There is a misguided move, I understand, to have the Australian Racing Board produce guidelines to curators having them produce, no better than, ‘dead’ tracks.
There is a wide-spread, but false, belief that tracks should never be produced firmer than dead. I say this is a dangerous misapprehension. A policy of aiming all tracks to be no better than dead would be a big mistake and adversely affect all in the industry.
At the outset, dare I say, horse racing must be the only industry where the customer seems to be totally ignored? I’m not sure the industry even see punters as “everyone in racing’s” customers. For most, it seems as though racing exists in spite of punters, rather than because of them. For the customers, the punters, they love fast and good tracks. They hate, in particular ‘dead’ tracks. What’s more, they show it clearly in their betting, which translates directly to racing revenue. They bet much less when the tracks are ‘affected’. Less goes to racing. In any other businesses, shareholders would sack any management who refused to sell the business’s best product.
A move toward softer tracks is, like the “road to hell”, “paved with good intentions”. Their argument is that softer tracks:
• Are kinder to the horses
• Produce a more sustainable product
(by not breaking down horses)
• Produce bigger fields
• Are fairer to owners
But I say these arguments are fallacious.
Kinder to horses?
Well, horses don’t actually “like” affected tracks. It is a fallacy to say they do. They are reluctant to stretch out as they do on fast/ good tracks. The best ‘mud lark’, of course, runs slower times on affected ground – he just dislikes it less than others.
A more sustainable product?
My wife, Gai, 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. on soft.”
Leading trainer John Hawkes said a few years ago, when asked about the issue: “I agree, I do not like the water policy and prefer firmer tracks.”
I recognize some trainers “think” they like the affected tracks (but see top of next page). Were they asked: “Would you prefer to race on the current softer tracks for the current prize money or on firmer tracks for 10% or 20% extra prize money?” Not one would say they would. Gai and I recently visited a meeting at Agua Caliente in Mexico. Prize money is not shown in the race book because it is calculated as a proportion of the “handle”. Were that done transparently here, connections would demand firm tracks!
Moreover, a recent study of Australian runners (1992 to 2005) shows clearly, horses with a high number of career starts have a higher percentage of dry track starts. Dry track horses last longer.
Produces bigger fields?
In another study (1995 to now in Victoria, See table 1.0 below), field sizes have been bigger when the tracks were fast and good as against dead, slow and heavy.
Correspondent, Len Loveday has pointed out to me that, contrary to what they seem to say, trainers and owners are more likely to scratch runners in affected going. From a vast sample, 10.56% of runners are withdrawn. From his figures, the pattern is stark:
Percentage of acceptors scratched
Additionally, the trainers who are in favour of softer tracks, as a group, are the biggest scratchers. One prominent Randwick trainer (who says he hates firm tracks) scratches 30% of his runners on dead, 46% on slow and 76% on heavy! By contrast, Gai tries to run everything. Her scratching rate is constantly under 5%, whatever the going.
Fairer to owners?
I speak from personal experience, I regularly hear Gai trying to convince owners to let their horses start when the going is affected. They hate wet tracks for “their” horse.
Arguments against watering tracks
• 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 breeding stock
• Makes racing bland
• Undermines the integrity of racing
• Is a large cost burden to the industry
Diminishes betting turnover
• With my bookmaking business, my turnover falls once a track is dead or worse. Punters won’t bet as freely on affected tracks. My first-hand experience is echoed by all bookmakers.
• Professional punting syndicates bet as much as possible, based on models with a view to maximising profit. These models typically 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 this exact strategy.
• Every punter I know dislikes dead and slow tracks. They know these goings are more random. Only Racing could not realise its only ‘customers’ are punters and force on them what they don’t want.
• TAB Corp produced table 1.1 above. It shows how much less is bet with TAB Corp on affected tracks.
Of course, this drop in turnover causes a bigger drop in available prize money.
Creates biased tracks
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. There are countless instances of biased tracks from watering.
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.
There is no doubt the famous hard and tough Australian breed is disadvantaged by the policy and a less robust type is encouraged. It will have a long term impact.
Denying racing of fast(1) and good(2) tracks robs racing of its diversity.
Cost of implementation
The cost implementing the softer track policy runs into millions of dollars.
The results of races are very much affected by the policy and it must damage racing’s reputation.
Pity help the owner of a horse ‘best on firm going’, as he never gets a turn.Interestingly, I say it is a clear lack of honesty in that very few tracks are described as Fast 1s, Good 2s or Heavy 10s, even though many actually are, according to my figures.
I’d be delighted to correspond with anyone who takes issue with me. Happy to provide full statistics.