Don't Knock The Commentator
After the jockeys the most difficult job on the racecourse must be that of the commentator, whose job it is to describe the ever changing action to those on the course and those watching on televisions around the world, at home, in betting shops – even online.
From describing the action in a 30 runner five furlong sprint, over in just under a minute through to trying to make a four runner 3½ mile novice chase sound interesting these men, and it is exclusively men, have an unenviable job.
As well known commentator Mike Cattamole once said “when I get it right nobody says anything, when I get it wrong – everyone tells me.”
But should we criticise them on the rare occasions they do make a mistake?
Take, as an example, the recent Bank Holiday meeting at Huntingdon. There were seven races with field sizes ranging from thirteen to fifteen runners. Meaning course commentator Lee McKenzie had to remember 95 different sets of colours that afternoon and he still gave a faultless performance.
I am a regular racegoer, going three or four times a week. I can just about follow, in detail, a race of up to about ten runners. Although I can follow the race in my minds eye if you asked me to give a real time, coherent commentary on what I was seeing or how the race was developing I would go to pieces. Ask the same with fields of more than ten runners and I would outsprint Asafa Powell in my haste to run away.
There was a time when I used to moan when the commentator made a mistake now I generally feel for them. They are all professionals and they, more than anybody, hate it when they get it wrong. There was one occasion at Aintree where John Hunt was commentating and he mistakenly called an incorrect faller, before the next race he actually apologised to racegoers for the incorrect call.
Like many people following the commentary I always assumed the commentators had the best seat in the house. I have since discovered this is far from true. There is a certain course in the Midlands where the view from the stands is almost perfect, with the entire course visible. Move up to the commentary box and it is a totally different story. Not only is about half the course not visible to the commentator, he cannot even see the stand side running rail, so if there is a late finisher against the rail he could well miss it. For most of the commentary the commentator is reliant on the television director providing some decent shots.
Another example of the commentators nightmare comes with tight finishes. At some courses, Salisbury and Warwick spring immediately to mind, the commentary box is a long way from the finishing line so the commentator has no chance of calling a tight finish with the naked eye. Add to that the fact the camera could also be located way off the line then you can begin to see the reluctance to commit to calling a ‘tight one’. Especially, as one caller put it, “with commentaries going all round the world and races being constantly replayed, when you do call the wrong result it is there for posterity.”
Or is it? I am prepared to have a substantial wager there has been at least one occurrence where a commentary has been doctored for the replays. I was at a meeting when one of our more venerable commentators definitely miscalled a tight finish. Yet when the replay was broadcast later that evening the call was right. Ho hum.
Of course it cannot be denied that some commentators are better than others but that is a discussion for another day.
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