In competition, there is always someone willing to go to extremes in order to succeed. Using live prey, or even dead ones, to school your dogs is old hat, unnecessary and illegal, as Queensland trainer Reg Kay told this website the other day. Other options are available. Offenders will be thumped.
But it is a strange world we live in. Many of the same folk responsible for bringing these abuses to light are not just concerned about abuses but about ending the sport of greyhound racing entirely. By comparison, they are also supporters of a ban on crocodile shooting. That’s an animal that contributes nothing to ecological balance and is dedicated only to killing humans and other animals. At best it ends up as handbags for the rich and famous. It poses grave dangers in many parts of the country, including the capital city of Darwin, where they have been noted along its main swimming beach and in its harbour.
However, like all criminal acts, it is important to put everything into perspective. The chairman of the parliamentary Inquiry into greyhound racing in NSW, Robert Borsak, had this to say in its report:
“Issues of animal welfare and the breeding of greyhounds were also examined by the Committee. We found that the incidence of greyhound cruelty and neglect is minimal, and believe that on the whole, greyhound owners and trainers take great care and pride in their dogs.’
Serious though the abuses are, let’s hope the RSPCA and the ABC’s Four Corners program achieve some balance by also reporting on the massive numbers of abuses suffered by household pets and other animals in the care of delinquent owners.
Numbers do not add up
The second challenge to the greyhound industry is for state authorities to look out the window and start counting dogs.
Plainly, the supply has long since fallen short of the demand for dogs to fill the available boxes. While this has been a national trend for a decade now (see GALtd data up to 2011), it has accelerated since 2010 when increasing numbers of races have been scheduled to occupy vacant slots in the TAB calendar.
Last week summarised how this is coming out in the wash. Here is the score at the country’s major tracks for their prime meetings.
Albion Park – 3 short fields out of 10.
Wentworth Park (Fri) – 7 short fields out of 10.
Wentworth Park (Sat) – 4 short fields out of 10.
Sandown – 3 short fields out of 12.
The Meadows – 4 short fields out of 12.
In addition, the secondary meetings at Sandown and The Meadows both ran with only 10 races, rather than the usual 12. Also in that week, that mecca for better dogs, Victoria, had enough dogs for only 11 races instead of the normal 12 at Bendigo, Horsham and Shepparton..
All major tracks now have meetings padded out by Novice or even Maiden events. Squibs’ races over 300m are creeping in.
None of this happened 10 years ago. It is a modern trend. It may also have unintended consequences. The constant call for extra nominations may encourage less fit dogs to enter. Dogs could be racing too often and their keenness suffering. The overall quality of fields will fall. And the lower standards and smaller fields will discourage betting.
In these circumstances, the assumed arithmetic that more races will equal more profits is also dubious. An overcrowded TAB/SKY program now sees one race robbing another. Delayed harness races inevitably take turnover away from the dogs, as do the rising numbers of international events. And the smaller the pools, the fewer serious punters will be interested.
All racing authorities should be re-doing their sums.
Competence is coming into question
Turning attention away from Victorian stewards towards Wentworth Park, the first race last Friday was interesting. No great dogs but an unusual performance on a track that was not particularly fast. Flash Earner and Nyee began well (5.41) and quickly had the race between them. Flash Earner took control on the home turn to win by 2.5 lengths in a moderate 30.45. The time might have been quicker had they not battled with each other all the way to the home turn.
My point? Flash Earner was only 4th in the betting order and started at $9.00 yet won the race comfortably. In its previous four starts it had been beaten by a total of 55 lengths. It had been averaging a 5.60 sectional time. Logically, it should have been a 100/1 chance.
Probably no sheep stations were won or lost but the size of the form reversal was huge. Its only other decent run had been a handy second over 515m at Bulli last August. The dog is now subject to a routine winner’s swab but surely some questions might have been asked. That sort of performance variation is precisely why stewards are employed. The only conclusion is that they don’t bother assessing form
The other big surprise of the week was back in Melbourne. Crichton Bale was having its first crack at 595m at Sandown in Race 3 on Thursday, up against a fairly experienced lot. As is its habit, it began moderately but by the time they got to the home turn it was gobbling them up. It’s a very talented dog, having won four in a row coming into this race and was looking like a winner, given reasonable luck. Then, half way down the home stretch it turned to the right, crashing into the 3 dog which then cannoned into the other two leaders.
Stewards found that (a) the dog ended up with a “stiff neck”, (b) then warned the trainer about its actions, (c) called for a satisfactory trial before it raced again, and (d) gave it a 5 day stand down. They did not state how and where the “stiff neck” came about. Since it was motoring home in a straight line prior to the incident, it is not hard to guess the answers there.
What does all that mean? How do we define fighting these days (not the first time I have asked that question)? If stewards took the trouble to make those four statements it is plain that the dog must have offended somehow – something which was perfectly obvious to any viewer and to the supporters of it and its victims. Not a good result.
To pose an even greater conundrum, stewards further stated “Chrichton Bale faltered entering the home straight, severely checking Dyna Glinda, Morningside and Lochinvar Impact”. The video shows there was no faltering at all until Crichton Bale hit the other dogs. Quite the opposite, in fact. So the argument descends to a debate about whether Crichton Bale faltered at exactly the time it hit the other dogs, or whether it suffered the “stiff neck” as a result of hitting the other dogs. And does a “stiff neck” cause you to run to the outside? Very doubtful.
To put it another way, as they entered the home straight, Crichton Bale was 100/1 on to win the race. But it didn’t and failed to finish the race, apparently injured.
To me, the best thing that can happen to a dog like that is to spend a few weeks in the paddock chasing butterfilies. Clear its head, so to speak.