LOOSE HORSE – Brough Scott

HORSE AND HOUND – 13-1-2011

It’s time for British racing to put the clock in the box. Yes up in the top right hand corner of the screen as they have in show jumping, eventing, ski-racing, athletics and American racing for years and years. There’s not much sand at Sandown, but on Saturday it felt as if we were putting our heads deep into the glue-pot going to protect our ignorance.

Graham Dench does not deal in ignorance. As the Racing Post’s chief form analyst, he is the “go to guy” for rational explanations of the galloping jigsaw puzzle we have just seen assembled in front of us. “It’s heavy,” he said when asked of the state of the ground after young Sam Twiston-Davies and the gallant, knee grinding mare Banjaxed Girl had slugged home in the first, “they have run 32 seconds slow.”

You will note that he did not lapse into the default position of most commentators which is “Sam says they are getting through it” or “Dominic (Elsworth, rider of Alasi, the weary looking second) says it’s bottomless.” Graham was giving a crucially relevant basic fact. It told how much slower the horses had run compared to the Racing Post Standard time, a now industry accepted norm for what a high rated horse would clock on good going. It is only one fact but a vital one and yet you won’t see it on the screen despite it being available unofficially as they pass the post, and officially minutes later. It’s a nonsense that has to stop.

What actually happens at the moment is that the racegoer depends on public address to announce the time (without comparisons and for flat racing only) some five minutes after the finish. On television the satellite channels do give some intelligent tabulated analysis later in the day, but on them as well as on Channel 4 and BBC the best you can hope for regarding the time is for the likes of Jim McGrath or Simon Holt to say something like “and they have run a very fast, two full seconds quicker than standard.” Thank you gentleman but TV doesn’t have the “Vision” in its title for nothing. Where possible facts should also be displayed. At the moment, 85 years since John Logie Baird invented the “goggle box”, race times are discussed as if we were on radio.

If you have detected the scraping signs of a hobby horse being dragged from its cupboard you are right on the money.  I have been banging on about this ever since I first worked in America in the mid 70s and indeed it’s probably partly my fault that we have still achieved so little change. For, struck by the viewer information given by the split times at the quarter poles in American racing, I made such a fuss over here that Newmarket made a huge and costly experiment at giving not just the leaders time but the exact “splits” for every horse in every race. If it had worked it would have been an analyst’s heaven. But there were all sorts of teething troubles and neither the trainers nor the media bought in properly. Aidan O’Brien even took the official responders out of the saddle cloths and all sorts of wags deliberately mis-heard and said “yes,” they were very keen on “sexual timing.”

We had tried to run before we could walk. There are still all sorts of good systems around but all I am asking for is the simplest of starts. Put the finishing time up in the top corner as the horse pulls up, and when you display the official result on the screen include the time as well. At Sandown on Saturday there were three races over the 2 mile hurdle track. Music Moor carrying 10st 12lbs took 4m 14.7 seconds, Minella Class (11-7) took 4 m 13.8, and Mille Chief with 11-12 took just 4m 10.5. It doesn’t prove anything but you have to admit it is interesting. And it’s dead easy to do.

Come on folks, smarten up a bit.  You could do it tomorrow. You certainly should by Cheltenham and Aintree. If you don’t, there should be a dunce sign in that corner.

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