Caption: Darwin Greyhound Club’s Greg Aldam, left, and Mick Mason
By Pat McLeod
Former A Grade batsman Greg Aldam has always been good at the ‘numbers game’.
In recent years, as manager of the Darwin Greyhound Club, he has been at the striker’s end as the boutique club has notched some impressive numbers.
Race days, prizemoney, owners and trainers numbers have all blossomed. But in late July he believes the club will showcase something even more satisfying than big numbers – industry respect.
“Darwin has been always viewed by the greyhound fraternity as a good, fun place to come for a carnival and enjoy catching up with your mates up north,” he explains. “You’ll always have a great time.
“However, in recent years I have noticed a change at Winnellie Park. Yes, there is definitely still that element of coming up and having a good time, but now we’re getting the acknowledgement that not only are we good blokes up here, but we’re also doing a very good job.
“This is a place for serious greyhound racing. Now we are getting respect.”
Through July, well away from the wet season, the Darwin club will host three main race events as part of their annual carnival – the July Plate (final) on July 3, the Listed Chief Minister’s Cup (537m) with heats July 10, final July 17 with $15,000 to winner and the Group 3 Ladbrokes $35,000 Darwin Cup (537m) with heats July 24, final July 31 and with $25,000 to winner.
Aldam says he is already feeling the usual growing tremor of interest from across Australia as the likes of WA’s Tim Mullany, Queensland’s Tom Tzouvelis and Jamie Hosking and Victoria’s Steve Whyte indicate spending a couple of winter weeks in the top end.
While Covid restricted travel over the past couple of years the NT club boss is predicting a ‘super reunion’ this year.
And he is also expecting some raised eyebrows at just how far the industry has progressed under the cover of Covid.
“While the prizemoney here still isn’t huge, it has definitely gone up in the last couple of years – at least 100% in the last three or four years across the board,” Aldam said.
“We have also focused on increasing the quality of our greyhounds and we believe that has happened. We believe they are at the next level now. So, the quality is definitely coming along.”
Aldam says there are about 12 trainers consistently involved in racing at the Darwin track with about 140 dogs in work across the wet summer months and up to 180 during the peak carnival time.
While those numbers may not impress in other jurisdictions, they have created what Aldam says is a niche market for punters.
“The punters get to know the dogs up here and they get to know the trainers, the locals and also those who may come to Darwin for the carnival. Darwin is certainly a point of difference,” he says.
“We now race every Sunday and every second Wednesday and it is no secret that our wagering holds on those meetings are very solid for a smaller club.”
In fact, that betting interest and the resultant product fee is the reason Aldam and his hard-working committee have been able to all but turn off the funding reliance on the Northern Territory government.
“The government in the Northern Territory is a great supporter of greyhound racing and we can still get support grants for things like a new a new lure or track upgrades, but we have been able to cut back funding from government to minimum levels.
“That is not a negative, that has been the aim of our committee. The number one priority for the club was we needed to be as close to self-sufficient as possible.
“Getting ourselves back on Sky Channel about seven years ago and with the product improving and increasing we are at the stage now where we are 90% self sustainable.”
Aldam says another major reason for the health of greyhound racing at Winnellie Park has been attracting highly-respected track manager David Sharp to the club.
“We owe a lot to long-standing track manager Mick Mason, who has done a great job over the past 12 years and now works with David.
“David was track curator at (NT thoroughbred track) Fannie Bay and has come back to Darwin after spending time in Victoria (with GRV) and in NSW.
“His knowledge is outstanding and has taken the track to a whole new level. He also has a love and passion for Darwin.
“But the entire staff, committee, everyone here does a fantastic job. That’s the reason on some nights we can have 150mil of rain just hours before the meeting and we can still conduct a successful night of racing. The track holds up beautifully.”
There is no doubt the frontier mentality across the NT breeds a special person, whether that be in greyhounds or in every walk of life.
Aldam has no doubt the ‘different’ climatic conditions in the country’s far north help shape a hardy and very versatile greyhound trainer.
“Don’t underestimate the quality of the trainers up here,” he says. “The climate can make things difficult to train. Of course, the facilities here are great and the dogs are very, very well looked after.
“But the tough conditions here mean that when one of our trainers relocates to somewhere else they find things generally a lot easier.
“And we are very proud of the trainers, like Jamie (Hosking), who is doing really well in south-east Queensland. Jamie comes from a long family history of greyhound racing, but how well he is doing now I take as a great compliment to Darwin greyhound racing.”
However, Aldam says the Darwin lifestyle far out-weighs any challenges that the weather may present.
And he says there has never been a better time to take the collar and lead to Darwin – either on a small or large scale.
“As I say to people, ‘You may not become a millionaire training at Winnellie Park, but whether it be as a semi-professional or hobby trainer you will make a good solid income and have a lot of fun’.
“You can be living within 10minutes of the track, we don’t charge for trialling, there is free use of the straight track and whatever happens you will have the support of the club. The dogs are always well looked after and the trainers are well looked after too.”
Like so many, Aldam, 57, came to Darwin for a short stint … as a cricket coach after 10 years of first grade with Port Adelaide. He stayed on for a 10-year-stretch as a development manager for NT Cricket, then another long-term managerial role with a Darwin corporate bookmaker before linking with the greyhound club eight years ago.
And the numbers keep adding up.