A Matter Of Timing

A very interesting advertisement appeared in last Saturday’s Racing Post.

It was in the recruitment section and was from the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) for a “Race Times and Race Planning Executive.”

The advertisement states the jobholder will “manage the coordination of all race times across the UK, ensuring optimal intervals and avoiding any race clashes.”

All I can say is – not before time.

It is bad enough when races are delayed, resulting in clashes. However the weekend before last there was a clash of races actually built into the schedule.

The Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby, the feature race of the day incidentally, was scheduled to go off at 2:55.

The “standard” time for the 3m 1f contest is 6’ 5”, yet there was a Listed contest scheduled to go off at Ascot at 3:00, meaning even if the Charlie Hall went of bang on time the Ascot race was due to start as the feature race was building up to a climax.

Notwithstanding the clash built into the schedule one would have expected the start of the Ascot contest to have been delayed until the Charlie Hall had finished.

Of course nothing of the sort happened, the Ascot race was off on time resulting in a clash.

Paul Struthers, the   BHA’s Media Relations Manager has stated, “There is someone who is office based on Monday to Friday who helps to co-ordinate any amendments to off times Monday to Friday. At a weekend the responsibility lies with the Stewards.”

Well clearly the communication between Stewards is not working.

Having races clashing does not help anybody, punters get frustrated, bookmakers potentially lose revenue and even broadcasters have to resort to split screen presentations which are far from ideal.

Now I happen to think avoiding clashes is more a matter of common sense than rocket science.

So here are my high level suggestions for avoiding clashes.

  1. Plan the race times correctly in the first instance. If there are, for example, two jump fixtures and two flat fixtures then alternate in the scheduling going jump, flat, jump , flat. Do not schedule jump, jump, flat, flat.
  2. Ensure there are adequate gaps in the initial programming. When there is a race with a standard time of six minutes, do not schedule the next race elsewhere to go off in five minutes. The minimum gap between “off times” should be the standard time plus two minutes.
  3. Avoid the obsession with off times having to be on the “five minutes” , whilst the gaps between races should be as regular as possible, is it a big issue if a race is scheduled to go off at 3:03 instead of 3:00?
  4. It is a fact of life that race starts will be delayed due to unforeseen circumstances. However there are plenty of occasions where there is no obvious reason for a delay. For any race where the race is more than two minutes later than its agreed off time the stewards should hold an enquiry. If the delay was avoidable, e.g. jockeys late from the weighing room, a trainer late sending a horse to the parade ring, loading not beginning soon enough, then those responsible should be punished. The onus should be on the course to prove the delay was not avoidable.
  5. When races do become delayed then the schedule, across all courses, needs to be proactively reviewed and managed. This should be done centrally and should not be left to individual teams of Stewards to arrange. The individual responsible should have the authority to override local Stewards.

Clearly managing race times is a great deal simpler on days where there are two or three concurrent meetings. When there are four or five it becomes more tricky and on Bank Holidays it is an impossibility to avoid clashed, in which case the emphasis should be to avoid clashes at the principal meetings.

The individual responsible for coordination should have the authority, for example, to put all races back five minutes. Or where there is sufficient leeway just delay the start of the next race by a couple of minutes.

We are in the 21st Century and all key players at a meeting are in radio contact.

As I said it is not rocket science and it can work. I recall being at Ffos Las on St Leger day. The St Leger was running late and there would have been a clash had the Ffos Las race gone off on time. What happened was the runners in the Ffos Las race were back for five minutes and loading began once the St Leger finished. No histrionics or dramatics. Punters at Ffos Las were kept informed and the time was made up by the end of the afternoon.   

In that last paragraph I touched on one key aspect of the whole plan – communication. It is essential that spectators on the course, punters in the betting shops and at home are kept informed of what is happening. It is essential that racecourses, bookmakers and broadcasters are kept fully aware of what is happening and the information is disseminated as quickly as possible.

Of course changes to race time can be kept to a minimum provided the initial off times are realistic and that avoidable delays are eliminated as much as possible.

I could quite easily do the job for the BHA, it’s just a pity they cannot afford me.