THE current spate of arguments calling for the NSW Premier to sack or stand down the chief of ICAC for improper or even illegal behaviour serve to highlight any excesses in the conduct of the Special Commission into greyhound racing. Both have near unlimited powers.
Notably, the opening call from Counsel Assisting for the industry to be “shut down” set the tone for what was to follow, only occasionally tempered by comments from Commissioner McHugh himself (from a family with considerable racing involvement).
What we would all prefer to see is an objective fact finding mission, finishing up with recommendations for a better style of governance. It will be some time before we get any hints about that outcome, especially as the summer holidays see lots of lawyers descend on St Moritz and Aspen for their annual skiing jaunts.
But hope is there. That thought is reinforced by actions from temporary chief Paul Newson to reorganise the integrity and veterinary arms of GRNSW and to re-assess how stewards write their reports into injuries and the like. It is only a start but it does move in the right direction.
More to the point, the fresh call for proposals to conduct a study into track designs deserves wild applause. That need has been ignored by administrators for decades. In particular, it is arguable that not a single track job overseen by GRNSW in the last decade has improved the layout. At best, they have repeated past errors and spent millions doing it. They include Wentworth Park, Casino, Newcastle, Maitland, Gosford, Richmond, Bathurst, Bulli, Goulbourn and Dapto. On the other hand, an improved home turn at Nowra was organised solely by the club itself.
One saver, though, is that the study is couched only in terms of improved animal welfare and injury rates. That's fine but it skips over the fact that better tracks would also encourage more support for wagering as well as presenting an improved public image of the industry. And many race disruptions do not result in injuries, except to punters' hip pockets.
But also on Governance
Note that the recent batch of updated Rules of Racing includes this newcomer in R90:
“(1) The Controlling Body or Stewards may require the attendance of and the giving of evidence by any registered person or any other person participating in or associated with greyhound racing who, in the opinion of the Controlling Body or Stewards may have knowledge of any of the matters which are the subject of an inquiry.”
As a person “associated with greyhound racing” it appears I am liable to be called before the “judges” at their whim, possibly if they don't like what I write. I am not sure if this is legal, or if the Act allows their authority to extend that far. Either way, it smacks of Big Brother.
It is not long since gallops stewards demanded that brothel owner and sometime dog punter Eddie Hayson (remember Lucy's Light?) appear before them. He refused and was therefore “warned off”, which is within stewards' powers.
Many opinions, few facts
A regular correspondent, “Lone Widow”, raises some interesting but contentious points about track layouts.
At Goulburn, she saw “two greyhounds ‘What A Star' box 4 and ‘Silver Will Do' box 6 run off the track and finished up on the trotting track”. Well, they are far from the first lot. Both before and after work was done on the track that turn into the home straight has been too flat. Possibly it was left that way to accommodate starters in 700m event. Either way, it's just bad engineering.
As a matter of interest, Bulli is even worse in this respect. The club did not learn when it rebuilt the track (post-flood) and failed to set up the right camber. On the old track I once saw a well performed dog get a slight elbow coming around the home turn, causing it to veer off so much that it had to jump the picket fence which used to separate the inside from the outside track. It still finished 6th.
Then she claims “most interference up the straight the first time is caused by the dogs themselves and has nothing to do with the track”. This was in reference to my comments about Warrnambool, Ballarat and other one-turn tracks.
Of course, dogs with certain habits are prone to do messy things. That's something that is difficult to avoid, although it should be said that dogs do learn with more experience. However, to let the track off so lightly is to ignore wider evidence. For example, I regularly ask why Hobart dogs routinely run straight ahead after the jump. As yet, I have not heard an answer but there must be one. Part of the answer – but only part – is that those boxes are sited well away from the rail and all runners have plenty of room to move.
Go to Dapto, where the 520m boxes are located hard up against the line of the running rail, and see what the inside dogs do. Almost invariably the 1 and 2 dogs veer to the right after the jump. They want more space than the track allows.
See Bathurst 520m and Ipswich 530m starts which are widely spaced from the rail. Dogs generally run to the corner without much interference – ie they spread themselves out more. Mind you, both first turns are best forgotten, particularly at Ipswich where it is too flat, presumably in order to cater for 431m starters. More crook engineering.
Last Thursday, Dyna Double One put in a terrific effort at Albion Park to take out the Brisbane Cup. However, while DDO got away reasonably and was in third spot going around the first turn, the rest of the field was put out of play by the usual smash at the turn, leaving Cyndies Magic, stone motherless last and a 33/1 outsider, to whizz up along the rail and finish on into an unlikely 2nd place.
Dogs run off at the turn at Wentworth Park, Launceston and the old Cannington where the turn has been cut away excessively for reasons which are impossible to fathom. The little turn before the turn makes life hard for inside dogs (which is also a reason why outside dogs at Wenty sometimes get a free run across after the inside division bunches up).
But back to Ballarat. Granted that Fernando Bale was a little tardy in leaving the boxes in the Cup final, yet it still suffered from the customary “squeeze” on the way to the turn and was shoved back to the rear. Even with a clear run the champ was never going to catch a flying (24.81) Shared Equity. But it was denied the opportunity to run a place.
Much the same thing happened to Over Limit, a short priced favourite in the Consolation. Never as reliable a starter as the above two, it still got strangled in the crush. Incidentally, the track was lightning fast on the night. Note that a maiden, Dyna Maddie (the Wheelers again!), won its event in 24.92, which would have given it a comfortable 2nd place in the Cup.
In total, the track layout almost always plays a significant part in how dogs get to the corner.