Short Cuts Miss The Big Picture

Queensland trends are not easy to fathom. For example, last Monday at the second rated meeting of the week at Albion Park, we saw a string of quick times recorded. Five of the ten races were for Maidens or Novices yet they all got under 30.50, which was not much slower than the graded races. The track was on the quick side but it still suggests promising youngsters are on the way.

That’s a puzzle as for years the state has been running short of dogs. Some of the better ones have been going south for more lucrative opportunities while many nick over the border to NSW northern rivers tracks. These days, the main Albion Park Thursday meeting features at least two Novice races, a practice unheard of a few years back.

Following the demise of Parklands at the Gold Coast, authorities dispatched one weekly date to Townsville, but later added back Wednesday and Sunday meetings at Albion Park. However, short races dominate those programs, including the newly constructed 331m trip at Albion Park.

To add to the trend, Ipswich has just launched 288m races to go with its already messy 431m and 520m trips (turns and box positions are not well planned). Fortunately, the 288m races are non-TAB so the general public will miss those.

Meantime, most of the coastal clubs are hard put to maintain full fields or run 10-race programs, leading to periodic “show cause” orders from headquarters in Brisbane. Of course, Lawnton, Toowoomba (a great loss) and Mt Isa have long since gone, while Beenleigh shut down and its operation was moved to the Gold Coast before it, too, closed. Capalaba’s straight track is important to the overall effort yet it is under financial strain and always subject to flooding.

In short …
· Good dogs are scarcer.
· State dog population is insufficient.
· Clubs/authorities are catering more for short course dogs.

There are no signs that these problems will go away. The introduction of the new Logan complex, southwest of Brisbane, in a year or so will provide both circle and one-turn options for SEQ trainers (several at the top of their profession) but where are the dogs to use it? Good dogs, that is.

Some years ago, noting an increasing problem even then, I suggested to the Queensland GRA (predecessor to Racing Queensland) that it should get out its chequebook and buy 100 or so dogs from the Wheeler firm. Better ones could be on sold or leased to SEQ owners/trainers, the others offered cheaply to people up and down the coast. It never happened, of course, and the dog shortage continues to the present day.

Which leaves us with two questions. First, if the trend continues, where will Queensland end up? The newly formed United Greyhound Association has been asking that, too, although for different reasons. If it gets a new government later this month, what will really change?

Second, what is prompting the push towards more squibs’ races, like the 288m at Ipswich, and how will they contribute to the welfare of the local or national industry?

Sadly, what is happening at Ipswich and Albion Park is paralleled at Grafton (a new 305m trip) and at existing short trips at Bathurst (307m), Dubbo (318m), Richmond (330m), Dapto (297m), Wagga (320m), Traralgon (298m), Cranbourne (311m), Mt Gambier (277m), Mandurah (302m), Northam (297m), Cannington (297m), Hobart (340m) and Launceston (278m). Added up, these jumping contests (they are not really proper races) are increasing as a proportion of the total greyhound effort, including at TAB meetings. On a happier note, both Wentworth Park and The Gardens seem to have deleted their sub-300m races from memory, as did MGRA in Melbourne when it moved from Olympic Park to The Meadows. Nevertheless, the short course tsunami seems unstoppable.

No doubt clubs are reacting to pleas from trainers to supply races to satisfy weak dogs. But is that good business? And how much is too much? They may well pull in a few dollars from mug gamblers but what about the future of the breed? Are we to see 300m specialists become the new Brett Lees and Head Honchos? And how on earth will this help create better staying races – an urgent need? Besides, there is little evidence either mugs or genuine punters like these ultra-short races. They are over too quickly and, judging from reactions in the betting shops, people feel short-changed.

Races in the 400m bracket are generally acceptable – subject to bend starts – but they are also starting to take up a sizeable proportion of the program. Taken together, 300 plus 400 adds up to a worrying long term trend, and not only in Queensland.

Anyway, if Queenslanders want more dough to play with they should put pressure on Tatts to join the push for a national betting pool. Current Tatts pools are always the smallest of the three majors – too small to encourage genuine punters to use them. That encourages border-hoppers and computer or phone users to avoid them. SA faces much the same challenge.

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Some comments about the recent suggestion that we need a National Racing Commission were pretty dismissive. Yet I wonder of the critics have looked around. In effect, SA has already gone part way down that road. The industry there is legally “owned” by the ten participating clubs but they stay at arms’ length from Greyhound Racing SA Ltd. GRSA is then run by a board of five (all but one independent of industry operations) who, in turn, are selected by an independent process. One blessing of SA’s system is that it keeps the government out of industry management.

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Thought of the week
From the small business page of the SMH (12 March) comes a suggestion from sportswear company founder, Lorna Jane Clarkson: “Regardless of what your business specialises in, if you are not listening to the people buying it then there is a high chance that you are not creating what they want”.

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