I fancy Justracing was the only media outlet in attendance when Racing Queensland Chairman Kevin Dixon (far right with back to camera) addressed a greyhound industry meeting last Sunday at Albion Park. To Kevin Dixon's left is new Racing Queensland Board member John Falvey and on John Falvey's left is Racing Queensland staffer Ross Dowd.
About sixty greyhound racing industry participants turned up at 11am at Albion Park last Sunday for an industry meeting regarding the future of the code in Queensland. The meeting was addressed at length by Racing Queensland Chairman Kevin Dixon who also answered a plethora of questions for those in attendance. I thought his address and answers were professional at all times and he didn’t go on with all the “ah” and “um” business that main speakers addressing a gathering regularly go on with. I’ve lost count of the various industry meetings I’ve been to over the 15 years that this website has been going and will publicly state that most are just a lot of hot air and as such are a waste of time, but this one last Sunday I thought was quite fruitful, with everyone keeping a level head and the Racing Queensland Chairman being very generous with his time – such that everyone who wanted to have input, had their opportunity to speak.
The meeting went for about two-and-a-half hours, so it’s impossible to reproduce here all that was said by the Chairman, so let’s cut to the chase - with just the important issues.
Kevin Dixon stated that the media figure bandied around that he inherited to distribute from his predecessor Bob Bentley was 110 million, but he noted he only had “100 million of that 110 million to distribute, as the 10 million dollars is dedicated greyhound industry money” from the resumption of the Parklands greyhound complex by the State Government to make way for a hospital. During the meeting he apologised to Parklands Greyhound Racing Club and in particular to well known trainer Tony Zammit, for Racing Queensland not replying to email requests for a meeting with the Chairman - and he has agreed to meet with a delegation from there, as soon as possible.
Kevin Dixon covered a broad range of topics during his address and he explained that entities within the three codes of racing don’t necessarily need to generate income, to nevertheless be vital to the racing industry by saying, “I spent yesterday (last Saturday) for instance out at St George at the races, which, you know, generates no income for the industry. It’s all cost and there is a lot of that within the thoroughbred world and why is that? Well it’s part of the communities in those country towns, but also, if you go to Eagle Farm at any morning at 4 o’clock in the morning and see the people that are working there – trackwork riders, strappers and so forth, 98% of them come from the country, so it’s (country racing) playing a valid role within the whole industry, whilst it’s not generating any income……..so not everything can be about the income that’s generated. It has to be a balance across a whole industry and what that means is that parts will generate more money than other parts, and that is okay, as long as you also are confident about the bits that you’re spending it on, that aren’t generating, you know, as much money. And you know unfortunately if you get six different people in a room, there’s six different views about that, but we need to come up with as much balance as we can on that.”
Kevin Dixon told the meeting that prizemoney is his number one priority at this point in time across all codes, noting “none of the three codes can suffer a prizemoney decrease”.
A spirited discussion took place during the course of the meeting as to whether short course greyhound sprint races of 300-odd metres were deserving of the level of prizemoney that they get, given that those short races were basically catering for speedy squibs. Attendees like respected trainer Ryan Ayre felt speedy squibs were being looked after too well financially, at the expense of “500 or 600-metre greyhounds”, which would generate more TAB turnover.
The Chairman advised that the Queensland greyhound industry will never be capable of competing with the New South Wales and Victorian greyhound industry and he asked the gathering to accept the fact that Queensland will have an attrition rate due to the southern States poaching our better greyhounds, as those States can afford to offer better prizemoney.
During the course of the meeting, Kevin Dixon further advised that he had been approached by the Mayor of Gatton Shire and advised the attendees that he was keen to have further discussions there, as he stated he was looking for racing venues which were both geographically astute and which could be developed for minimal cost. He was also made aware at the meeting that “about 30% of greyhound licensees” are geographically located on the northern side of Brisbane and that those “30%” have minimal facilities to work with.
Neil Catchpole, Vice Chairman of Capalaba spoke of his club being the only Queensland club that was getting no rise in prizemoney to which Kevin Dixon replied in part: “I’m not quite sure that (spending) no money at (non-TAB) Capalaba is the right answer, so I’m interested in that feedback. I think the right answer is not to sort of make mass increases at Capalaba across all races, but we will be taking a look at that.”
Representing Ipswich Greyhound Racing Club, the President Rob Essex, who is also a registered owner across all three codes, as well as a licensed greyhound trainer, advised the new RQL Chairman that his club “turns over between 500,000 and 600,000 a week as (TAB) turnover and the payout is $36,000 in prizemoney. Now at the moment we have a stack of nominations every week and yet we (as an industry) are looking at sending TAB meetings to the country. I’ve got nothing against that, but shouldn’t we be looking after the people in this area”, to which Kevin Dixon replied, “That’s an adjustment that we really have to look at. That’s more a case of where you run the races and how many you run, rather than prizemoney levels. We need to continually rebalance. One of the things that I don’t think happened in the past is an ability to rebalance the number of races and where they’re run at, based on the way on which things are happening at a point in time ....... what we’ve tried to aim at, at the moment, is just increases, without reducing any anywhere. Maybe those increases need to go elsewhere at the moment. That’s the feedback we’re looking for”.
Kevin Dixon gave an assurance to owners struggling to get a run with their dogs that “One of the things I’m going to have Ross (Dowd from RQ) do within the next week or two is actually do some stats on, you know, nominations and where the dogs are and where we’re short on races, where we’re losing on races and so forth, because at the end of the day every industry is based on market forces and that’s a market force that we need to take account of. I don’t have a clear understanding of that at the moment, but we will get that" (understanding in due course).
Kevin Dixon discussed at great length the various options that had been mooted for greyhound racing by the previous regime, noting that Deagon as a future greyhound venue had been “completely dismissed and in fact as of two weeks time, I’ve outsourced the maintenance and running at Deagon, the training facility part of it, to the Brisbane Racing Club, so that they can use it as an alternate venue for trials and trainers and on-course boxes and things that they struggle with the capacity for. We’ll need that (Deagon) as a thoroughbred training centre and probably as a revitalized one as well, which is good for that industry”.
Reverting back to greyhounds Kevin Dixon stated, “I understand the need for a one turn track. No one has to stand (up today) and tell me that greyhounds (in Queensland) need a one turn track. I got it already. So that’s mission done. The second option (for a new track, apart from Deagon) was for Cronulla Park, or Logan, as I tend to call it. So we are going through the investigation in terms of the proposals that were there, trying to establish, 1) whether they are doable, 2) what the costs would be and 3) whether there is acceptance within the industry. I’ll deal with the last bit first. In terms of acceptance, while there is various views whether it (Logan) is geographically in the right spot (or) whether the substance of the actual plot of ground is suitable for greyhound racing and all those sorts of things. There is no doubt in my mind that when we talk about this subject, the answers that I get from people in this industry, you know they’re 95% about we need a one turn track and 5% about where it is, and what we can do is we can get overly concerned with where it is and lose sight of the aim, which is - in the shortest time possible time - (to) get a one turn track here in Queensland…..…so to that end, we are running down the Logan situation. That’s what we’ve been told to do (by government) and until we get to an end that says ‘yes we believe we can do it within the timeframe that’s necessary and in the cost that’s necessary and with the proviso that it be, you know, a suitable environment’ (it’s a former dump site), until we get to that – or until we get to the answer that says ‘we can’t do that’, we’ll continue that investigation. I would have to say to you that one of the biggest disappointments I’ve had since taking this job is that the level of detailed work that had been done on that facility (Logan) was nowhere near what it was presented publicly (by Bentley) to have been. Whether that’s because they (Bentley) got sidetracked onto Deagon, or whatever that was, a number of the fundamental issues that you would need to do and to know before you made a decision – and it wouldn’t matter if it was Logan, or you know, Timbuktu – some of the fundamental things you needed to do had not been done, so we are in the process of doing those and doing them as quickly as possible, though I understand from your point of view (as an industry) that seems painfully slow, but we want to get this right. The real issue comes from my mind if we get to the conclusion that Logan is not suitable, for any one of those reasons, that is it’s too costly, or you know you can’t do it, or you know it won’t be right into the future, or whatever they might be, we’re then looking sort of to Plan B……and there’s actually multiple Plan B’s…… I hear lots of rumours about what’s happening in regards to tracks. I’ve said, and I can’t say this any clearer, I’ve said to the harness people, as far as I’m concerned that track there (pointing to the Albion Park greyhound track) stays there until such time as we (the greyhound industry) have somewhere else to go. I hear lots of rumours about being kicked out of Albion Park and that sort of stuff. That track stays there until there’s somewhere else to go. Secondly that wherever a new facility is prepared it will be based around a one turn track. Absolutely - no question. We can’t be looking for bits of ground where we can’t fit a one turn track, cause that doesn’t do the job. And obviously you know it needs to somehow be convenient to the demographic of people who train greyhounds. Not sure Deagon ever really satisfied that goal either. We’re working on Logan. I think we’re getting near the end of that investigation. We should know fairly soon whether it can, or it can’t (be done). If we can get to the point where we determine that it can be done within a cost frame and that’s you know not an insurmountable issue at this point in time, but if it can be done, and it can be done within a cost and timeframe, and it can be done in a way that satisfies the future, that’s what we’ll be doing".
On the subject of the current joint tenancy of both the harness industry and the greyhound industry at Albion Park, Racing Queensland Chairman Kevin Dixon went to great lengths to assure his listening audience that in “the event of a sale of any or all of Albion Park at any time in the future”, that the two industries would financially be equal 50/50 beneficiaries from the proceeds of sale, whether the greyhound industry had a functioning racetrack at the complex or not.
The meeting concluded with the Racing Queensland Chairman stating in his closing remarks “I would ask that we recognise that there are different views and people have different comments and different ways of solving those problems. That’s okay, that’s actually what makes things end up with the best solution. And it’s okay to talk on those things amongst yourselves, but I would also say that none of the groups that I talk to have any motivation other than to try to make this industry a better one. There is no one I’ve talked to whose motivation is to destroy it. There’s no one I’ve talked to whose motivation is to make it a lesser industry and there’s no one I’ve talked to who doesn’t want to make it the best it possibly can be. From where I sit, this industry that’s been hurting for so long needs to now focus on the future. Embrace it, embrace the whole industry. Move towards that future. Let us (RQL) know what that is. The more common approach there is, the easier our job is as well, so I just make those comments. I don’t criticise anybody in this industry because I know what that generates - that landscape is a world of hurt over a number of years and so we understand that, but we need to put that aside as best we can and move to the future as painlessly and as seamlessly as we can. We’ll (RQL) do our bit in trying to push that the whole time and making sure that the greyhound racing industry gets its fair share (of money). But you know it’s up to the industry to embrace that and move forward. With that, I thank you for your attention. You’ve been very patient and I really hope that this is the first of many times that we can talk about the issues that are on your mind. Our door is always open, except it seems for the Gold Coast Club, but we’ll correct that, and I look forward to seeing many, many more of you and enjoying the industry that you’re all part of and thanks very much”.
The meeting concluded.
Today on www.brisbaneracing.com.au there is a huge montage of photos from racing at Ipswich last Friday and Eagle Farm on Saturday, plus the nominations are advised for the upcoming State Sprint and Distance heats at Albion Park. On www.sydneyracing.com.au David Clarkson looks at the buoyant Hong Kong racing scene, whilst on www.melbourneracing.com.au Matt Nicholls pens an interesting article on Group1 winners that really aren't Group1 horses.