ONE sentence tells all. On Tuesday in Brisbane, Michael Byrne, Chairman of the Queensland Greyhound Racing Board, and Darren Condon, CEO of Racing Queensland, conducted a formal meeting with a large number of greyhound people. The aim was to bring everyone up to date. Questions had to be advised in advance and only those listed by Byrne and Condon were allowed. Discussion was recorded by Phil Purser of justracing.com.au and included this gem from Byrne:
“The sport was growing and prospering in this State at an enormous rate prior to this being thrust upon us,” referring to the live baiting scandal.
This would have to be the greatest pile of codswallop heard in years from a greyhound administrator. In fact, forgetting for a moment that the industry has just managed to squeeze bigger commissions out of TattsBet, greyhound racing in the state has been in decline for more than a decade. Dog numbers are down, meeting numbers are down, field quality is down, maiden races are filling spots once used by graded dogs, novice and short courses races now appear on programs that never saw them before, and TattsBet cannot maintain its turnover levels.
To compound that situation, RQ has grabbed hold of dozens of dogs and secreted them away at an undisclosed location at a cost of $55 a day each. To pay for that, the newly increased prize money has been cut back. Owners of those dogs may or may not have been aware of any alleged live baiting — no-one is sure. Either way, innocent owners and trainers are being forced to pay for the indiscretions of a minority.
To clarify matters, RQ has now issued another extraordinary instruction requiring the imprisoned dogs to run trials so that a group of vets and stewards can determine if they have benefitted from the live baiting and are therefore ready to resume racing.
Even to someone who lacks veterinary knowledge, this is the most amazing proposition I have heard in a lifetime of patronising greyhound racing. It beggars belief that any human being could determine which has been blooded and which not by watching them gallop after a normal lure. Indeed, we have also heard claims from attendees at the Tooradin trial track in Victoria that dogs actually involved in the blooding did not do very well in their next race. The very worth of live baiting has never been established so how could you make comparisons? The relative benefits of live or dead baits is also unknown. Or live baits versus any other method of encouraging dogs to chase. It is all someone’s opinion. Yes, including the vet’s.
Not to forget that Queensland trainers are now required to sign a statutory declaration that their charges have never experienced live baiting before they can enter races. Many trainers have refused to do this, so many that conducting races would be virtually impossible if RQ insisted.
The short answer is that Queensland racing has been in strife for a long time. Only administrators can or should be held responsible for the failure to advance the industry, to find and support marketing measures which boost patronage, or to adequately identify any abuses of the system. Yet the existing group is maintaining that they are holding on to their spots because they want to see the wrongs righted – so claim both Byrne and Condon. Events strongly support the view that they are not qualified to do that.
The new Labor government is proving of no help. Minister Byrne (no relation) has just pulled the new development at Logan off the agenda, stating he will wait until the live baiting saga is finalised. Long ago the previous government promised $10 million for that project, following the abrupt resumption of the land on which the Gold Coast track sat. The trots have been similarly inconvenienced.
In the interim, the Minister has shown no signs of calling racing officials to account, unlike his opposite numbers in NSW and Victoria. He has also not commented on the nonsensical structure of racing under four separate boards (all staffed by insiders), one for each code and all reporting to a single all-codes board run by the heavily criticised Kevin Dixon.
Meantime, reviews and investigations will continue, all paid for by the industry. Many millions of dollars are involved.
The upshot of all this is that administrators are governing by words, not actions. Not only in Queensland, this is a standard tactic used by bureaucrats or bureaucratic systems when something goes wrong. If in doubt, add a rule or a law, never mind how good the existing ones are. No doubt the results of all the reviews will throw up some more helpful facts but the prospect of ending up with a better industry is bleak unless the basic management system is improved.
Stewards must get it right — no exceptions
Amongst others, stewards are coming under active review in three states as teams decipher what went on and why on their watch. This is an even more vital task than punishing the fools who used live baits. Stewards are almost the sole means of controlling the sport from day to day and paying heed to community demands and needs. Our confidence in them is essential to future progress yet, as I have repeatedly written over the last few years, they often let us down. If they dispute that finding, we have yet to hear any objections from them or anyone else. And, in small or large ways (you decide which) the problem continues. Here is yet another example.
Race 3 Sandown 26 March
“Dyna Quirk (2) was vetted following the Event and after being revetted, Dr G Goble, the Club’s Veterinary Surgeon, reported that he could find no apparent injury with the greyhound. Stewards spoke to Mr. G Dailly, Handler of Dyna Quirk, regarding the greyhound’s racing manners on the second turn. Acting under GAR69(A)(1), Stewards charged Dyna Quirk with failing to pursue the lure with due commitment. Mr. G Dailly pleaded not guilty to the charge. Dyna Quirk was found guilty as charged and suspended for 28 days at Sandown Park only and directed that the greyhound perform a Satisfactory Trial (all tracks) pursuant to GAR 69(A((2)(a) before any future nomination will be accepted.”
To say I am flabbergasted would be the understatement of the year. After viewing the video half a dozen times, the facts seem to be these: Dyna Quirk came out in the middle of the field, then got squeezed at the first turn. Moving into the back straight (what the stewards call the “second turn”) the dog stumbled and veered to the right. The cause was difficult to determine but could have been crossing its legs, stepping in a hole, or whatever. It quickly regained pace, chasing hard and passing dogs all the way to the post and into the pen. Never was there any evidence of failing to chase.
Note that the stumble area is also notorious for being the site of many broken hocks over the years. That tells us that dogs are under high physical stress as they exit the turn and accelerate away after the lure.
I don’t know if the connections can be bothered appealing the conviction but someone should. What seem to be gross errors by stewards should not be left unchallenged (although the Daillys did plead not guilty). If nothing else, such a hearing might at least help determine how FTC should be defined.