The strategic plan greyhound racing really needs

WE HAVE now seen three reports about what went wrong with greyhound racing. At least three more are to follow but two of those are overlapping. In NSW the McHugh Commission of Inquiry had its brief expanded to look into governance while the newly appointed consultants KPMG are to advise on the future structure of the board. (A brother office of KPMG is doing the same job in Brisbane, as it also did over a decade ago)..

Anyway, what the inquiries have done so far is (a) to confirm what we already knew and (b) to recommend that more staff be employed and (c) to propose a musical chairs game with authority boards to take us into the future. The latter recommendation will clash with whatever the next three inquiries come up with.

Got all that now?

If there is anyone left standing after all the shouting dies down the betting is that we will see a return to the status quo, but perhaps a slightly neater one. That’s not nearly good enough for an industry which has either marked time or gone backwards for the last 20 years – not just greyhounds but all racing. The rear vision mirror is dominating.

Much better to look ahead. Whatever the new boards looks like, it would be a great time to get stuck into five things and really push the industry forward. This is heavy policy stuff that any new board should be looking at.

1. Put it all behind us and start again.

It’s 1770 and the first two greyhounds have arrived at Botany Bay. More are to follow. Let’s tell everyone what a magnificent animal it is – one of the two fastest on the planet and the other one cannot run 500m (the cheetah). It is born with a gene which encourages it to seek out and run down its prey – even if it is a mechanical device. It will do it again and again, especially when given time to recover. It is obedient and highly trainable.

That comes from 6,000 years of history, always with a close association with man and in a variety of conditions and climates. Kings, Queens and Princes admired and fostered it, sometimes creating statues and fine paintings of it. Australian farmers even used it to protect their crops from kangaroo damage.

It proves to be the perfect competitor – well, most of them anyway. But also a wonderful pet if that’s what you wish. (Please note – despite much good work, retired greyhound programs are never likely to prosper while the general public has a dislike of the breed).

Sir Joseph Banks and his original greyhounds made only a modest attempt but in the modern world we have the ways and means of telling the whole country the real greyhound story. We just need to write it up and tell everyone how good it is. A National Marketing Unit could do that in a flash. We just have to ask.

This is a compulsory start. Without it, all the rest is a waste of time.

2. Count our assets and build on them.

The countryside is packed with greyhounds of all sizes and abilities. Just like people, some get to the Olympics, some just like a game of golf on Saturday afternoon, some sit back and watch TV.

10% of our dogs are top racers, 40% will go around pretty well. The other 50% need special help – gymkhanas, picnic meetings, coursing, low prize money country meetings or somebody to make friends with them. Dedicated managers in every state should take control of those activities. Their aims and objectives should be clearly defined and results measured. One aim should be to keep them out of proper racing.

Trainers are our second biggest asset. They sit in much the same proportions as the dogs. The good ones usually gravitate to the top and get the best dogs, or maybe the other way round.

The leading 10% get a few mentions but normally only in the trade press, which the public does not read. No prizes for that. Much more needs to be done. The 40% group are assets, too, but woefully underdone. Provincial meetings need serious re-building and promotion because they provide the meat and potatoes for the family (they could well have used some of the city-standard dogs going around in the so-called “Provincial” meeting at Sandown last Sunday).

Like the TABs, which cater only to pros and mugs, the middle group get short thrift from racing authorities where the current fashion is to think up new ways of helping slow dogs to race, including over-complicating the grading system. Meanwhile, club supremos shovel out excess cash for big events and pat themselves on the back. That’s a bad policy mix. It’s always the middle-of-the-road motor car which sells best. Mince meat sells faster than filet steak. Most customers are average people, not world-beaters.

3. Rebuild our tracks with some scientific help.

What a fantastic opportunity. Almost overnight, it would be possible to stop the dogs hitting each other with such monotonous frequency. Professional analysis could point up errors and solutions to the shape of our tracks and the equipment in use. Given some work, serious and professional punters might return to the fold, generating jumps in turnover of possibly 25% or more, with consequent higher rewards to owners and trainers.

Protests from crusty old timers must be ignored. They are the cause of the problem.

4. Work Out What is Happening to the Breed

The rise and rise of short course racing and the loss of staying capacity are continuing unabated and without investigation. Another expert panel must identify trends in the breed and thereafter report annually on the state of the nation. Without that effort we will always be working in the dark and it might be very hard to recapture our former glory.

En route, this study will provide valuable information on the dog population, culling and all the rest of it. That would be much more worthwhile than inaccurate throwaway lines from lawyers about so-called “overbreeding”.

5. How To

To do all this, the first million dollars should go to national image building, the next one to a panel to study track design, another million to the breeding panel, and the following two million to track alterations.

More dollars will be needed after that but by this time it should be self-funding as higher patronage generates more profits. In the short term, some seeding funds could be nicked easily off the top of Group 1 prize money which is almost invariably higher than it need be to attract attention. More can be recovered from the wasted cash thrown at sub-standard distance races and into breeding bonuses which achieve nothing..

That’s a lot of money, you say. Absolutely. But it is there; it’s just a matter of how you apportion it.. And every one of these items is not just spending, but a potentially rewarding investment for the future. Can you say that about where our money is going now?

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