Time to study greyhound stewards

RIGHTLY or wrongly – well, both really – stewards have been in the spotlight throughout 2015 for multiple reasons.

One of the big worries about proposals to establish multi-code integrity (ie stewarding) units is that the experience and expertise to oversee three different codes is not something you can buy off the shelf. In any field there are always great amounts of code-specific material that must be absorbed and it often takes years to achieve genuine competency.

Even on a single code basis, the minimum requirement is to be able to assess form yet too often actions indicate an insufficient level of skills to do that. We have posted many examples in these columns. An overlapping issue is then that stewards may not able to properly monitor price movements, an important part of the package, and also mentioned more here than once.

Are stewards actually trained or do they just learn on the job? I have no idea as such information is never published. Are they qualified – and, if so, how and in what? Don’t know.

A decent – but not necessarily complete – separation from the commercial arms of authorities is probably desirable as it would avoid the nonsense created in NSW when stewards were ordered not to mention euthanasia in their reports. Even then, the NSW Integrity Auditor (who was at arm’s length from GRNSW) found life impossible because of a failure of communication with top management. So he quit.

However, as in that last case, I do not see this as a matter of poor organisational structure but as a shortcoming of the individuals responsible. Many observers might put the live baiting breaches in the same category. Too little, too late.

Stewards’ decisions should always be in accordance with the rules. But they also need to be clear to the public, which is who they work for. That’s often where they fall down.

Meantime, here are some recent examples of decisions which are hard to understand.

Sandown Race 2, March 20

“Stewards spoke to Mr. S. Hamilton, the trainer of the greyhound Breasha regarding the greyhounds racing manners entering the back straight. Acting under GAR 69(1) stewards charged Breasha with marring. Mr. Hamilton pleaded not guilty to the charge, Breasha was found guilty and suspended for 28 days at Sandown and it was directed that the greyhound perform a Satisfactory Trial (all tracks), pursuant to GAR 69(2)(a) before any future nomination will be accepted”.

Breasha was hassled by another dog in the back straight and sought to elbow it out of the way. It was defending itself. Having halted the other dog’s efforts, Breasha then continued normally with its race, passing some other runners without a problem. Apparently, stewards ignored the actions of the other dog, so the suspension appears very harsh.

Sandown Race 6

“Stewards spoke to Ms. Pitt, the handler of the greyhound Jonny Quick Step. Stewards deemed the performance of Jonny Quick Step unsatisfactory in this event and acting in accordance with GAR 71, Stewards directed that Jonny Quick Step must perform a Satisfactory Trial (all tracks) before any future nomination will be accepted”.

Jonny, which has been racing well in recent times, was very fortunate to avoid a charge of fighting. It deliberately took another dog off the track on the home turn. And what is “unsatisfactory” – a word not mentioned in the rule book. Fighting is, though, or words to that effect.

Sandown Race 11

“Stewards spoke to Mr. S. Payne, the trainer of the greyhound Rebel Commander regarding the greyhounds racing manners on the first turn. Acting under GAR 69(A)(1) stewards charged Rebel Commander with failing to pursue the lure with due commitment. Mr. Payne pleaded guilty to the charge, Rebel Commander was found guilty and suspended for 28 days at Sandown and it was directed that the greyhound perform a Satisfactory Trial (all tracks), pursuant to GAR 69(A)(2)(a) before any future nomination will be accepted”.

The dog clearly veered out and fought another runner. Why would they term that “failing to pursue”? Which offense takes precedence – fighting or FTC? Both have the same penalty but the continuity could be a problem.

Sale Race 11, March 20

“Stewards spoke to the trainer of Liam, Mr. J. Magri regarding the greyhound’s racing manners in the home straight. After viewing the head on footage Stewards took no further action”.

But why bother in the first place? Liam was squeezed during the turn but rallied to run down the new leader on the line with a very determined effort. Have they marked its card? See my earlier article on March 8 after the stewards incorrectly charged it with FTC at The Meadows and required a satisfactory trial. According to GRV records, no such trial was later performed.

Why question when no one is breaking the rules?

More generally, I note that stewards are now asking trainers why a dog has moved up in distance (eg to Sandown 515m). Since this happens dozens of times each week it begs the question of what their purpose is. In any event, answers can only be similar to those about “improved form” or a longish gap in racing. That is, a total waste of time. There is no rule for or against any of these practices, although we have frequently proposed that over-racing should be legislated out. So let’s hear more about that. NB stewards did query the recent career of Galloping Emma, a maiden – correctly so as it has had seven starts in the last 28 days and has managed only one 3rd place and nothing else. But, having done that, what is the next step? The answer is nil – there is no rule. Another waste of time.

And when are we going to get rid of the incorrect terminology of “marring”? It’s overdue for authorities to consult a decent dictionary. The correct word is “fighting”.

A personal view on what is needed for the industry

Readers wanted to hear more about two things.

My recipe for a future greyhound industry? Well, amongst some 450 or so articles written on this website alone you should find a lot of answers. However, maybe it’s time to summarise then again – so shortly.

T3 is a necessary option? I have a couple of quick comments. First, how come we got along for some 60 or 70 years without it? Second, can anyone find any Grade 1 or Grade 2 races? More on that later.

Peculiar market for the next million dollar dog

After Fernando Bale and Dyna Double One, what’s next? I suspect nothing for the moment from the Wheeler farm, which is probably just a reflection of the law of averages – it’s just part of the cycle. Much the same happened a few years ago when a big proportion of the breed was having trouble getting the 500m distance. I think that prompted the infusion of American blood.

As for Sportsbet’s market on the next dog to reach $1 million in prize money – they must be kidding starting that off at 15/1 for Snakebite Bale. 150/1 would be more like it, or maybe 1500/1. It’s one of many useful gallopers around but to achieve immortality they have to be able to jump. Snakebite Bale can’t.

All credit to Sportsbet for coming up with a fresh idea but please get realistic fellas!

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Retiree69
Retiree69
4 years ago

Bruce, as a retired steward, having fulfilled 13 years in the position with greyhound racing, I can only agree with most of your comments.  I would like to adress each point if I may please. Multi- code integrity and experience. As much as I think it is possible, the logistics and training necessary are just not feasible for the time it would take to gain the experience is a major hurdle. I was fortunate to have been involved in greyhound racing since 1972.  I have owned trained and bred greyhounds as well as working as a casual steward, betting supervisor,… Read more »

Retiree69
Retiree69
4 years ago

Bruce, as a retired steward, having fulfilled 13 years in the position with greyhound racing, I can only agree with most of your comments.  I would like to adress each point if I may please. Multi- code integrity and experience. As much as I think it is possible, the logistics and training necessary are just not feasible for the time it would take to gain the experience is a major hurdle. I was fortunate to have been involved in greyhound racing since 1972.  I have owned trained and bred greyhounds as well as working as a casual steward, betting supervisor,… Read more »