It’s a different world today to that of 20 years ago, or even 10 years or five. While live baiting caused enough disruption itself, it also gave reason to look behind the curtain and see what else has been going on. For a supposedly modern business like racing, the picture is murky.
Inefficiency, inaction, mug gamblers, incompetent stewardship, ineffective bureaucracies, disruptive tracks, poor public image, falling real income, radical trends in breeding and dysfunctional management systems are all symptoms of an industry which has lost its way – if, indeed, it ever had a “way”. Yet, despite some current efforts to play musical chairs with board memberships, there is scant recognition that major reforms are the only way out of the mire.
Below are just this week’s examples of what is going on around the traps. These examples are in Victoria but could just as easily be in other states. Somewhat ironically, we can use Victoria to illustrate the point mainly because its information reporting system is far superior to the Ozchase programs which control what it delivered to customers in all other states. Victoria is easy to check, Ozchase is hard work, and unfriendly.
Horsham, Race 6, April 28
Stewards Report: “Kang Bale (5) crossed to the rail approaching the first turn, checking Cheap Currency (3), Sam Harper (6), Harry Aztec (7) and Happy Tiger (8).
Actually, Kang Bale jumped straight to the front and never touched another dog. The mind boggles at how a dog would be able to cross to the rail and then check three moderate beginners boxed outside it. Why would stewards write this stuff? In fact, the 2 and 3 bumped and caused modest interference to dogs behind them.
Warrnambool, Race 10, April 29
Kraken Soupy (1), following spritely form at Horsham, jumped straight to the front but faltered for no apparent reason when nearing the home straight and went to the back of the field. Stewards made no comment, asked no questions, ordered no vet examination.
Sandown, Race 6, April 30
Favourite Lamia Bale easily led a 595m field until passing the post the first time. It then progressively lost ground all the way to the finish in sixth place. Stewards made no comment, asked no questions, ordered no vet examination.
(I love this dog – very honest and predictable. A guess? Has it had too much racing or was it just a niggle? We may never know).
The Meadows, Race 6. April 29
In its sixth run for the month, stayer Why Not Wayne turned out in a bottom grade race at the “Provincial” meeting at The Meadows on Wednesday. After just a four day break since its last failure at the same track, the dog failed again, being prominent for a while and then fading into sixth place in poor time.
But consider its recent career (all times converted to Meadows equivalent):
April 1 43.13 Meadows
April 8 (545m event at Ballarat)
April 12 42.93 (ex Sandown)
April 16 43.33 (ex Sandown)
April 25 43.63 Meadows
April 29 43.99 Meadows
That’s six runs in one month after five in the previous month, each one displaying a declining performance — one after the other. Note two of the recent runs occurred only four days after an earlier one. The drop in class on April 29 (an MEP meeting) made no difference to the progression.
Oddly, punters sent it out a $3.00 favourite in the last race. Yes, it’s buyer beware, but they should not have to beware of this much.
Why do authorities permit this? Why do trainers do it? I have yet to hear a good answer to either question.
Harking back to the Cup and Classic run-offs at Warrnambool, it was noticeable that seven of the 12 races started with odds-on favourites. Four won and three lost so regular supporters would have done their dough.
The key point there is that the losers (and some others) missed out because they just did not get out of the boxes well enough. It’s one thing to make up ground in a 520m race but quite another over 450m. Consequently, some of the prices were pretty silly — especially Dewana Result and Ballerina, neither of which are really flash beginners.
Dyna Villa got away with it because it had the rails box and a bit of class, not because it began well. The rails proved no help to Dawkins Bale. Despite really good form in Brisbane six days earlier, perhaps the long trip back to Melbourne, then Geelong and on to Warrnambool took a toll. Who can tell? And Caustic Bale has had, and will have, the odd good run around the one-turn tracks but it is really best suited by 500m-plus trips, isn’t it? It was a chance but $2..20 was far too ambitious against known fliers. It never got into the race. All these were terrible value.
Horses for courses?
Somehow we have created a situation where betting value no longer means much. More than half the night’s winners started well under the odds so, over time, investors have no chance of winning, no matter what they did on Wednesday night.
Over-betting on favourites is the bane of the industry, no doubt caused mainly by mug gamblers following like sheep and/or using a particular tipster. Assessing form has become a lost art, exacerbated by the increasing habit of making use of hand-held devices to place bets. Technological progress like that may well offer some formguides to examine but checking them using your thumb and a tiny screen is a complete waste of time. The job cannot be done sensibly – and a job it is. Better luck always comes to those who work the hardest.
For the future
The above issues, and hundreds more like them, are everyday occurrences in an industry in which no-one is responsible for the outcomes of their work. Excellence is a forgotten word, customers interests are ignored, accountability does not exist.
Plainly, the current system does not work. The entire racing structure is obsolescent and should be discarded, to be replaced with a modern version which responds to change and to the demands of a new breed of patrons.
To bring this about, governments must get together and recognise the need and then act. As Sir Humphrey said, all it requires is some courageous decision-making. Is there a leader available?