngster into the ring against more experienced competitors is unlikely to do the newcomer any good. Confidence is a supremely important thing in a racing greyhound but the best ways to destroy that are to over-match it or put it around a disruptive track. Of course, that principle applies in any sport.
Second, a dog with no form is a poke in the eye to punters, especially in premium events. It creates unnecessary doubts, not to say potentially disrupts the field. Since punters are virtually the industry's only major source of income, why put that at risk? It helps no-one. The gallops try to get away with this practice but there the informal intelligence about the maiden is much greater than it is in greyhound racing. Even so, wayward runners can still be a problem.
Consequently, any influence AGRA has over the makeup of fields should be eliminated and all rules made the province of GA. State rules should go, too, unless there is a compelling legal reason (not just an opinion) to make an exception. That, too, should be subject to GA endorsement.
To bring that about, the time is overdue to turn GA into a proper National Racing Commission with power over all racing in Australia (NZ can look after itself).
To make that work, all the states would need to support such a Commission, and fund it. (By the way, that parallels the recommendation of the Productivity Commission on setting racefield fees).
That would certainly fix the maiden situation. And, amongst many other bonuses, trainers would no longer have to scratch their heads to work out what their dog qualifies for when it crosses the border, as happens every day.
But the biggest bonus would come from savings of millions of dollars each year in administration costs alone, from everyday paperwork to differing formguides and computer systems and to improved, professional attention to the needs of the industry. An independent Commission could be held accountable, which is hardly the case today. It would also help sort out all the nonsense going on as betting houses fight with racing authorities and racing authorities throw rocks at each other. Every cent spent on these activities is a cent lost to the punters and to prize money.
Fanciful? Not really. The only barriers to progress are the personal views of member states. It could start happening tomorrow.
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Postscript: The Horsham Cup final (see also Good Intentions, 8 Mar) ran on Saturday night, the week's most overcrowded slot. It is not a normal Horsham timing and attracted only a miserable $8,085 on the NSW Win tote. It had easily the best quality field of the night – indeed, of the week – but was outrated financially by moderate 5th grades at The Meadows and Wentworth Park. This was like selling a Rolls Royce for the price of a Holden. Over the Cup series, programming choices cost Australian greyhound racing around $1 million in lost turnover. For those who missed it, the $40,000 prize went to Dyna Tron.