The Punters Show – Classic Rob Waterhouse: Watering Tracks


With the issue of the firmness of tracks raising its head again, by various requests and naturally seeming to be appropriate, we thought we would re-visit some classic Rob Waterhouse on his views on the track watering debate he put forward in 2007.

The current Track Preparation Policy (TPP) can be summed up by the belief that tracks should be prepared with “some give in the ground”, erring on the soft side.

It’s often said: “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” Similarly, the current TPP is well intentioned but, in my view, very harmful.

The arguments for the current TPP appear self-evident and seem “motherhood statements”:

Kinder to the horses
Produces a more sustainable product (by not breaking down horses)
Produces bigger fields
Fairer to owners
I say these arguments are fallacious and the TPP is very damaging. I will deal the arguments later in this submission.

The reality is, I say, that this TPP:

Diminishes betting turnover markedly and consequently reduces revenue to the industry
Creates tracks punters are reluctant to bet on
Creates biased tracks which undermine punters’ confidence
Is a disadvantage to breeders of tough, colonial stock
Makes racing bland
Undermines the integrity of racing
Is a large cost burden to the industry
To deal with these:

Diminishes betting turnover

1. With my bookmaking business, my turnover falls once a track is dead or worse. Punters won’t bet as freely on affected tracks. My firsthand experience is echoed by all bookmakers.

2. I am involved in a business taking exotics with various totes with about $50m turnover per annum. As much as possible is bet based on models with a view to maximising profit. These models reduce the turnover by about 20 per cent on affected tracks because firstly, the public turnover is smaller and secondly, the randomness makes it harder to find value. The senior partner of the world’s largest punting syndicate told me they adopt the same strategy.

3. Every punter I know dislikes dead and slow tracks. They know these goings are more random. Only Racing could not realize its only ‘customers’ are punters and force on them what they don’t want.

4. I am indebted to Mr. Doug Freeman of the TAB for the table below. It shows how much less is bet with TAB Corp on affected tracks. I draw to your attention the Victorian Metropolitan drop off – over 20 per cent.

Of course, this drop in turnover causes a bigger drop in available prizemoney.

Creates biased tracks

I hope it is generally recognised that watering creates biases. The fence is often worse because of natural drainage. Irrigation inhibits root growth so parts of tracks give way. The man in charge of the gallops and racecourses at Newmarket told me that irrigation of a “gallop” reduced the type of grasses there from about 100 to three.

There are many instances of biased tracks in Victoria, notwithstanding the recent dry conditions. I am obliged to professional punter, owner, breeder, journalist Peter Lawrence or some recent examples:

· Werribee Cup Day: no winner drawn outside four, no winner three wide or wider on the turn…
· Werribee 28/11 : meeting abandoned before any races run, no rain for seven days, parts of the track slow to heavy…
· Geelong 2/12 : Again no rain, track downgraded to slow before the first, and jockeys to outside fence in the straight…
· Sandown Lakeside latest two meetings, track DEAD all day….
· Sandown Guineas meeting where leaders on the fence totally dominated the programme…
· Turnbull Stakes Day and Final Day at Flemington where winners were seemingly random horses and form irrelevant…
The casino laws make it a jailable offence to create a bias in, say, a roulette wheel. I, for one, would support severe sanctions against course curators who create biased tracks. Perhaps a public flogging in the betting ring after the last? There would be no difficulty finding floggers.

It is noteworthy in the UK, when there is proprietary racing, course curators are sacked by track owners if they produce what punters hate – biased tracks. They know it attacks turnover and their profits.

Our worst Sydney track for bias was Gosford. The course curator was sacked and God was placed in charge. Within a short period the track was perfect. God was free.

Colonial breeders

Australian-bred breeding stock are disadvantaged by this TPP. These soft-boned imported stock are advantaged. Progeny of the imported stock have reduced racing lives – in the UK, they have a handful of starts each year. The current TPP jeopardizes our future breed. I think it will have a marked effect on racing in the future – we’ll have a lot of horses, who can’t stand up to racing.

Blandness

Denying racing of fast(1) and good(2) tracks robs racing of its diversity.

Cost of implementation

Reading the marvelously detailed RMG and the TPP, I am struck at the money it must cost to implement these misguided policies. They say in excess of $20m has been squandered at track in replacing the best track in Australia with two well-below-par courses. In my mind, it is a tragedy that racing has been able to afford these wastes. To me, the current TPP is an expensive exercise which is very detrimental to racing. I refer you to the Gosford example above.

I’d be interested in knowing the cost of this high-tech TPP? I suspect that it is a very large sum.

Integrity

The results of races are very much affected by this TPP and it must damage racing’s reputation.

Pity help the owner of a horse ‘best on firm going’, he never gets a turn.

It is a clear lack of honesty in that no tracks are described as 1s, 2s or 10s even though they are many, according to my figures. The TPP even appears to instruct course curators to misreport firm tracks (on page 5 at point 7 of the RMG).

Kinder to horses

Well, horses don’t like it. It is a fallacy to say they do. They won’t stretch out as they do on fast/good tracks. The best mud lark runs slower times in goings- he just dislikes it less than others.

A more sustainable product

My wife, Gai Waterhouse, a trainer, says: “My horses are more likely to break down on affected tracks than dry. It is a myth that softer tracks are kinder to horses. They only race for a minute or two but soft tracks can wreak havoc with them. I hate these over-watered tracks”

A vet of Gai’s says: “you could expect more fetlock hyper extension injuries like tendon injuries, avulsion injuries of sesamoids etc.”
John Hawkes replied to an email I sent him: “I agree, I do not like the water policy and prefer firmer tracks.”

I concede some trainers think they like the affected tracks. Were they asked: “Would you prefer to race on the current softer tracks for the current prizemoney or on firmer tracks for 10% or 20% extra prizemoney?” not one would say the former. Those trainers should study the TAB figures above.

I am indebted to Mr. Len Loveday, a prominent punter and statistician. His research (1992 to 2005) shows clearly horses with a high number of career starts have a higher percentage of dry track starts. I will send that file separately. Dry tracks last longer.

Produces bigger fields

Loveday also shows that (1995 to now) in Victoria, field sizes have been bigger when the tracks were fast and good as against dead, slow, heavy. I concede this, on his figures, is not reflected Australia-wide, I’d argue that is because places (like outback places) where Fast and Good tracks predominate, fields are normally smaller.

Fairer to owners

I speak from personal experience, I regularly hear my wife, Gai, trying to convince owners to let their horses start when the going is affected. They hate wet tracks for “their” horse.

For the sake of fullness, may I add?:

I note the TPP and RMG advocate rolling. Leading world track expert Michael Dickinson old me that no turf track should ever be rolled: “Rolling and grass courses should never be used in the same breath. Michael is responsible/consults/consulted for Manton, Ballydoyle, the Maktoums and has provided many courses around the USA. He is also a great trainer and horseman. I will locate his letter and CD.
I say, the improvement a track makes during racing is imaginary, and easily shown to be such by a proper study. Tracks can deteriorate but never improve.
I draw attention to the Dr Mumford’s thesis on Going Management (https://dspace.lib.cranfield.ac.uk/bitstream/1826/1742/1/Colin+Mumford+EngD+Thesis+2006.pdf). He says much of interest to Australian racing. Two points stick in my mind in particular. Firstly, he is critical of inconsistent going (as caused by artificial watering) saying how injury prone it is. Secondly, he gives a properly researched table for injury to horses on various goings – our dead (their ‘good to soft’) is worse than ‘good to firm’ and good’.
On Saturday January 12th at Caulfield there were 8 who had had 40 starts or more, nil 100 starts or more
On the same day at Doomben there were 26 who had had 40 starts or more 3 100 starts or more
Melbourne has the watering policy, Brisbane normally has fast tracks, notwithstanding they miss-described as good, yet horses “last” longer on the firm tracks.
I re-draw your attention to the TAB turnover figures and ask you to assess the impact on racing prizemoney and consequently racing participants.

Rob Waterhouse
December 2007

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