A trip to Wentworth Park Greyhounds doesn’t make it into many guidebooks. A sojourn to the finest gambling establishment in the Inner West doesn’t carry the clout of the Opera House or Harbour Bridge, but it is a fantastic way to spend a Friday night.
Races run each weekend and regulars file in, amble over the concourse and head inside to place bets, order food (chips and gravy!) or watch any number of sports on any number of televisions.
With a $4 investment on a race-card (to go with the $6 entry fee), the preparation for the first bet begins.
Studying the form is as alien as binary. Numbers and letters dot the page but I’m assured you can find all you need to know about your chosen steed in these flimsy pages.
Having finally plucked up the courage to head to the TAB, the independent bookmakers seem too serious for my skill set, it is time to throw away my $2. The helpful cashier explains I can bet to win, place (1st or 2nd) and each way (top three). There are other, more complicated bets with funnier names but I think I’d better get settled before throwing down a $5 boxed quinella on two and five.
The bell rings and the faithful file outside. The dogs are led from their dressing room (probably not what it is called), past the hopeful gamblers, to the starting gates. One inevitably relieves himself on the potted plants adjacent to the track. It is my hopeful, Vapour Express, an omen of things to come.
The rabbit whirrs into action, rounding the first bend as the dogs yap in their gates. As it flashes past the gates, they fly open and out roar the eight hounds. They bound through the first straight vying for position.
As they round the first bend, it is easy to spot those off the pace. The beasts may have only traveled 100 metres but some have strayed too wide, others languish behind the front-runners. Races aren’t won by the first bend, but they are lost.
The dogs zoom through the back straight, perfectly streamlined with ears pinned back. Number seven leads with numbers one and eight just behind.
As the dogs round the last bend, it is easy to spot the punter with a chance and the mug without. People bounce up and down excitedly, scream encouragement or curse their luck and toss their ticket.
The rabbit flies past the stand again and behind it comes the victor, number seven – Paddy’s Delight. The action takes all of 30 seconds. Cheers and jeers are heard in the smattering of spectators as most trudge back inside disappointed while others savour their good fortune.
Mid-way through the evening, as the dogs careen out of the gates and hit the first corner, one unlucky pup takes a tumble; a reminder of the ethical questions involved.
Bull fighting this is not but greyhounds can hit 45 km/h in three strides and have a top speed of around 70km/h, so when one takes a fall it is no laughing matter. Luckily, the faller regains his feet quickly and eventually finishes the race with no signs of injury.
There are ten races throughout the night and with a 50 cent minimum bet, I can partake in each. The excitement wanes a little but once you hit a winner it comes flooding back. I saunter over and collect my $7.50 with pride, then study the form (which I still can’t grasp) and pluck another hopeful thanks to a funny name (Normie Bone takes the cake for me).
As the final race ends, I can’t help thinking; why don’t people do this more?! Everything from entrance fee to food and drink is cheap, you could (but probably won’t) win some money and it is a great night spent doing something a little different.
A trip to the dogs might not make it into guidebooks but who cares when it is this much fun?