THE functions of racing, probably not unlike some other industries, can be roughly divided up into three broad areas; management, stewardship or the more popular term today of integrity, and clerical or back-office jobs such as finance and IT. They all fly under the one banner flown by a single board and CEO.
Yet it is popular today to call for the stewards to be split off into a separate group, and perhaps to combine each such group into one big organisation by state or even nationally. The current kerfuffle has revitalised that theory. Cross-code diversification is also bandied around, and has been tested here and there, notably in NSW where it was recommended after a previous review (by a barrister) but proved an expensive failure. However, Tasmanian stewards do cover all three codes but racing frequency is much lower there.
The idea being pushed is that stewards are the “police” and should be moved away from the rule makers, much as the nation has a principle of the “separation of powers” between parliament, the executive and the courts. This is a misleading interpretation.
In the general society, police are not separate at all. They are directly under the control of a Minister and subject to budget restraints of the day. They can act only via the laws that a parliament enacts. There is always dialogue going back and forth, and also between police and the courts for practical reasons.
But, in racing, there is more to it than that.
Stewards have a role in supervising racetracks (including trial tracks), in implementing rules and proposing changes, in assigning penalties, in assessing form and in watching betting moves. Yes, they keep order at the meeting, but only under the overall direction of industry management. They are the local “managers”, at least for the time they are at the meeting.
Similarly, just as the management sector utilises information supplied by the back office function, so stewards do likewise in respect to registrations, grading changes, form details and so on. In a number of ways the three sectors depend on each other.
If the steward sector fails to produce the goods, the first thing to look at is not whether the organisational structure should be changed but whether the stewards and anyone else are doing their jobs properly. That is precisely where the current reviews will start. Depending on those assessments, so the reviewers will move on to the structural area if they think it proper to do so.
In the current cases, the evidence suggests that the way that supervision has been carried out is not up to scratch, in which case both management and stewardship functions are under the gun. To which I can only add my views – often expressed in these columns, together with examples – that there are currently too many inconsistencies in the way in which some penalties, errors or omissions (for fighting, for example, or in form assessment) are attended to by stewards.
Now, whether I am right or wrong is one thing, but if someone long exposed to the operation of greyhound racing cannot understand what is happening then that is something else again. Either way, there is an underlying problem to add to the uncertain state of affairs to do with live baiting.
To that I would add another risk; the concept of multi-code skilling of stewards might look nice on paper but I would defy any one person to maintain sufficient knowledge and appreciation of the fine points of each of the galloping, harness and greyhound codes to be able to make the best on-site judgements.
Here’s a comparison. I spend seven days a week studying greyhound form but I find that keeping track of what is happening in two, or at the most three, different states is as much as I can handle. Even then, you need to specialise a bit to achieve the best results. Any more than that and I would be making wild guesses. Remember, there are 14,000 dogs currently racing regularly, more than that whelped annually, and additions and subtractions occur daily. And that is in one code, not three.
If I had my way, stewards would be more highly educated, more highly skilled and better paid, but only if they achieved top results. That is more likely to happen if they are part of a team rather than lone rangers.
Could stewards Do Better?
Here is another example to throw light on how stewards operate. In a February 15 article I commented on the case of Flash Earner winning nicely at Wentworth Park on February 13 in 30.45 on a sloshy track. That followed a moderate to fair career in early 2014 and poor recent form in 2015. By any measure it was a form reversal yet stewards asked no questions and made no comments.
A week later Flash Earner did it again with an unusually good start and a strong run to win in 30.34, having battled all the way side by side with a competitor. Stewards again made no comment.
Those two runs were out of character with its recent history but the improvement was ignored. Now it might be that the trainer identified a problem or changed the dog’s routine. But, whatever the reason, punters who backed more favoured dogs in these races were entitled to know more. Flash Earner started at $13.00 and $7.20 in the two races.
This brings up the principle of having stewards in the first place. They must serve two masters – the rules and standards of the organisation they work for and the people of the state whose interests they are bound to protect. Neither was honoured in this case. Justice was not seen to be done. Apparently, they did not know there was a question to be asked.