The New South Wales government will provide $500,000 of public money to bankroll the “world’s richest” greyhound race, two years after trying to ban the sport for animal welfare breaches.
Racing Minister Paul Toole announced the inaugural Million Dollar Chase on Tuesday, to be held at Sydney’s Wentworth Park on October 20.
The race will be run by Greyhound Racing NSW and betting agency Ladbrokes.
It comes just weeks after the RSPCA dug up a mass grave of nine dead dogs at a racing identity’s western Sydney property.
July marks two years since then-premier Mike Baird announced the failed greyhound racing ban.
Mr Toole said the winning dog in the Million Dollar Chase would earn its owner $1 million, with total prizemoney valued at $1.7 million.
The series will be bankrolled by $500,000 from NSW coffers out of the Community Development Fund.
The Million Dollar Chase will generate new interest in the sport across NSW and will provide a welcome boost to the economy in regional centres,” Mr Toole said.
“[It] will demonstrate the importance of greyhound racing to regional NSW through its series of high-quality events for the whole community.”
There will be 11 qualifying finals at tracks in Bathurst, Lismore, Maitland, Wagga Wagga, Bulli, Dubbo, Temora, Grafton, Nowra, Richmond and Newcastle before finals at Wentworth Park.
Mr Toole said it marked a “fresh start for the NSW greyhound racing industry” and was a “great opportunity for owners, trainers and breeders”.
Entry fees for the races will include donation to Greyhounds as Pets and the participating dogs need to be rehomed or kept as pets, Mr Toole said.
“The Million Dollar Chase will highlight the industry’s renewed focus on animal welfare and high standards of integrity.”
Mass grave dug up
Just weeks ago, nine dead dogs were dug up from a shallow grave in Marsden Park, in western Sydney, by RSPCA officers.
A further 12 sick and starved dogs were surrendered, taking the total number of dead and sick dogs found at the property to 21.
The newly launched Greyhound Welfare and Integrity Commission (GWIC) is investigating.
Mr Toole pointed to tougher industry restrictions when asked about the recent mass grave discovery.
“Those things will go through a proper investigation process. And at the end of the day, if someone is found to be doing the wrong thing, I can tell you they won’t be there,” Mr Toole told reporters.
“I actually think the guys have done a really good job in actually setting the pathway to ensure that this is going to be an industry that is going to be around for a long time.”
Greyhound Racing chief executive Tony Mestrov said the $500,000 in government funding proved the industry had a future.
“This is the biggest announcement … the industry has had at least in the past 20 years.”
NSW Greens animal welfare spokesperson Mehreen Faruqi said it was a disgrace.
It is honestly quite sickening.
“Barely a week goes by without deaths on tracks, people being charged with severe animal cruelty and neglect, or someone being pinged for doping their dog. The greyhound racing industry is behaving with impunity and the Liberal National government is rewarding this.”
Dr Faruqi said there had been seven deaths and 91 injuries on racing tracks in the past two weeks.
She has called on voters to ring Premier Gladys Berejiklian to express their disgust.
The greyhound ban
Mr Baird announced the greyhound ban in July 2016 after a Special Commission of Inquiry found what he described as “widespread illegal and unconscionable activity”.
His call sparked ruptures with Nationals MPs, and Mr Baird backtracked on his decision months later.
Following the government’s October 2016 backdown in the face of an industry-led backlash, greyhound racing underwent substantial reform in the state, with former premier Morris Iemma appointed chairman of GRNSW.
Mr Toole’s announcement on Tuesday is likely a means of quelling backlash in Nationals supporters, and to win back the seat of Orange from the Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party.