A Greyhound Racing NSW (GRNSW) press release issued on Friday morning advised ‘stewards and veterinarians found the racing surface to be too hard and held concerns that it would jeopardise the welfare of greyhounds if racing took place. After consultation with the curator at the Gosford track, this left GRNSW no choice but to abandon the meeting’.
It was a bitter pill to swallow for many trainers who had been affected by the abandonment of the Maitland meeting the week prior.
Both tracks are operated by the NSW Greyhound Breeders, Owners and Trainers Association (GBOTA).
GBOTA CEO Brenton Scott said his organisation was disappointed to have lost the meetings and concedes communication in regards to track standards and preparation must be assessed moving forward.
“It is obviously disappointing to lose any meetings but the meetings have been cancelled on the basis of safety,” Scott said.
“The GBOTA is supportive of a centralised system that strives to present consistent and safe tracks. We advocated for the appointment by GRNSW of a central track maintenance manager and we support the objectives of a central system having oversight across all NSW tracks.
“We regret the cancellations and the inconvenience caused to participants and we are addressing all issues there connected.
“There is a balance in place [in regards to direction from GRNSW] that is well meaning but I think we can improve. If everybody agrees to the end objective, being as precise as possible with the processes that are to apply should work to the benefit of all.
“I will say that I am confident in the quality of our relationship with GRNSW and the capacity of our management and staff to get it right, going forward.”
In addition to Maitland and Gosford, part of Richmond’s Wednesday meeting was also canned due to extreme weather, whilst Dubbo lost the last three races on its Thursday card due to power outages.
Whilst agreeing welfare must come first, many trainers who spoke to Australian Racing Greyhound, including Terry Priest, could not fathom why issues with the tracks are arising so frequently in recent weeks.
“I don’t understand why we are having these problems when there are procedures set in place in order to have the tracks prepared to meet certain standards – obviously there is an issue with communication between the stewards and the curators who are preparing the tracks,” Priest said.
“To throw the blame is very hard, I don’t think you can just blame one party, but this is a big problem because it is happening on a regular occurrence.”
Prominent Londonderry trainer Alan Proctor, who brought eight greyhounds to Gosford on Thursday night, said he believes the problems are stemming from a new track surface which has been introduced across the state in order to reduce injury rates.
“It’s not the curators – they are getting blamed for it – but it’s what they working with,” Proctor said.
“The problem is with the actual surfaces they are using – but GRNSW won’t take it on board because they don’t think there is an issue.
“I have been in the game for 47 years. I try and [promote] the sport – when the ban was announced I had TV cameras out here, The Telegraph and the local paper – just to help the sport.
“Not only is it me as a trainer, but I have owners who rely on their prize money.
“The costs are so dear that you have got to have prize money coming in – I got $100 unplaced yesterday but that wouldn’t even cover the trip up when you consider the petrol and cost of the generator to air-condition the trailer.
“This is killing us – the owners and trainers – we can’t even trial our dogs, let alone race them.”
Priest worries that the authority body and clubs are not being held accountable when meetings are being abandoned, which is having a negative impact on trainers.
“We have got no voice as trainers with the way the industry is being run,” he said.
“It is one-way governance at the moment… they are not allowing for any input from the trainer and there is no leeway.
“We have been inundated with changes and there is no communication or accountability from the [GRNSW] side of the fence – whereas we are held accountable for every single thing we do.
“It is taking the sport away from the participants.”
With GRNSW currently operating without a CEO at the helm since the retirement of Paul Newson, Priest says he fears for the future direction of the sport.
“There are big problems as a result of not having a CEO – we are rudderless. We have got no one who has been in the industry for a long time up there representing us – all the knowledge and experience is just being washed away.
“You have track maintenance managers who have been doing this for years and are very intelligent – who have been preparing safe tracks for years – and now they are being asked to reinvent the wheel.
“It is getting to the point where the administration of the sport is making it impossible to train.
“In business you don’t have to work harder to make things better, you just have to work smarter. The smarter you work, the better things will be, but at the moment everyone is just trying to work too hard and nothing is getting done.
“We haven’t got anyone in there making the crucial decisions – it is a very strange situation that the game is in – we are self destructing.”
Clarence Town trainer Natasha Benhard, who took two dogs to Gosford on Thursday in separate cars to ensure they were kept cool in the air-conditioning, said the current climate of greyhound racing could force hobby trainers out of the industry.
“A lot of people are now asking if the [regulators] are there to help us or are they undermining us all the time and trying to force people to the brink and to the point where they say ‘to hell with this’ and get out of the industry?” Benhard said.
Benhard also quizzed why the decision to abandon the meeting was not made sooner in order to save participants making the long trek to the track.
“I don’t know why the decision wasn’t made more promptly to save people having to travel.
“People were hot under the collar [on Thursday] – but they had reason – you have to come up with a better excuse than ‘we’ve called it off’ after they have already arrived at the track.”
All three trainers questioned how the track could have deteriorated so rapidly, given a successful meeting was held on Tuesday night, followed by trials on Wednesday evening.
“How can the track go from being great on Tuesday to good on Wednesday for the trials and then to [bad] on the Thursday without someone being able to notice it?” Benhard said.
“I am not going to say what they should be doing because I really don’t know, but if there is someone that’s telling them how to prepare the tracks then the requirements should be made public to participants too.”
Scott said there was no difference in how the track was prepared ahead of Thursday’s meeting in comparison to Tuesday’s.
“The track was prepared to the same standard as the race meeting two nights prior,” Scott said.
“Our staff was confident in the preparation of the track, but the stewards’ inspection and subsequent consultation with the on-course veterinary deemed the track a racing risk.
“Track staff were consulted at that point and supported the decision. I think there is an argument to suggest that the track would have been raced on in previous times.
“I am also confident that with minor tinkering of lead up procedures, the circumstances can and will be avoided in the future. We will also work with GRNSW to ensure that a system is in place that avoids, where at all possible, cancellations at such a late stage.”
Scott did admit issues with the track surface are the responsibility of the clubs themselves, in this instance the GBOTA, and says further training for staff will be implemented where required.
“Track preparation is a club responsibility with GRNSW applying independent oversight,” he said.
“We need to accept that the end aim here is about safe racing and eradication of as many injuries as possible. Setting high expectations is part of the process but training is central to success.
“For my part, I intend working with GRNSW to improve training and support wherever possible. I believe in the end game but the training and support is super critical.
“The greyhound industry faces a future where-by safe racing is a fundamental pillar of our operating model. So I’m not sure that we should be too concerned at the height of the performance bar.
“I do think, however, we need to make sure that all industry stakeholders have ‘buy in’ to where we are heading and why.
“The safe racing objective needs to be defined, the targets fully understood by all stakeholders and best practice standards need to be applied and modified as constructive feedback demands.”