WHETHER intended or not, the underlying theme of the GRNSW Joint Working Group was not so much to review racing in general but to create more opportunities for low standard dogs, including those which have been getting little or no chance to race.
In fact, JWG had little option but to follow that course given its terms of reference included a requirement that it take “…practical steps, actions and/or initiatives which can actively be taken to abolish (or otherwise lessen substantially) the overproduction, and unnecessary euthanasia of greyhounds in the New South Wales industry”.
The restriction imposed by the claimed but unproven “overproduction” is not only without serious justification (for reasons explained in our previous article) but has also circumscribed any efforts to address the question of excellence – ie improving the quality of the end product and so advancing the industry. Equally, the question of “wastage” belies the fact that it is normal for any breed to contain a significant proportion of dogs which do not measure up to required standards. For example, many fail to qualify as guide dogs, sniffer dogs, police dogs, farmer’s dogs and so on. They, too, generate much “wastage”. It is a fact of life. For humans, too.
More importantly, the task should not be to force low standard dogs into racing – as this report tends to do – but to find other ways of offering them a useful life.
The report reflects a strong emphasis on the opinions of the 14-member group but a distinct lack of hard data to back them up. Sometimes that is acknowledged, sometimes not.
As with the overbreeding issue which we discussed previously there are good and bad aspects of the report – “bad” in this case meaning without sufficient or any hard justification.
Worthwhile proposals cover …
– More professional organisation and operation of raceclubs, with tighter supervision by GRNSW.
– A more distinct split at GRNSW level between commercial and regulatory functions.
– Establishment of Centres of Excellence (ie clubs/tracks) which would then attract more investment and higher standard racing. However, details are vague.
– Attention to improved track layouts and design (although GRNSW has been having difficulty obtaining suitable consultants to handle a study of the subject).
Meantime, consider JWG’s core concern.
The JWG makes much of the fact that some 40% of pups never make it to the racetrack. They may well be right but how relevant is that figure and how does it impact on other policy proposals?
Of all pups whelped we first need to count …
– Those that simply don’t want to chase.
– Those that are injured or die from accidents (snake/spider bites, for example).
– Those that can’t run fast.
– Those that move to other states or countries or are re-homed as pets.
I have no idea of the actual numbers in these categories (nor does JWG) but various commentators suggest they are significant and would therefore make a big hole in the above 40%. Either way, determining the numbers is an urgent task. Only then should we proceed with serious policy making.
And how about some historical perspective? 20 years ago we all had the impression that trainers would crawl over broken glass in order to get a draw in town and have a crack at the big money. Today, anything goes. Short fields are often drawn, especially in longer races, Novice races (one win only) and even maidens now appear on city programs; so do squibs’ races, races for dogs with no city wins or limited wins, and chancy Country-to-City events which necessarily involve lesser dogs. All told, these factors suggest no shortage of opportunities for dogs of any description. Quite the reverse, in fact, particularly at provincial clubs which strongly favour low grade races and, in many cases, specifically limit them to less successful dogs.
However, it all suggests a lowering of field quality and therefore a disincentive for keen punters to take part. This is a matter almost completely ignored in the JWG discussions yet nothing could more important (perhaps except track layouts) for the sport’s financial future. Keen investors will be turned off by crook dogs, crook tracks and crook prices – indeed, the evidence is they already have been. Hence the growth in the proportion of mug gamblers who, as I have said before, prefer to use their thumbs rather than their brains.
While the JWG is seeking more opportunities for the bottom ranks, its rationale hardly matches experience with actual fields. In just four days last week, here are the numbers of races starting with empty boxes: WPK (Sat) – 8, Richmond (Sat) – 3, Bulli – 2, Casino – 3, Wagga – 5, Dapto – 1, Dubbo – 3, Maitland – 3, Richmond (Wed) – 3, WPK (Wed) – 2. Many other races had no reserves but were lucky enough to avoid scratchings. So where have the dogs gone?
How To Grade
The question then becomes one of the suitability of grading rules, which is a more complicated issue than it seems and where I hesitate to comment. JWG attempts to modify the rules to make life easier for slow dogs and youngsters. Yet no rules can possibly accommodate slow racers – that would defy the very purpose of the sport and the worth of the breed.
Young dogs are a different matter altogether. To the extent that they are mismatched we have to presume that they are victims of not only grading but of the arbitrary nature of complex computer programs which assign them to races. In pre-central grading eras, this was never a great problem as club graders routinely placed dogs with others of a similar standard and experience.
Generally speaking, the addition of grades 6 and 7 – as in Victoria – offers the potential to clean up the act here, perhaps through more use of the date of whelping. However, while looking in that area, GRNSW might ponder why grades 1 and 2 are never used. They used to be.
Over The Distance
Here I have no trouble making serious comments. The JWG suggests allocating even more funds to distance races in order to boost the sector. Hello? Is anyone watching?
This approach has been in place for varying periods in several states with bonuses at both city and provincial tracks. It is an abject failure, which is hardly surprising as it was launched on a wing and a prayer, with neither pre-race justification or post-race evaluations. It has been money down the drain.
Short fields are common, quality is poor, many dogs are present only because they are no good over any other distance, and in city races particularly, it is embarrassing to see dogs going up and down in the one spot on the home turn. On top of which, far too many distance starters are backing up too quickly (ie at 7 day intervals) and doing badly, as we have documented extensively in the pages in the past. Most of these factors also have a welfare impact.
The greyhound is a sprinter, not a stayer. If that capability is to be reversed, a serious look into breeding is a must. So turn over the page and go on to the next subject.
Finally, a note of caution. The totality of the recommendations amounts to an increase in the quantity of regulations and therefore of the people needed to police them. This is a standard reaction of bureaucracies when meeting a challenge or a shortcoming but it does raise operating costs. That means each change should be tested for its effect on operating efficiency and therefore profitability. Racing is a competitive business and must be wary of pricing itself out of existence.