Dumbing Down

Is it me or has Racing For Change quietly disappeared?

After the brash fanfares and bold promises, what has it delivered?

Well we had the week of free racing earlier in the year, which by all accounts was an overwhelming success but an initiative that does not seem to have been followed up.

We had the half-hearted attempt at experimenting with decimal odds, an experiment so flawed it was doomed to failure from the start.

They wanted to de-mystify the “archaic” announcements at racecourses – yet the announcements are more or less the same.

The resolution of photo finishes were going to be shown on the big screen, in real time – that hasn’t happened.

As is often the case hundreds of thousands of pounds have been spent on highly paid consultants yet there is precious little to show for it at the end of the day. Even more annoying is even better initiatives could have been achieved by putting a group of “ordinary” racegoers in a room and having a brainstorming session.

There is, however, one effect of Racing For Change and it is not a good one – the raceday “experience” is being dragged down and it is being done single handedly by one man – one James McQuillan.

“Who is James McQuillan?” I hear you ask – indeed!!!

In case you have forgotten or never even watched the program he was the goofy, stupid one in the 2009 series of The Apprentice.

I first came across him at a racecourse when he was a “guest” at a Kempton family day … harmless fun and he was the first to admit when interviewed that he knew nothing about horse racing. A seemingly insignificant interview and a harmless bit of banter which may be of passing interest to those with an interest in “celebrity”.

Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I next visited Kempton Park to find him actually fronting the CCTV presentation, a task that was normally done, quite ably by Anthony Kemp.

Now this presentation includes previewing the races amongst other things and to his credit Mr Kemp often came up with some decent priced winners. The presentation from Mr McQuillan was somewhat different – it was more banal chat and his idea of tipping is summed up thus:-

“I haven’t a clue about the form in this race but I see xxxxxxx is in lovely pink colours, so that is our tip.”

Roll on to August bank Holiday Monday at Huntingdon, always a bumper crowd and it was charity day with funds being raised for Racing Welfare, a good cause and absolutely no problems with charity fund raising at a family race meeting.

They also arranged for some very spurious “world record” attempts – as I said very spurious but harmless fun in an attempt to raise much needed funds for a good racing charity.

However Huntingdon had also bought in the aforementioned James McQuillan to be the racecourse presenter for the afternoon.

It was the most cringe worthy, embarrassing effort it has ever been my misfortune to hear at a racecourse.  

There was an attempt to get as many jump jockeys in a mini car.

OK some of the more obscure jump jockeys are difficult to identify by seasoned racegoers, yet McQuillan could not even identify the more well known ones. Even after asking Dougie Costello who he was he still managed to get his name wrong.

That was the least of his mistakes.

He clearly loves the sound of his own voice as he hardly shut up all afternoon. If he wasn’t making inane comments, he was trying to chat up some of the female racegoers but his performance really plumbed the depths when he compared the John McCririck lookalike competition. I am not even give his comments the oxygen of publicity – suffice to say had I not been working I would probably have walked out and gone home, never to return.

If this is what Racing For Change mean by enhancing the raceday experience then I will hang up my binoculars now.

Derek Thompson gets a lot of stick for his raceday presentations but on Monday even his harshest critics were wanting him to take over the microphone. For all his faults Tommo does, at least, know something about racing.

Continuing on the theme of dumbing down.

I try to attend most of the big racing festivals but one I deliberately avoid is the York August festival. Yes it is great racing but I have to admit York is a course I hate with a vengeance.

Actually I should perhaps qualify that – I actually like the course, very much. It is the racegoers I really dislike – York is definitely a drinkers track and, sadly, far too many racegoers attend, not for the racing, but to pour as much alcohol down their throats as possible. Consequently by the end of the afternoon there is always an unpleasant edge to proceedings.

As I said though the racing itself is top quality and is certainly the highlight of the flat season in the north.

That week I was attending a couple of evening meetings so I was invariably travelling when the feature races were being run.

Radio Five, whose racing coverage can be sketchy at times, were at least covering the two feature races each afternoon and with the excellent John Hunt calling I, at least, knew I could expect a good description of the races.

One of the big races on the Tuesday was the Juddmonte International, arguably one of the feature races of the week. So as I made my way to Worcester I tuned into Five Live to hear commentary.

One of the runners in the contest was Dick Turpin and, inevitably, the BBC racing correspondent Cornelius Lysaght made reference before the race to the demise of the highwayman after whom the horse was named. For those who do not know Turpin, the highwayman, was hanged on the Knavesmire in 1739, somewhere near the current two furlong marker.

No problem there.

The race started and John Hunt was getting into the swing of his commentary and I was forming a decent visual image of shape of the race when, all of a sudden, Lysaght interrupts the commentary.

The interruption was not to discuss some incident of the race but to interject with some meaningless comment about the original Dick Turpin.

What was the point of interrupting the commentary to make a totally irrelevant comment.

Was he trying to show how clever he thinks he is? Or does he just like the sound of his own voice?

He interrupted the entire flow of the commentary and ruined the coverage of the race.

If you enjoy anagrams have a play with Cornelius Lysaght and see what comes up.

Finally on the subject of driving to the races a gripe about motorway services.

We are lucky in the press that we do get fed at the races. What is on offer does vary from a plate of sandwiches to full blown meals, depending on the course. Whatever is offered is appreciated and accepted gratefully.

Obviously when only sandwiches are on offer we need to grab something hot to eat sometime during the day, in my case if I am not home by a decent time I will find somewhere to stop for a bite on the way home.

Yesterday I was at Ripon, where the press room fare was sandwiches, although I did grab a rather tasty portion of chips with curry sauce from the on course fish and chip shop.

I did, however, want something to eat and decided to stop somewhere on the 170 mile drive home.

Usually I will go home a slightly longer way and stop off at an excellent American diner on the A1 near Grantham. However yesterday I was tired and just wanted to get home.

Anyway the motorways were clear so I decided to plug on best I can before stopping.

I eventually stopped at a motorway service station at 8:45, I was hungry and wanted a “comfort” break also.

Having made the comfort stop I then went to get a hot meal, only to be told “we stop serving hot food at 8:30.”

What on earth is up with this country …. are we not expected to eat hot meals when travelling after 8:30 in the evening?

No wonder this country is a mess.      

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