Victoria surprises yet again. In a Covid-ridden climate with breeding numbers still well down and fans finding it more difficult to get a bet on, Greyhound Racing Victoria (GRV) is now planning to add a 13th race to many programs from December onwards. Presumably, the six nominated clubs are those with enough boxes in their kennel blocks to accommodate the extra dogs checking in.
The aim is to look after meetings “where we have excess nominations”, according to General Manager of Racing, Greg Kerr. No doubt there is the odd one but you would have to search widely to find it. GRV's FastTrack is routinely calling for more nominations for upcoming meetings. (It also begs the question of what sort of dogs they might attract – why were they not put up in the first place?).
This move follows the introduction of Saturday morning cheap meetings around the provincials – ie paying half prize money to lowly graded dogs.
While GRV has not told us about 2019/20 breeding yet, its litter numbers for the previous three years were 643, 409 and 698, compared to typical figures of 1,000 to 1,300 during the previous decade (NSW experience has been similar).
Obviously, that trend has made it harder to pull in extra nominations from dogs that aren't there. To a small extent, extra low standard races have utilised slower dogs that might normally have been fostered out. Still, that process has been going on for some years without making a major dent in the empty box problem.
In fact, just last Saturday the morning meeting's races at Ballarat jumped with 15 empty boxes, as well as three empty at The Meadows (otherwise boosted by Hume Cup heats) and 21 empty at Horsham. That total of 39 could have welcomed five more races-worth on the day. A day earlier Sale managed only 10 races and three of those were short of a full field. Bendigo and the Geelong Cup meeting also had empty boxes. And so on through the rest of the week.
The totality of it is that Victoria is rapidly moving towards a six-dog race system, as SA has already done formally. Worryingly, NSW is just as bad with the Saturday meeting at Wenty having five six-dog races and four more with only seven starters. The same day Newcastle, Goulburn and Nowra between them had short fields for 16 of 32 races. Over in WA, Cannington had seven short fields out of 11.
So what on earth is the motivation for adding a 13th race?
The demand is certainly not there, nor is it in the offing, so it can only be that GRV believes it will earn more money per week by going in that direction. While that is a prime objective on its own for any racing administration, is there a cost accompanying such a move?
One penalty is a continuing reduction in field standards as more and more slow dogs enter the scene. Excellence is a forgotten word.
Another is that the rising content of low quality dogs has been accompanied by a parallel fall in the average race distance – over 60% of all races are now below 400m. (I covered that point in a previous article and The Recorder expanded on it afterwards).
In turn, it is unavoidable that degradation like that will filter through to breeding patterns and lead to lower standards (and numbers) for 600m and 700m racing. The 700m issue is already evident.
Finally, while it may not be life and death, serious punters will have to recast their philosophies to better cater for short races (generally not attractive) and smaller fields. Six-dog and eight-dog races are quite different challenges.
Mugs in pubs may not be too upset as they barely know what they are betting on anyway. But how long will that attitude last?
Paw Note 1: In days gone by WA quite often ran 13- or 14-race meetings to accommodate demand and avoid the cost of running an extra weekly meeting. That situation is reversed today as it has had to alter grading rules to better attract potential immigrants from the East and is now running short races at its prime Saturday night Cannington meeting – all due to dog shortages.
Paw Note 2: Tragically, after winning its Hume Cup heat at The Meadows, Big Jo (which I wrote about earlier) clashed with two other dogs as it headed for the pen and fell, fracturing its leg. It was humanely euthanised – or, in GRV-speak, it has “Retired”. It makes you wonder how GRV counts up its euthanised dogs.