Time to cut the prize money fat for major greyhound events

WITH a lot of talk suggesting Sweet It Is could become the first greyhound anywhere in the world to win one million dollars in prize money (a task that will probably only be achieved if she can win at least one more Group 1 event and a couple of Group 2’s or 3’s), it’s worth thinking about whether it’s time to look very seriously at the amounts being paid out for a lot of major races around the country.

Let me start by saying that I am on record as suggesting a prize money cap needs to be put on our Group 1 feature events. I would suggest that in most Group 1 races the amounts paid out to the placegetters should come down.

I think the monies paid out for races like the Melbourne Cup and Golden Easter Egg (to name just two) are excessive, but the best way to state my case is by looking at how the Melbourne Cup prize money has developed over the decades.

It’s difficult to compare different eras of course, but the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) can prove a great help in this regard. On its website is what is called an Inflation Calculator, and anyone interested in trying to find a gauge between what we pay today and what was being paid out in, say, 1956, only needs to feed in the numbers to get a comparison.

As the Reserve Bank website notes, ‘The results produced by the Inflation Calculator are intended as guides only and should not be regarded as ‘official’ Reserve Bank calculations.’

So, I decided to crunch a variety of numbers though the RBA calculator to see whether my argument prize money for the Melbourne Cup should be coming down rather than going up was in fact tenable. Note: I’ve rounded the numbers up to make them easier to digest.

The 2014 Melbourne Cup saw Dyna Villa collect $420,000 for the win, easily the largest amount ever paid out in the history of the sport in Australia.

In 1956 when the first modern-day Melbourne Cup was run, and won by Rockateer, the winner received £500. According to the RBA calculator that would be worth $15,250 today. To be fair, in 1956 the TAB did not exist and so clubs weren’t getting that valuable distribution they get today.

Let’s go to 1966, a couple of years after the introduction of the TAB. Cheltenham Lass won the 1966 Melbourne Cup and earned $2,500, or $30,750 in 2014 values.

By 1976, greyhound racing was at its peak across Australia and the Melbourne Cup that year was annexed by Carrington Jade, whose connections picked up $11,500. That would be the equivalent of $67,500 in 2014.

In 1986 when Legendary Kid took the Melbourne Cup, he collected $35,000, which is the equivalent of $86,800 today.

Even in 1996, with the Group racing classification system under way, Henry Hand’s $100,000 for first would be the same as $159,000 in 2014.

The horse racing Melbourne Cup gets literally tens of thousands of people through the turnstiles to watch the big event and I would bet not more than 10 or 15 percent, if that, of those racegoers would know how much the winner will receive.

The Sandown club also plays host to a big crowd when the greyhound Melbourne Cup is run, and while I would imagine a much larger number would have a pretty good idea of what the race is worth to the winner, I doubt they really care.

On the comparisons I have recounted above I would argue the Melbourne Cup should not be allowed to go beyond about $180-200,000 for first. The same goes for the Golden Easter Egg.

The National Derby is a long-established age classic in New South Wales and in 1975 when Steelflex became the only greyhound to win it twice, he collected $8,000. That works out to around $53,200 in 2014.

This year, Fernando Bale earned $75,000 for his National Derby success, or 40 percent above what might have been expected had prize money only kept pace with inflation. Based on those numbers I would argue a figure around $60,000 would have been more appropriate.

The lead for any change down probably has to come from Victoria, the state with the best financial position in the country. And it will take some serious agreement between the management of the Meadows and Sandown to recognize that the people who keep them in business, that is, the punters of Australia, don’t care if you host 28 Group 1’s in the year or have the 10 biggest prize money races.

Given where racing is heading, administrators need to be looking beyond the ultimately meaningless ‘who has the biggest race/s’ mentality.

In many ways, given what racing has been going through since February this year, we need to be adopting a lot of different approaches aimed at restoring the core of the industry and properly planning for the next five to 10 years, a period which will be more crucial than many perhaps can envisage.

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