What greyhound racing could learn from the thoroughbred industry

THE thoroughbred code’s two and a bit days talkfest, the Australian Racing Conference in Brisbane, is now over, although it failed to attract any coverage from major media. Perhaps reports and transcripts will emerge in due course.

Let’s hope so because it included a wide range of high powered sporting chiefs from Gillon Mclachlan, CEO of the AFL, to CEOs of the Brisbane Broncos and Queensland Reds and even to Robbie Cooke, boss of Tatts Group (of which UBET is a part) and local Racing Queensland types. Note that the latter folk might not have a lot to offer, given the awful performance of all Queensland codes in recent times. In fact, the mediocre field for Saturday’s prestigious Doomben 10,000 underscored the point.

However, the agenda was fascinating. Topics included …

  • Attracting and retaining fans
  • Who are those fans?
  • Does the racing product need to change?
  • Participant training
  • Critical issues for the breeding industry
  • Digital channels to connect with audiences
  • Gaining fans in a crowded marketplace
  • Sponsorship opportunities
  • Issues for administrators
  • Racecourse management
  • And so on.

    What a terrific example this provides for the greyhound industry! Change the names from horses to dogs and it could be a remarkable opportunity for greyhound people to stage a similar event and broaden their outlook, to say nothing of creating a more cohesive, efficient and transparent industry sector.

    Of course, Greyhounds Australasia does this four times a year but we have no idea what they talk about or what decisions they might make – it’s all kept secret. And they talk only to each other, not to outsiders, who are always treated with suspicion in the racing industry. It all costs a lot, though, paid for by punters.

    State jealousies must be the biggest single barrier to genuine progress in greyhound racing – or any racing code. In fact, racing is the only major sport which still permits this to happen. All the others have seen the light and truly nationalised their proceedings. Lbw and no-ball laws are the same in Perth as they are in Sydney.

    Full details of subjects and speakers are available on the Racing Australia website.

    Track surface studies

    Good for GRV. It’s been conducting what it calls a ‘Sand Study’ to check and analyse racing surfaces at all Victorian tracks. It is aimed at examining not just the type of sand but the way it has been applied. As with roads or football fields, the foundations are just as important in maintaining a consistent quality of surface for competitors to use.

    According to the media release, “It was identified that the performance of the track surface was also strongly influenced by other elements such as the base on which the sand was placed, frequency and approach to watering, weather generally and the method and frequency of harrowing and top dressing the sand”.

    Happily, the full report will be published in coming months. This is a departure from normal practice.

    Last year, for example, GRV commissioned a study of public attitudes to the sport of greyhound racing but refused to tell the industry about it. It was “commercial in confidence” according to GRV, for reasons which only they would know..

    Yet, given events of the past few months, information like that would provide base evidence for a further survey which assessed how those attitudes were changing. It would reflect (or not) how the public see greyhound racing today following all the live baiting sagas?

    The auditing of surfaces in Victoria follows a similar check of all NSW TAB-tracks by Bill Wilson, newly employed by GRNSW and with a long background in the preparation and maintenance of various types of surfaces on sporting fields.

    Wilson sent his report to GRNSW bosses some time ago but we have yet to hear what he has said or what action will be taken as a result. Despite many motherhood statements from state racing authorities, it is the exception rather than the rule to advise the wider industry of the outcome of surveys and studies, or the real reasons for major decisions.

    One recent survey we did hear about was concerned SA trainers’ attitudes to the finish-on-lure, yet that was flawed from go to whoa. Statistically, it was unreliable yet it was used to justify major changes to practices at SA tracks, especially Angle Park. After a similar experiment in Brisbane, those who shouted loudest won the day and the FOL was banned.

    Generally, secrecy is the norm amongst racing authorities for reasons which are hard to fathom. They are public bodies, responsible to the public through the Racing Minister, and funded by punters’ money.

    They are rarely held accountable for their actions or their investments, which is perhaps part of the reason for the belated “discovery” of live baiting abuses. Authorities now want to hear more about alleged abuses but if the industry culture does not promote two-way communication the cause is lost before they start.

    The current multi-million dollar expenditures going into inquiries and reviews of those abuses are also partly or wholly funded by both participants and punters. So goodies and baddies have both lost ground.

    Big date changes in NSW greyhound racing

    NSW race dates for the 2015/16 year are now out and offer some more sensible outcomes. Gone are the silly C Class meetings at Wentworth Park on Monday nights. They served no real purpose other than to rob the main provincial tracks of starters and offer opportunities to squibs capable only of 280-metres racing.

    Wenty’s secondary meeting also moves from Friday to Wednesday nights, thereby giving Bulli a chance to become more profitable in the popular betting slot on Friday. Sunday to Wednesday nights are never big earners but the presence of Wenty racing might boost things a bit.

    However, I am sceptical about the GRNSW justification that it “provides trainers with the ability to nominate greyhounds across both (Wenty) meetings on a given week”. Three day gaps between races are never ideal as you can’t be sure how dogs will back up. Some do this better than others and we have found in the past that trainers are not the best guide to success in this area. Looks can deceive.

    Grafton, no doubt the best laid out track on the North Coast, will now get a consistent slot every Monday night. This is deserved, but would be even better if they got rid of the unnecessary and unproductive 302-metres scampers which have crept in. Like the 280-metres in town and the 297-metres at Dapto, these are no more than jumping tests, not real races..

    There is a small reduction in the total number of meetings but this will be balanced by an increase to 11 races per meeting at Wenty and some provincial clubs. Not sure about that. That policy did not work too well in the 1990s and dogs are scarcer now. The 12-race meeting is also struggling in Victoria where nominations are routinely held open in an effort to fill all the boxes. But with what?

    Non-TAB dates will be published shortly.

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