Taking The Guesswork Out Of Breeding Stayers (And Others)

A few weeks ago the consultative committee to GRSA voted to ask the authority to cut normal prize money and divert the difference to races limited to SA-domiciled dogs.

That’s not much different to preferences in other states. In NSW, for example, the authority surveyed breeders to see if they would like to get bonuses for winners they bred. Amazingly, they all said yes, so that’s what they got. All states now have incentives for locally bred dogs, which then generates a bragging contest – my bonuses are better than your bonuses. In Victoria the Minister recently put out a media release announcing even bigger bonuses, saying they would boost local breeding and create new employment. Really? I’d like to see that!

(You might also ask why the Minister is getting involved in payments to participants rather than letting the authority do its job. Me, too. So much for “arm’s length” oversight of his portfolio. Some support is nice, too much fiddling is not).

The short answer to all this is that it’s garbage. But there is more to it than that.

There is no evidence that state incentives do any good, much less achieve whatever it is they are looking for. Indeed, their actual objectives are never stated. Nor are their results. They serve only to divert cash away from some winners and give it to others.

But not only do they achieve nothing, they also have negative impacts.

In SA, for example, the effect would be to discourage better dogs from visiting the state. Instead, inferior local dogs would be encouraged, thereby lowering standards across the state, which is the opposite of what SA needs. In turn, punters would have less incentive to patronise SA races (and don’t forget that SA income depends partly on betting from Queensland and the NT, via Tatts).

While it has always been that way to some degree, the industry is now besotted with looking after bad dogs – unfortunately to the extent of putting the end product at risk. It may be understandable for an owner or trainer to try to get the best result for his charges but for a state authority to go too far in that direction is simply bad business. Sadly, it has adopted a local version of the Marie Antoinette solution – if they have no bread then “let them eat cake”.

In Victoria, the practice also ignores a major reason for the prominence of good dogs in many of its local fields. That’s because NSW and Queensland owners, including Paul Wheeler, sent them there for reasons which have nothing to do with breeding. Three of last Saturday’s Superstayers field and two of the Australian Cup field were registered interstate. So were another eighteen in other races at The Meadows.

In breeding terms, a discriminatory approach encourages owners to select dogs which may not be the best match for their bitches.

Everywhere, owners who are not on the gravy train are getting less prize money than they might normally expect, which is hardly a boost to future purchasing habits.

In any event, the purpose of a subsidy – assuming it is justified in the first place – is to help those worse off to get through a bad time, or overcome a short term problem. And a “good” subsidy always has a sunset clause because circumstances will change as time passes. No such clauses exist in Australian greyhounds.

Further, there is no evidence that breeders are doing it tough. On the contrary, there is a case that breeding is the most efficient and profitable area of the greyhound industry and should be left alone. After all, aside from the incentives, it is subject to the normal effects of market forces where seller and buyer establish a relationship which satisfies both.

Those who might want to point out that the incentives did not affect their decisions are simply emphasising that they should never have been there in the first place.

More subtly, breeding subsidies are counter-productive as they create a false environment. They might give bragging rights to administrators who bring them in, but they are of no help in generating more income for the industry, which is what pays all the wages. In other words, they are bad business policies. Get rid of them and start again.

Separately, subsidies for distance races are all the fashion today. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as there is plenty of evidence that distance racing is on the wane. Too few dogs are readily able to get the 700m-plus trips. Too many starters tend to be dogs whose only qualification is that they are not competitive over shorter races. But the solution has been to give existing dogs more money and, presumably, hope that miracles will occur.

This is muddled thinking. If a dog can’t run out 700m then no amount of money is going to make it do so. In other words, the idea of incentives was fine but the plans were misdirected. It seems that no-one bothered to analyse why good stayers had become scarce. It does not need rocket science to guess that breeding patterns must have had something to do with it yet, so far, that area has attracted no attention.

Remember that 700m is down at the far end of the breed’s capability. Few will fit in to that category at the best of times. On average, a greyhound’s speed peaks at around 440m, after which it’s usually a matter of which one is slowing most (thundering finishes are often an optical illusion). It’s a point which needs expert attention.

Staying sires (if we can define them as that) are notoriously difficult to sell, even at giveaway prices. Buyers are mad keen on pups that will spear out of the boxes and pick up cash for short races. Even the Wheelers are in that camp, as evidenced by their long stream of top sprinters. It’s also why recent times have seen a substantial increase in sub-350m races (ie more pandering to bad dogs), and many more over 400m than was the case previously.

The odd sire offers an each way bet. Token Prince is an obvious one but, alas, he is no longer with us. Bombastic Shiraz is another (NB Miata) although you would not have known that in advance, would you? But they are few and far between. Anyway, I lack the ability to delve much further into that subject so I can do no more than call on Australian authorities to start investing punter’s money in projects that offer some hope of success in the medium to long term.

Yet another blind survey of existing operators would not be the way to go. For every ten of those you will get 11 different opinions anyway. The starting point would be a serious independent investigation into breeding trends over time. (Although I have to point out that the latest budding star, Destini Fireball, is half-American and comes from a very successful litter of 12. Apart from that, note that none of the starters in last Saturday’s Superstayers final had sires with any experience of staying races. They were all top dogs but only over the sprints. Perhaps it’s mum that counts).

As for those consultative committees, be wary. They are there because state governments require them for all instrumentalities for which they are responsible. They seldom produce much, and are often ignored anyway, but they should be limited to matters which suit their abilities and are related to racing operational subjects. Never to business matters, especially those which affect their own hip pockets.

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