OUTSIDE of the live baiting saga, the biggest greyhound debate in recent years has been the rise and fall of the finish-on-Lure in Australia. Given that it also has ramifications on greyhound welfare it should not be forgotten.
Consider the FOL history.
1. Two decades of successful use in New Zealand where TAB racing commenced in 1978.
2. Year-long trials at Albion Park in Queensland and Angle Park in SA in 2009.
3. Both trials showed improvements in failing to chase suspensions and in injury rates.
4. Following complaint from some trainers, the FOL was abandoned at both those tracks but does continue at Gawler and Mt Gambier in SA – an each-way bet but an illogical one.
5. A brief trial ran at Bathurst (and even briefer at Dapto) in NSW during this period but no official report has ever been seen, although anecdotal claims suggest the trials were successful.
6. Confidential statements to me from two Victorian club managers claim the use of FOL was not an acceptable subject for discussion at GRV headquarters. No trials were conducted there, nor in WA or Tasmania so far as we know.
7. Several examples are claimed of error-prone Australian dogs moving across the Tasman and leading a successful career under the FOL (this requires validation)
First, a note on what it is. The more common FOL design involves a looped arm which dangles the lure higher and further away from the rail than normal lure arms. These were/are used in Australia. Some NZ tracks have a different structure whereby the lure is stubby and closely attached to the cable, although at a height above that of a conventional lure arm. In either case the voluminous bunny – sometimes of sheepskin – comes to a stop around the middle of the back straight and dogs then mill around it.
The FOL option actually poses two questions: (a) what is its effect on dogs in-running, and (b) what are the pros and cons of allowing dogs to finish on a stationary lure, as opposed to the “normal” system of diverting them into a pen of deep sand with the lure disappearing into the distance.
To put that in perspective, here is a summary of the Queensland results, as written by leading trainer Robert Britton (on Greyhound Form), one of many who could not understand why the FOL was not approved..
“In 2008, with no FOL the suspension rate was 1 in 15 races
In 2009, the first year with the FOL operating, it was 1 in 36 races
In 2010, the second year with the FOL, it was a sensational 1 in 69 races
In 2011, the first year back without the FOL and it quickly digressed to 1 in 23 races
In 2012, (showed the) worst figures during the study, running at 1 in 12.5 races.”
This reflects the actual data published at the time by QGRA and the Brisbane club. Quite simply, it was a success. Much the same results were evident at Angle Park.
But why was it a success? Here, I can only offer my own interpretations as no scientific views were ever sought, and no objective analysis applied. But it is not rocket science.
First, the FOL allows the dogs to complete their mission. Chasing prey is what they are about. With the FOL they can succeed in that. With a conventional lure system, they can’t. Why wouldn’t they chase better with the FOL? It makes for a fun afternoon – and a repeat the following week.
Second, at least with the high and wide lure style, they can better see the lure, rather than being blocked by other dogs in the field. As a bonus, the wide spacing appears to encourage the field to spread out laterally, much more so than in the mad rush towards the rail after a conventional start. That would help reduce interference.
Indeed, it would appear that a majority of Australian trainers thought likewise. Unfortunately, the official SA survey was a complete farce. Only one third of trainers responded to it, which immediately makes it unusable information. The authority should have started again and done it properly. Particularly considering what GRSA reported to be “the general preference for the FOL amongst the state’s leading trainers” – i.e. those who provided the lion’s share of starters for Angle Park races.
The objectors, especially in Queensland, were very noisy but they were also very emotional (predominantly from the now-banned Reg Kay, who moved to NSW to get away from it). In both states the only hard justifications they offered was that some dogs were getting scratched and paws/toes harmed. In neither case did they compare those outcomes with the risks of injury in an uncontrolled pen finish where there are records of both dogs and handlers being injured – up to the level of broken legs. The prospect of a late arriving 35kg missile hurtling into a pen where dogs are already milling around failed to register.
However, there is an even bigger point to be made. In making their final judgements, authorities provided real weight only to the opinions of trainers, and a limited number of them to boot. There is no evidence that they tried to stand back, weigh all the options and make a decision in the best interests of the industry as a whole. They may claim that, but the facts show otherwise.
Consequently, a measurable and proven improvement to the operation of the sport was denied. At the very least, that amounts to poor management.
That blame must also be attached to all the other states which declined to treat the subject seriously, or at all.
There is related form elsewhere, too. Recently, WA authorities decided to build in to a brand new Cannington track a bend start for 600m races. That came even after they claimed they considered other options. Yet bend starts are the bane of racing everywhere, generating higher risks of injury and erratic outcomes for punters. Similarly, NSW authorities in particular, have invested millions in building or re-building tracks which repeat previous errors or create new ones. These are poor management decisions.
Indeed, if you go back, say, 50 years, is there any evidence of authorities making any sort of change to the physical conduct of greyhound racing? The only one that comes to mind is the swapping of the dirty brown rug for a green one, and even that took the best part of two years to bring about. On that basis we would all be driving a 1950 Holden.
A little while ago I suggested authorities were getting their priorities wrong and should be serving different masters – in this order:
1.The maintenance of the greyhound breed
2.The customers who finance the day to day industry
3.The owners who underpin its stability
4.The trainers who make it work.
The national problem is not just the FOL or crook tracks but bad management. The current kerfuffle is just one more example of that. Poor management is just the sort of shortcoming that all the high priced lawyers conducting industry reviews should be targeting. They might also add a third concern – the progressive decline in the strength of the breed – where little if anything is being addressed.
Let me offer a further clue to those investigators. The entire industry is run by committees, a philosophy which guarantees mediocrity, a lack of innovation and a barrier to change. The FOL is a classic illustration.
(We have asked the NZ Greyhound Racing Association for further technical comment but have received no reply as yet).