Thursday, 18 January 2018

FORGET THE SURVEYS, THEY DON'T EVEN TELL HALF THE STORY


Surveys, opinion polls, or any set of figures derived from the public responding to a question or set of questions. There may have been a time when many swore by them but two General Elections, a Brexit vote, and a US Presidential Election, have destroyed their credibility as well as severely damaging funds of those speculating on political events.

This is something to bear in mind when considering that You Gov poll conducted back in November, where the respondents were asked how they viewed various sports. Not surprisingly racing did not fare too well and less surprisingly still, the Racing Post put a positive spin on the results.

It is futile trying to delve deep into the results. On the plus side racing was only the joint sixth most boring sport, rated more riveting than thriving sports such as Golf and Cricket. But what does not feel right is when you look at the age groups, with not much difference in the opinions of the older and younger generations.

We know in our guts that racing does not appeal to the younger generations. And even in the unlikely circumstances that similar results would be returned in a larger poll, we would see opinions in a different light if it related to betting interests only, the only ones that really matter were racing is concerned.

On terrestrial TV coverage last weekend Richard Hoiles came out with the customary 'for the benefit of those watching for the first time', something that almost certainly is a response to orders from those pulling the strings. The commentator himself must deep down know that there is no fresh interest in the sport. Anyone believing so is less blind than deluded.

Who knows whether Ed Chamberlin was also 'guided' by others when recently advocating that racing put to bed the old mysterious terminology and replace it with a language to suit the modern era. He is not the first to call for this change but is treading on the wrong path.

The bizarre, odd customs and language of racing are a plus.They should be cherished. Applying the modernism angle cheapens the whole image and the brand, one that can boast of a stronger, richer history than all other sports.

I was chatting to a work colleague who is an avid Cricket fan, plays in a local league team, and lived many of his younger years in Australia. He is resolutely in favour of retaining the mysterious 'in house' terms used in his sport, believing that they add character, amusement, and protect the long entrenched customs.

In fact, during 2017 Sky Golf did a light hearted piece which involved putting some unexpected questions to tour players, such as asking which names for fielding position were real or made up. The players seemed genuinely tickled and engaged by it all.

It has to be accepted that the day of three and four channel TV has long gone and a sport like horse racing can easily pass people by. If on the rare occasion they are exposed to it they are unlikely to be impressed by a show condescending to their needs.If they do get bitten, then they'll go on a knowledge seeking binge on their own initiative.

Once, this would involve buying the Sporting Life and Sporting Chronicle daily, the Sporting Chronicle Handicap Book on a Thursday, and maybe even The Racehorse and Racing Specialist on a Friday. Any historic knowledge could be expanded by a trip to a bookshop or library.

Much of it is on a plate now. You can search and search the internet and call yourself a 'researcher'. But for those who like going through dusty hardcopy archives there are some gems that you can't make appear on the internet. Scrapbooks from the 1970's  and early 1980's for starters. Ah yes, I treasure my Pacemaker International magazines right back from 1974 until it was modernised in the early 1990's  - you can't get those online.

As for TV coverage there are plenty prepared to use the sport as a stepping stone. As a shop window to display their personal 'talents'. Claire Balding went from being an enthusiastic front, to a swell headed part timer. Now, swept away by her own self importance, she does not need the sport anymore.

Matt Chapman would have happily started down that path too but any of those ambitions have been curbed for the time being. I guess Rishi Pershad would be happy to ditch the sport if he could obtain employment covering his favourite sport of cricket. He appears on everything else but the role he probably wants most of all eludes him.

What cannot be fathomed is how a sport like racing that urgently needs to stem the dwindling share of the betting pie fails to make access to wider information cost free. It's a sport fighting for it's future so all racing channels need to be free to air, the highest quality online form books free to study, and racecourse admission costs reduced to match those in France.

It won't happen anytime soon.To be honest it may already be too late. But as a first step, what about a BHA website listing the movements of every horse in training. The publishers of Horses In Training will not be supporting such an initiative but for an aspiring student of the sport to be able to click on the details of every trainer's string regularly updated might just be a facility that wins over some new fans.

Which brings me to another work colleague, the one that once told me, 'racing is not a proper sport as it needs betting to survive.'  

He's been causing havoc for over ten years on one of the football forums for fans of a spectacularly famous Premiership Football Club. He cannot accept that he, as a long, long standing season ticket holder at his club, one whose ground he lives only three miles away from, is classed as no more of a fan of the club than someone who lives in Bath or Beijing, and has chosen a big name club to 'support' in a location they have no connection to and live many miles away from.

He is obsessed with what he sees as the injustice of it all and many of his bans have come from rankling many fellow posters by referring head on to them as 'parasites', or condescendingly as his  'distancely challenged friends'.

His usernames are generally 1970's themed. He had a long run lasting a few months out of Spangles, and is now attempting to build up posts under Amateur Hour, after Sparks second single. His interest in racing is limited but his 'put down' of the sport reflects how much too many people view it.

Racing does need betting to survive but has lost many opportunities to secure more from the betting pot. For starters, the Totalisor should have been brought into the sport's hands and molded into something that would make it competitive with SP betting. If the stimulation in trying to solve the puzzle of a race wains, so does the sport.

Back in the 1980's Rod Fabricius, with reference to Goodwood, stated that he would rather have a crowd of one thousand paying £10 each than ten thousand paying £1 each. The latter option with raw racing on show without the gimmicky pop concerts would be the choice if the clock could be turned back. But they took for granted that racing would continue to be the dominating domain for punters and the sport has suffered ever since.

Monday, 8 January 2018

A PR DISASTER IN WAITING


Searching for the next big thing is something that is needed to keep the fire burning in all sports. Music too, Marc Bolan was reportedly baffled when his droves of obsessed fans were replacing him in their affections with Donny Osmond and David Cassidy.

The buzz of unearthing new talent is why on typical solid looking Friday Newbury card with a fairly valuable handicap hurdle and a good quality handicap chase, we might just shown a bit more interest in watching the replay of the novice hurdle or novice chase.

It is also why on a decent looking Thursday or Friday  Newmarket card with a couple of good handicaps and a listed race, we'd be wanting to see the replay of the two year old maiden first.

There is a different type of pleasure at the opposite end, age wise. A Further Flight, Yeats or Boldboy on the flat, a Mole Board, Willie Wumpkins or Take The Stand (pictured), in the proper winter game.

It is horses like this that spring to mind with the speculation this week about the possibility of a veterans chase at the Cheltenham Festival. A prospect which for now at least has been disowned by course director Ian Renton.

The enthusiasm for the introduction of such an event at the premium meeting was stirred up by a Racing Post twitter vote where 76% of those who voted were in favour .The prospect of what only can be described as an insincere button pressing campaign influencing decisions in the sport is a worrying one.

The never short of words Mick Fitzgerald has come out in support of this proposed new race, along with the irksome Simon Clare, who was prominent in a list of 'the most disliked person in racing' by posters on a popular forum thread.

There are two main issues to address when considering how wise it would be to introduce a race like this at the festival. Firstly, more dilution of a meeting already diluted beyond reason over the past decade. And secondly, image and welfare.

Let us look at Mac Vidi. He lined up as a fifteen year for the 1980 Cheltenham Gold on the back of a terrific season where he defied his age to win seven races. To some 1980 does not seem ancient but consider this. Mac Vidi was foaled in 1965. His sire, the Cesarewitch runner up Vidi Vici was foaled in 1947, his paternal grandsire in 1935. Now that does feel ancient.

As others dropped away Mac Vidi was chasing the relentless Tied Cottage and though he could not keep tabs on that rival passed the post in third place, with only Master Smudge, who would eventually be awarded the race after the winner failed a dope test, passing him in the later stages of the race.

The only equivalent that springs to mind in other sports is the mighty Tom Watson coming so close to winning the Open Championship at Turnberry in 2009.

Mac Vidi ran another cracker on his next outing at Sandown and finished the season with the rating of a good, solid handicapper. Presenting a talent like him with the opportunity to compete in a closed event against veterans would be disrespectful to the meeting and the horse.

Pam Neale did allow Mac Vidi to make fleeting appearances as a sixteen and seventeen year old. His ability now gone from? him but thankfully he did leave racing in one piece.

Tied Cottage himself was twelve years old at the time of his Gold Cup 'win' and a grand old campaigner. Three years later at the age of fifteen, he would finish fifth in the Christies Foxhunters, adding some embellishment to the event.

Of course, in a high risk sport these adventures can have sad conclusions. The popular and former top class Doran's Pride also lined up for the same event as a fourteen year old in 2003. He got as far as the second fence before falling with fatal consequences.

His trainer Michael Hourigan passed some realistic and sensible observations after the incident which hit the  nail on the head.

'When we tried to retire the old fellow ' said Hourigan, ' he would be at the gate watching us come in every day'. So here was an animal passed his best but yearning for the old routine and giving signs that he wanted the show to continue.

Perhaps the prime example of all in support of animals racing on until they ask the retirement question themselves, would be Fred Winter's glorious old campaigner Sonny Sommers, who won two of his last three starts during the 1979/80 season as an eighteen year old.

For those of the view that the racing's own media machine has itself a habit of broadcasting the dangers of the sport , there can be no doubt that dead horses in a veteran's only event at the festival would be an absolute disaster. It would be met with the, 'too old to race against healthy horses but never say no to the chance of a nice little pot' sort of claptrap rhetoric.

Of course, it's the fact that the misguided with media space and time in the sport spend too much time debating risk to the horse that catches the attention of the groups who otherwise are tuned into what they rightly see as issues of a higher priority unconnected to the sport.

Perhaps the worst reasoned argument put forward for a veteran's Cheltenham event is the assertion that older horses are all at the mercy of the handicapper and need a little help. This view fails to consider animals who have had a couple of quiet seasons, change yards, have a new zest for life and an attractive handicap mark to boot.

And what too of those that turned to fences as five year olds and reached their ceiling at a young age. These go through the season showing they retain their ability so are given no leeway and are hard to place. Are they to be given a special event to help them along ?

Being reasonable, the Cheltenham festival is already diluted to give two hoots about how many new additions are added - they are apparently looking at introducing a mares only chase next. But a field confined to elderly animals going a bit too quick on better ground that they'd been racing on through the winter, is a recipe for disaster.

Saturday, 30 December 2017

A GRIM OVERALL SUMMARY


There are plenty of positive news stories bigging up the health of horse racing at the moment. Maybe it is just that time in the calendar when the year is looked back upon and the we see only the high points. There is no doubt that those within the circle are 'given' a responsibility to advertise what is going right.

To be honest it wasn't the most memorable of flat seasons. The highlight being a Cheshire Oaks winner rising above the rest in Europe. While one of the low points would have to be an Epsom Derby winner who must have both shocked and embarrassed connections on his big day given the damage he done to the portfolio and the would be marketable Cliffs of Moher.

By a sire who had quickly been downgraded to the dual purpose ranks, Wings Of Eagles progeny will first be seen in the French provinces and the back of beyond, shop window point to point venues in Ireland.

On a lighter note an unusual distinction connected with Wings Of Eagles emanates from his run in the Chester Vase. He must be the first horse on the Epsom roll of honour to have had the in running form book comment  "ridden and 'disorganised' over 1f out" used in his Derby prep run. In fact he must be the only Epsom Derby winner ever to have the term 'disorganised' used in a form book commentary in any career run.The picture above shows him in fourth place becoming 'disorganised'.

The set in pattern to abandon the narrow and rigid but just as reliable set of form book terms, and give licence to the form book race readers to replace them with whatever words they see fit to use is arguably not needed, but not harmful to the sport. However, it is consistent with the way the sport is changing at pace and not changing for the better.

Changes applied without considered thought given to the long term impact they will have has caused irreparable damage to the sport.

The annual public relations pantomime that comes with the 'Grand National in Name Only Chase' is evidence that even the deluded individuals running the sport believe that the best way forward is to become apologetic,pliable and condescending to fend off a threat to the sport that had ceased to exist.

In a world where those who would in previous generations have had horse racing high up on their hit list but who now have more pressing issues concerning pollution of our oceans, those pulling the strings of racing have stupidly gone and exaggerated the dangers of national hunt racing.

Not only have they taken the challenge out of the 'Grand National In Name Only Chase', they've now also created a make believe scenario,whereby the equine participants need to enter a cold shower room to ensure survival from the consequence of their exertions.

What was a national treasure and a sporting event up with the best of them has now been ruined. National Hunt racing itself is in danger, the situation the fault of those within.

Adding to neutering the famous Aintree race, they have too taken the character from Haydock Park. Even the Cheltenham Festival is now beginning to suffer from the greed driven decision to stretch it out and dilute it.

The Ryanair Chase is detrimental to both the Gold Cup and Champion Chase, the Fred Winter has changed the hard knock ambiance that the old Triumph Hurdles had, while there was no need for the three mile novice hurdle. They either keep the old Sun Alliance Novice Hurdle at two and a half mile, or increase it's distance to three. Adding the extra event brings nothing but dilution of quality.

And what of mares only events ? If they are given sex allowances in the other events why should they have their own championship races installed. It would be idiotic to cite the flat programme as support for this as national hunt racing is in the main a true sport.

Think of  Vautour and think of the Ryanair. We'll never know how he would have fared in a Gold Cup but he was a mighty interesting proposition. If there was no Ryanair Chase we would have seen him in a Gold Cup, or even a Queen Mother Champion Chase. Cue Card is another. He could have added his quality and charisma to any of these two events in 2013.

The stayers with a touch of class who are ideally more King George than Gold Cup horses can prove fascinating contenders in the Champion Chase. One Man is a prime example.

And what of Best Mate's first Gold Cup?  Given that going into the race there still existed a niggling doubt as to whether he would truly see the full trip out,Knight, Biddlecombe and Lewis may have opted for the Ryanair in that particular season if the race had been in place then.

When Kauto Star beat Denman in the 2009 Gold Cup, Imperial Commander won the Ryanair. While he would win the Gold Cup the following year his presence would have enriched the 2009 renewal further, even if as just a supporting role player. After all it is supposedly the Blue Riband of steeplechasing and not an event to be even part compromised by some filler invention.

But the stories are all positive right now. A great product, going forward and all that. And record prize money on offer in 2018, despite the future funding of the sport yet to be resolved.

When the last generations of horse race punters cease to exist racing cannot survive at it's present level. Admittedly, the cult courses can rake in enough revenue to fund their own existence if needs be, but that does not apply to the majority of venues and the infrastructure will crumble when racing's share of the betting pie eventually becomes meagre.

This failure to look inward and concentrate on the weak points of the sport is a problem horse racing has had for many years. Such an attitude caused minimal damage when things were rosier, but this approach will cause tangible damage as the sport sinks to a lower tier.

picture, property of author

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

THE PART LEGACY OF TEN UP'S FAMOUS DAY.

c 1973 CBS TV

Jim Dreaper saddled Mullaghmurphy Blue to win at Musselburgh yesterday. A  famous name chugging along mostly unnoticed nowadays. Still, for many memories are evoked of him in his pomp and one eventful Cheltenham in particular when events played their part in influencing how the meeting would shape up in the future. 

On Tuesday March 11th 1975, the first day of the Cheltenham Festival was abandoned due to water logging. Telly Savalas was at the top of the charts, singing that dreary  ' If a picture paints a thousand words...', and the pictures from that day raised doubts as to whether the remainder of the meeting would be able to be staged at all.

Remember, this was an era when nature itself would dish out advantages as opposed to turf engineering.Connections of the good sloggers would be granted a reasonable expectation of having their favoured ground conditions come Cheltenham time.

The Wednesday went ahead with Comedy Of Errors convincingly regaining his Champion Hurdle crown from Lanzarote, who had taken it off him the previous year. Run in extremely testing ground, the race returned a time over 22 seconds slower than standard.

Dreaper trained two winners on the card, Lough Inagh who won the Champion Chase, saved from the previous day, and Brown Lad in the Lloyds Bank Hurdle. Brown Lad would end up being one of the most popular chasers of the decade.

Into the final day and conditions took a turn for the worse.Dark foreboding skies, persistent rain, waterlogged patches near some fences that led to two obstacles being omitted on the chase course.

The first three races were run in 59, 64 and 57 seconds slower than standard respectively. The last of those, the Sun Alliance Novice's Hurdle, was won by Davy Lad who would be successful in a dramatic Cheltenham Gold Cup two years later. Aldaniti finished fourth, and a future King George winner Bachelor's Hall came in eighth.

Next up was the Triumph Hurdle, with the winner Royal Epic returning a more respectable time, though God only knows what the true distance of the race actually was. A future legend in Night Nurse finished in the mid division. His ability to handle tiring conditions would be put straight two years later.

But this ground was a good deal severer than your average testing conditions. As they lined up for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, it was bordering on unraceable. Two former champions, The Dikler, and the warm favourite Captain Christy, were beaten relatively early on, with both eventually being pulled up.

It was Dreaper who made the winner's enclosure again with the hardy Ten Up. Racing in the Arkle colours, he dealt with the elements best of all to beat the ex American trained Soothsayer, with the mighty Bula back in third. Bula had been bidding to become what would of been at the time the first horse to win a Champion Hurdle and Cheltenham Gold Cup.

The race was run in 70 seconds slower than standard. After the race,the remaining three races were abandoned, the course deemed unfit for racing.

Fast forward to the typical Cheltenham Festival we have today. The over efficient drainage system can, and will in most circumstances, ensure that ground described as 'heavy' ten days before the beginning of the meeting, will be 'good to soft' when the first race is run.

Bob's Worth and Coneygree  share the distinction of being triumphant in the two Cheltenham Gold Cup's run on soft ground in the past twenty years. Or, to put in another way,  the only two renewals in the last two decades were the sloggers are given some hope.

Bob's Worth was more than a slogger and won despite the ground. Coneygree on the other hand would most likely not have won if the race had been on better ground. But who is to deny him his ground any more than the Spring ground performers for whom the cards are now massively stacked in their favour.

In the Ten Up times, you did of course have festivals run on good ground. A year later in 1976 for example. But during this most recent twenty year period , not a single Cheltenham Gold Cup was staged on heavy going. The message is to those connected to quality animals whose sin is to be able to produce their true optimum on heavy, is that they can go and whistle.

In contrast those with Spring ground horses can be confident of having the playing field laid out to suit them at both Cheltenham and Aintree. Not always, but most of the time.

It's rare for the elements to impose themselves at both meetings in the same year. Cheltenham 1980, another mudbath, Chinrullah and Tied Cottage. Then a couple of weeks after, Ben Nevis winning the Grand National in heavy ground.

Of the abandoned racedays at the festival since, the snowfall that caused the 1978 Gold Cup to be lost on the day and staged the following month could not gave been saved by any workable man made invention. Similar with the high winds that caused a day to be abandoned in 2008. And the dreaded  foot and mouth episode at the turn of the millennium, more to do with government than racing.

Yes, it's commercialism with the fear of losing all the course and bookmaking revenue and endangering future sponsorship if the meeting was lost, but the tide has surely turned too far now and it is an issue that should be revisited.

Bristol De Mai was twenty lengths away in last season's Gold Cup. If the race had been run on heavy he'd have been much closer. Enough to have made him a possible winner ? We are never going to get the chance to find out. A mid-winter mud lover is what he'll probably be remembered as unless the God's assist.

And we all have our favourites who we think, yes, he would have gone close in some of the old Gold Cup's. Keen Leader, a big giant dope with that something about him that can still make the sport special. It could have been different but it would have required truly testing conditions and a try with another trainer, particularly Martin Pipe.The shape of the course may still not have been ideal but he would have been damn interesting in such a set of scenarios.

Now we just appreciate some excellent performances in the mud, weekend after weekend. Particularly in Ireland. But we do so knowing that the face value of the form might not be worth a carrot come Cheltenham time.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

BEING JUDGED AGAINST YOUR PEERS


It was clear there was no intention to be condescending, but that was how it sounded when Willie Mullins first post race comment after the Hennessy was to thank Sandra Hughes for the great shape Total Recall was in when he arrived at his new home.

Because of Mullins stature at the top of the training tree, he would not benefit from boasting, however furtively he may have chosen to.The notion that trainers are as good as the ammunition they are given is nonsense.No more than group huddle trainer speak.

When a small operations come away from a horses in training sale with a cast off  bought cheaply from one of the showcase yards, then rejuvenates their new charge, the narrative they bring out is the same one always.That one about treating the horse as an individual and all that stuff.

Early in 2004,Paul Nicholls took in Venn Ottery from the late Oliver Carter, who also owned the gelding. After a maiden chase win at Leicester, he won three off his next four starts all in handicaps, beginning off a lowly 87. At the end of the run his official rating was 117.

Pitted in the deep end in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, he started at 33/1 but the visual image of the race he ran sits in the memory as clearly as the winning performance of his stable companion Azertyuiop. Timmy Murphy arrived on the scene swinging away, and even allowing for the rider's often deceptive pose, the pair were in with a real shout of winning until finding nothing from the second last onwards.

Funnily enough, despite being portrayed as a bit of a fruitcake ,Carter  had been a champion point to point trainer and had also trained Otter Way to win the Whitbread Gold Cup back in the 1970's.Venn  Ottery had six changes of trainer after leaving Nicholls and never won again.

Of all the routine cases of horses being reconditioned after joining Martin Pipe, one of the most notable was in the shape of Shooting Light,who Pipe took over from Pat Murphy in 2001.

Formerly placed in the Triumph Hurdle, Shooting Light had turned into a useful novice chaser in his first season over fences, but nothing more. He did not on the face of it look to have any real improvement left in him.There were plenty of  miles on the clock after beginning his career on the flat with Michael Jarvis.

On his first run since his move to Pond House the impression he made was astounding. You will go a long way to see more strikingly impressive winner of a steeplechase.The race, a thirteen runner handicap at the Cheltenham October meeting was competitive enough.The winning distance was eleven lengths but he was value for any number you wished.

He followed up in the Thomas Pink at the same venue, then the Tote Silver Cup at Ascot. When he next appeared, when pulling up in Best Mate's King George, his official rating was 162, an incredible  39 lb higher than when beginning the winning sequence which began just two months earlier

In more recent times we have had the emergence of  David O'Meara who is curiously in danger of become a passing fad. Only two years ago many thought he had a magic wand, pondered how far he could go, and some were spouting rumours that he could even be the next boss of Ballydoyle.

At the centre of this furor was the improvement he managed to conjure from Amazing Maria. On the animal's final outing for his previous trainer Ed Dunlop, in September 2014, she started at 25/1 and beat one home in the Group 3 Sceptre Stakes at Doncaster. Her official rating was 101.

When she next appeared in May 2015, the now five year old had been moved by owner Robert Ogden  to  O'Meara's Yorkshire set up. Finishing third in a valuable Ascot handicap she followed up by filling the same position in a Group 2 at the Curragh. Then, unexpectedly, the level of her form spiraled upwards.

Victorious at the Royal meeting in the Group 2 Duke of Cambridge when starting 25/1, she then followed up at the highest level twice, firstly in the Falmouth Stakes at Newmarket, then the Prix Rothschild over in Deauville.

The actual measured improvement was little more than a stone, but the achievement in turning what seemed to be a animal limited by her ability in Group races into a rattling high class horse was noticed.

This consolidated the belief that O'Meara possessed a rare skill to yield results that far exceeded the norm. The previous season he had trained Move In Time to win the Prix de l' Abbaye, a horse who first ran for the yard 18 months earlier off a mark of 85 after arriving seemingly exposed from Bryan Smart's stable.

The previous month O'Meara had taken another top level sprint with G-Force in the Haydock Sprint Cup. G-Force had a contrasting profile. O'Meara took charge after his first run as a juvenile the previous season, nurturing him slowly up the ladder.

Since Amazing Maria's Prix Rothschild, O'Meara has not trained a winner at the highest level in Europe.While there has been three in North America it is still not what was predicted.

Being assessed against your peers can on rare occasions produce some misleading impressions. In the early 1980's the Dickinsons took in The Mighty Mac and Planetman from the yard of John Edwards.

The horses showed immediate improvement, looking different beasts , with a swagger about them, and a change in running styles too. This leaving a cloud over the training ability of Edwards.

Within a few years Edwards was showing himself a fine trainer with his handling of the magnificent Pearlyman, who won two Queen Mother Champion Chases. He also went painfully close to having a Cheltenham Gold Cup winner through Yahoo.

Returning to O'Meara; since 2016 he has operated from purposely built facilities in Upper Helmsley. While his turnover in winners and total prize money continue on the same sort of level, the many who anticipated him being the next big name to breakthrough have observed what touches on a scattergun style modus operandi. 

The truly big owners have not come in force and it could be that he is shackled with being pigeonholed as a trainer who exceeds with cast offs from others.This may or may not be overcome. John Thaw once bemoaned that when he was going about his private life in public places, people would point and say,' look, it's Reagan'.There is still hope but it's just as much in the hands of others as himself.  

image source www.museum.tv / Archives


Monday, 4 December 2017

SHAPING MINDS


Behind the  regular faces and voices that broadcast  horse racing, there are clearly persons unknown pulling the strings, tidying up racing history, and influencing the direction the sport is taking.

Who knows how many of these individuals exist, whether they have a leader who has a final say, or whether they exercise committee style democracy while secretly and slyly trying to influence others.

What cannot be doubted is that they do very much exist and are part of a disturbing trend where the modern media crafts propaganda, as they the spinners believe they know best and what is best for others.

The most disturbing example of this during the past weekend in the racing sphere happened during that innocent looking piece on ITV racing,where they showed Tony McCoy and John Francome playing golf, buddying and talking racing.

During their chit chat, Francome claimed that he would have been just as successful a rider without carrying the whip. McCoy agreed that he too would have enjoyed the same level of success whipless.

Now what on earth has happened to the ' keep your nose out of what you know nowt about '  retort, that would be the normal response from most riders when non horseman made suggestions about whips and the like.

Indeed, when John McCririck used to harp on about banning the whip, whether sincere or just for the purpose of building a niche for himself, he'd be told that he had no knowledge of the area he was trying to reshape, that such subjects were for experienced horseman to debate.

Now, we are led to believe that someone like McCoy is all easy go about not needing a whip, and as far as someone new watching the sport is concerned, probably always felt this way.

There is something very sinister lurking beneath here. And I would not be surprised if there are plans behind the scenes to remove the whip from the sport.

Anyone with a modicum of common sense will realise that an air cushioned whip can cause scant harm to a eighty stone animal high on adrenaline. It is all to do with image.This is why for many years now, twenty four in fact, jockeys are penalised if they raise their whips above shoulder height.

Some very dimwitted persons truly believe that there are a potential multitude of young people who are pondering over whether to become racing fans and who will be put off by the sight of whips being raised in true Eddery and Piggott style.

If there is indeed secret directives issued for racing people to act our of character and be something different to what they really are to re brand the sport, the ridiculous thing about it all is the notion that there exists a would be fresh faced generation watching the sport and becoming fans.

Even Richard Hoiles, from the commentary box, familiarised 'those who may be watching for the first time', with the layout of Newbury. He is wishing.

Let's consider the three TV channel days of the 1970's  - in fact it was not until 1984 that Channel 4 came on the air. Compared to other sports, the live coverage of racing fared well in those times,

Remember, apart from the British Grand Prix you would have to tune into Radio 2 at 7pm on Sunday to find out the result of the Grand Prix. For pictures of the race you would have to buy a copy of Motorsport for your fix of Fittipaldi,Stewart, Sheckter, Lauda, Peterson and Reutemann.

If you wanted to find out how Real Madrid,Bayern Munich or Juventus fared, then you would have to buy a football magazine the following week. The US PGA Golf Tour, well we were oblivious to it. Same with the Tennis tour

What about the England Cricket team on tour. Radio 2 again, but at least there was commentary to help us form the pictures in our minds. The  cricket coverage now, both Sky and BT, is second to no other sport. Those of us staying up through the night cannot have failed to have been impressed by the BT team, particularly how Boycott and Gilchrist pair well together. And there is even a rare bookmaking advert shown at every interval which you never tire of, the one about how 'kwiffing' the Ashes price feels like when that teacher asks you to squash bubbles on bubble wrap

At least with racing, if you were sat at home with the TV switched on with nothing in particular to watch, there would back then be a one in three chance that you would be exposed to it.

Contrast with the present. All sports covered from head to toe, a thousand TV channels readily available, and even further competition from Play Stations, You Tube, i-Players and the like. The chances of newbies tuning into to watch a sport which they feel indifferent to whether it exists or not, are minimal.

On last Friday's ITV racing coverage, the 2017 LBO Manager Of The Year, Ron Hearn, was allowed, unchallenged, to express a forthright opinion about FOBT's , proclaiming that the victims would be betting office staff losing their jobs if the maximum stake per spin was severely reduced

Ed Chamberlin did at least, in defence of the upcoming change, say, ' something had to be done' but failed to elaborate, whether on his own accord or responding to a voice in his ear. Fitzgerald and Harvey chose not to get involved.

Hearn revealed that 60% of the business in his shop is on the FOBT's. Racing people often brush this aside by pointing out the trend to bet via smartphones, while forgetting that this applies to betting on the other sports and forms of betting, including casino games.

If you could see a breakdown of age groups and the sports they bet on, the prognosis for racing would be very grim indeed. The graph would take a steep dive as the age group reduced. And anyone hoping that the present punters aged thirty five and under who would have first suckled on football will turn to horse racing as they mature have no basis for such optimism.

image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Sunday, 3 December 2017

THROUGH THE EYES OF THE MODERN 'RACEGOER'


Papering over the cracks is an exercise that those in denial over the true decline of horse racing are very efficient at undertaking.The emphasis is all on audience, whether it be the inebriated, sometimes unruly sorts who fill the coffers at the 'cult ' courses, or this imaginary mass of fresh born interest watching on terrestrial television.

Those of us who work daily among large floors of colleagues will know how inappreciable the sport truly has become. Reality chips away bit by bit until we suddenly stand back and think , 'Christ, this really ain't that popular anymore'.

A couple of years back I was chatting with a regular, everyday punter.Years ago, he would have visited the LBO everyday.This has now evolved to a mixture of online activity, with live visits mixed in to take advantage of concessions.

It was York Ebor week. 'What have you backed ?', I inquired. The answer was not the one I'd been expecting for he proceeded to give out details of his bets on lower league football. Sighing, I pointed out that I meant the horses. ' I know you did,' he replied, before agreeing that years back he would have been looking forward to the racing, ' But it's different now', he added,'there is more choice.'

This fiftysomething man was brought up with the customary betting link to horses, supported by greyhounds, along with the novelty of the long list on the fixed odds.The common and normal sight was the father of the household involving himself with racing and betting. He may have gone the football most weeks, but the betting was almost all on horses.

This is where the link is now broken. Anyone under thirty is now more likely to have been brought up in a household where betting is linked predominantly to football.This was a development that started to take hold in the mid 1990's.

And we can be even more certain that these under thirties, many of whom will already have young families themselves, will clearly put to bed once and for all the notion that a customary link still exists whereby betting is mainly all about horses.

In fact the person in question will often speak of his own adult son, revealing that he religiously backs Jason Day blindly, and has done for years.He'll recount his son's football bets from the weekend. His son does not bet on horses. He himself talks more of Jamie Lovemark than Jamie Spencer.

Trying to introduce someone to the sport can be pretty futile too.I took a drinking buddy to the races for the first time about ten years ago. I'll call him Gaz. To try and sell the sport to him I had to put a an angle of added interest on, as Gaz had not the slightest inclination to pick up knowledge about the sport.

So I took him out of his comfort zone of the bars and around the paddock. I began pointing out known racing people with comments such as, ' he's a crook', 'she's there because of a rich father ',
'he's a bit of a pysco', ' he's slept with that ones wife'.

It was hard work and not in the BHA  manual of how to introduce new people to the sport. And I soon discovered that my efforts were futile.

In one of the races, Gaz had backed a chaser who was held in second place approaching the last.
Clearly not familiar with expected racecourse protocol, he suddenly yelled,' Break a leg you bastard!'  leaving me gobsmacked and embarrassed.

Believe it or not this is an intelligent  person who at the time was working in the Probation Service with responsible roles, including articulating reports to magistrates. He is in a fairly well paid position now in another branch of the Civil Service.

This lack of respect, feel, care and understanding for the sport is not the remit of reprobates, but sadly also the norm across the respectable part of society as a whole.

Gaz does however does form a gang of three or four drinking buddies who have the Thursday of Aintree in our calendars every year. Between visits all of his bets are on football or rugby, and as far as I know he has no plans to take his son to the races, and does not watch racing when at home. The fact that he continues to go each year may in the BHA's eyes class him as being 'won over' by the sport.That could not be further from the truth.

Back in 2014, he was unable to attend so our party consisted of a gang of three. Chris has no interest in the racing, but will attend once a year. He likewise will not have a bet on the horses in between his annual visits. His yearly punting is on the odd combination of football, Grand Prix racing, boxing, and poker. He latched on to Leicester City relatively early in the season when they won the Premiership, backing them at 66/1, eventually laying off.

Phil is a dyed in the wool, long term racing fan. He sketches horses in his spare time, always has his camera with him at the racecourse, asks for the odd autograph, and will often take his wife and two primary school sons racing. He would make a good role model for the sport but unfortunately he is very much the exception to the rule. Besides, that he has no inclination to drink himself into a stupor would perhaps not please racecourse management at some of our venues.

On this particular day there were some curious conversations.Chris was offering post race summaries consisting of comments like ' my horse was winning but they still had to go around one more time ', while Phil would be discussing the progressive position in the pecking order of Craig Nichol in the Nicky Richards stable.

Perhaps, the best effort you could make to appreciate just how insignificant the racing per se is at the cult venues, is to go on an outing with a large work party

I did just this on a visit to one of these new trashy York fixtures on the day Bayern Munich beat Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League Final.

One of our party had a connection to a pub so conveniently organised for the premises to be privately open at 9 am for us to enjoy a hearty breakfast. Then straight into a minibus and off to York, the cans of beer already being cracked open.

Stopping for a short break at Hartshead Moor service station, one of our party was already vomiting in the car park. Arriving at the course after missing the first race, the whole party positioned themselves for the rest of the day inside the bar, making no effort to watch a race live.Some of these 'racegoers' did not even bother having a bet.

 A pure drinking fest.The evening in the center of York was enjoyable, the racecourse experience not. We later heard that a young  racegoer who had been sliding down the banisters in high jinks had fallen right down the stairwell to the ground floor.He never survived.

Indeed, racecourses have always had their share of drunks showing just a smidgen of care for the actual sport. But there can never have been a time when such a high percentage have no interest in it whatsoever, and who will not even cast an eye over a racecard between visits to the course.

This is the beginning of the tremor taking hold. It has come from the masses being weaned off betting on horses and will truly set in when the last real generation of racing fans disappear.

FORGET THE SURVEYS, THEY DON'T EVEN TELL HALF THE STORY

Surveys, opinion polls, or any set of figures derived from the public responding to a question or set of questions. There may have been a...

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