Searching For The Truth In Greyhound Racing

It’s not easy to keep up, particularly in Victoria. I am reminded of the writings of Sir Walter Scott (1808), helped along by Shakespeare:

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!”

At the moment, GRV is laughing all the way to the bank as big boosts from corporate bookies (up 41.2%) in 2020/21 led to an overall rise in turnover – 28.9% better than last year despite the extensive COVID- of TAB shops. The current year (2021/2022) will also get a hand up as the POC tax on corporates goes up from 8% to 10% and part of that is distributed to the three codes. Greyhounds will benefit doubly as its share of the Victorian tricode market is now at a country-wide peak of 25%.

Also helping was a 10% or thereabouts jump in meetings, races and starters in 2020/21 over the previous year. They would have certainly helped lift market share.

That’s the good stuff. Whether it continues in the current year is in the lap of the gods as gamblers now have greater opportunities to spend spare cash on restaurants, shows, pokies, travel and other recreational pursuits. No longer are they confined to home and their handy iPhones. Expect some income drop-offs.

The longer term may well be more heavily influenced by product changes, particularly the declining field sizes or even the number of races. In fact, were I still betting (I’m not), I would have to seriously modify all the 8-dog algorithms to 6-dog versions to suit modern day needs. That would also have to cater for lower average field quality.

Just now GRV has decided to cut back the extra Saturday meetings to 10 races only. Allegedly, they had been programmed to cater for what GRV said were excess demands from trainers with average dogs. At the time, GRV chose to ignore the fact that “normal” meetings had holes that could have easily accommodated those extra dogs.

Simultaneously with that cutback, GRV has found it necessary to call on seven clubs to conduct “hybrid” meetings where the shortage of good dogs (in normal grades) would be overcome by putting on races for slow dogs (Tier 3 and the like) to make up the difference.

According to the 2020/21 annual report, last year’s races averaged a modest 7.3 starters but I am not sure about the arithmetic there. Many jumped with only 3, 4 or 5 runners. Anyway, why the shortfall?

It’s a cumulative effect and it’s pretty well all due to breeding problems. The downturn started after the horrific saga in 2015, continued with a misguided report which claimed overbreeding was the culprit responsible for euthanasia rates (it wasn’t), then magnified by GRV endorsing that policy (they later pulled back), and followed by the absence of suitable remedial action to reverse the trend.

As I wrote back in October 2015, “Everything was based on assumptions and a political need to be seen to “do something”. GRV has since canned all breeding bonuses. However, as with the introduction of those bonuses in the first place, there is no specific outcome nominated as a result. It is all done in hope”.

Consequently, Victorian litter numbers which had been between 1,000 and 1,300 p.a. fell away to the 600 to 700 range and have remained there to this day. That’s why we have run out of dogs. NSW, the other big state, is in a similar fix although it has eased the burden by paying out good money for squibs to run over 250m/350m trips. Those quickies now dominate meetings at most tracks.

In short, we have a dog shortage coupled with a race quality challenge and nobody is doing anything much about it. Authorities are furiously spending the windfall money but most of it is going to promote crook races (with some exceptions for longer trips which do not appear to be helping the industry much anyway).

Happily, some really good greyhounds are still emerging from the pack but the medium and long term chances are uncertain. And the guts of the industry is more and more dependent on mugs in pubs.

This pattern is being overlooked by authorities which tend to measure themselves only on earning a bit more than the year before – no matter where it comes from. That can be a deceptive approach.

Badly Boxed?

Another failure of the Victorian group was overlooked when GRV congratulated itself on what it claimed were great advances at after it rebuilt the track and installed drop-in boxes for 385m races (also true of and, apparently, at the upcoming Traralgon track).

We have already reported on a rise in race falls for these events, compared with the previous conventional starts.

But here’s another comparison. The nature of the tightly located boxes means that there is less room to move at the jump and on the way to the nearby turn. Extra crowding is routine. You might expect that to aid the fortunes of the dog in box 1, and so it does. Here are the last 12 months winning figures for the rails box at relevant Victorian tracks:

  • Horsham 410m – 21.7%
  • Shepparton 385m – 19.3%
  • Ballarat 390m – 18.0%
  • Cranbourne 311m – 18.0%
  • 400m – 15.7%
  • 400m – 15.3%
  • Warrnambool 390m – 13.7%

The first two are drop-ins, all the rest have normal, well separated boxes. Enough said. When there is more room the winners are better spread out and the race is fairer. Has no-one bothered to assess the worth of these moves or is it just money down the drain again?

More Noise Needed

This is really a shame. Plenty of people will have noted that greyhound critic Peter FitzSimons regularly dumps on the sport in his “smart-alec” Sydney Herald columns – always nastily and usually inaccurately. He did it again three weeks ago, adding some quotes from fellow greyhound haters and calling on new Premier Perrottet to reinstate the . Fat chance there as the Libs/Nats really got their fingers burnt the last time around, losing a country seat on the way.

That’s par for the course but what really irks is that GRNSW has failed to write to the editor calling him to account and offering correct figures and a summary of what the industry is doing to advance the cause. I tried myself without success so it needs someone with a bit of punch to get through. It might not be easy as the SMH has never been a great supporter of the code (it now totally ignores greyhound racing). But it should be done.

Clayton’s Changes

You may have noticed that is congratulating itself on the revised Racing Rules – as published recently. GA, of course, does not have too much experience of racing itself so has to rely on the various state members of its board to make a point.

It has missed a few items in the latest string of changes – including:

  • Why the practices for inserting Reserves are different from state to state.
  • Why Rules about arsenic and cobalt are suspect, according to many vets.
  • Why it has not published national statistics for the last seven years.
  • Why penalties by vary from state to state.
  • Why Grading standards are different from state to state.
  • Why checking in with an incorrect weight attracts a double penalty.
  • Why backing up is banned only for two days rather than a more necessary five to seven days.

Many suggestions about these subjects have been sent to GA over recent years. None has been acknowledged, let alone actioned.

Breeding Further at Risk

I mentioned the sad and shocking loss of Paul Wheeler recently, as well as the potential impact on major kennels like Dailly Farms, which had, for example, a huge representation at a recent mid-week Ballarat meeting.

Last week was similar but different. The Ballarat meeting had only six dogs (1 win) from the Daillys but on the same day boasted 38 Dailly dogs (5 wins). Many were Bales, as usual. And, of course, there are many other camps which handle multiple Wheeler dogs today.

What is worrying is that Paul announced a couple of years ago that he would be halving the production of pups because of the increased burden of regulation in NSW (he breeds in NSW although most of his racing occurs in Victoria). He implied he might even go further than that. I am not sure what has happened in practice but it does bear watching given the overall breeding trends today (see above item). The industry must build on Paul’s mighty efforts.

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