Monday Morning Conundrum

Here is a Monday morning conundrum for you – who “owns” the racing results?

Now it may seem a somewhat trite, almost insignificant, question to the average racegoer, however within the world of the racing media it is becoming a major issue.

Allow me to explain.

After each race the judge produces a results slip which shows the finishing order, times (either the actual time run in flat races or the time behind the winner for national hunt races) and distances for all the runners in a race – in effect the official result.

Historically this information was produced by Racetech as part of the integrity service and copies of the results slips were supplied to the press room, mainly for the benefit of the PA, Raceform and Timeform racereaders but other hacks sometimes make use of the sheet to check the finishing position of a particular horse. These sheets are used to provide the full finishing order, as seen on the Racing Post and Sporting Life websites, amongst others.

At the same time as the acrimonious split of racing coverage between SIS and TurfTV there was a change in the provision of the finishing data, which effectively meant results sheets were produced by either SIS or TurfTV.

For those working in the press room this meant very little difference, the sheets were still supplied, the only difference being the format was slightly different depending on which organisation produced the results sheet.

Well that was the case until 1st January this year when the TurfTV tracks said the slips were no longer going to be supplied to the press room.

This is where the situation becomes a little bit complex. The media rights for the TurfTV tracks, which are effectively those tracks signed up to RUK, plus Ascot, are managed by a company called Racecourse Media Group (RMG).

As well as dealing with the media rights of the 30 racecourses,  RMG also own 50% of Turf TV, additionally it is also the holding company which owns Racing UK – so it has its fingers in quite a few pies.

However not content with the involvement it already has RMG now wants to charge other media outlets to have access to the official results slips.

They are having a laugh aren’t they?

Can you imagine the outcry if the Premier League or Football League suddenly announced they would charge media outlets to report on scores, goal scorers and times of goals? There would be questions in the house.

It also seems the management of RMG have very short memories. Otherwise they would recall the grand initiative of the then BHB to charge bookmakers and broadcasters to use “racing data”.

Quite rightly the courts kicked the idea into touch.

With the results data there appears to be even less “justification” for selling it, indeed it would be interesting to see if RMG’s claim to actually own the data would stand up in court.

My belief is it would not and it is also my personal belief RMG are taking the view most media outlets would be reluctant to pursue the case in the courts due to the current economic climate and the costs involved. In other words they seem to be hoping the money will be coughed up just for an easy life.

The editor of the Racing Post, Bruce Millington, has been most vociferous in his condemnation of the move, probably because his organisation is being hit most of all.

Also, as often happens in cases like this, a great deal of fog emerges.

For example some have tried to point the finger of blame at the door of the BHA, saying it was their decision to charge for the data, something denied by BHA spokesman Paul Struthers.

In the scheme of things the attempt to charge for the data is not earth shattering, the biggest impact being on those organisations like Raceform / Racing Post and Timeform.

Indeed the problems are not insurmountable as anybody on-course can record the finishing order of a race and it only takes a few minutes with a stopwatch and a recording of the race to calculate the winning distances.

What is worrying is the seeming arrogance of RMG in thinking they have the right to suddenly charge for information that has been freely available since racing began.

Meanwhile at the SIS courses life continues as normal.

If having to pay for basic data is going to upset some sections of the media there may be even worse news to come.

I can exclusively reveal one of the major racecourse groups is considering charging the press to attend their meetings. As a senior executive commented, “Bookmakers have to pay to ply their trade on the racecourse, so why shouldn’t journalists?”

An interesting argument.

If you suddenly find your favourite course suddenly starts receiving less coverage across the media you will know why!!!

Who knows, will they be charging us to park next?

Now that would be interesting. Thankfully few racecourses actually charge for parking and, frankly it is just as well.

Only a handful of courses offer anything approaching decent parking and the number of courses offering a proper, hardstanding, car park can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

Indeed parking at some courses can be an absolute nightmare. In a way I am lucky that with all the meetings I attend I have only once had to be towed out of the car park. That experience was all the more galling as I had been told by the parking steward the ground was better “over there”. Had I parked where I originally planned, and not in the bog to which he sent me, I would have escaped fine

That does not mean I have not had some lucky escapes.  I always dread going to Towcester after it has been raining, the cloying clay soil is not confined to the racetrack and the car park soon gets chewed up.

However last Monday, at Fakenham, I seriously thought I would be calling on the services of their tractor. It had been raining hard all day and the ground was saturated.

Even parking the car proved to be a challenge, with the wheels spinning, quickly turning the paintwork a muddy brown. Getting out of the car my spirits dropped as I saw my front wheels resting on an indented, bald patch of ground.

After racing my worse fears were confirmed as, even in second gear, the wheels just spun as I tried to pull away. I did notice some good “virgin” ground behind me though and having nothing to lose I threw the car into reverse, managed to get enough traction to set off backwards, onto the better ground and was then able to get enough traction to drive across and out – a lucky escape.

I suppose most courses opened before the days of mass transportation and if they only race a few days a year I can understand provision of car parking space not to be a high priority but it is still frustrating when you have to park in what is effectively a boggy field.

Car parking isn’t the only challenge when driving to the races, the increasing cost of fuel is becoming even more significant.

This time last year it cost just under £50 to fill my tank with petrol, now the cost is nearer £60 and with, some weeks, having to fill up three times it is getting very expensive.

So it is time to find alternatives and I am certainly going to let the train take the strain more in future.

Provided you book ahead some great bargains can be achieved.

I am off to Carlisle on 9th February. By road it is 256 miles each way, about 4½ driving (I am of an age where I need a couple of “comfort” stops on such a long drive), which works out at just over a tank and a half of petrol, so not much change out of £100.

Yet by advance booking I am travelling on a direct train from home to Carlisle, a 3¼ journey, costing only £30.50 return (normal fare £163) and by booking, for free, a seat with a table and power socket I can also make better use of the travelling time.    

My final thought for this week.

Why is it, when the results of races can be decided by photo finishes - as much as one pixel can make the difference between victory and defeat, starters sometimes allow such ragged starts at the beginning of National Hunt races.

Take a look at Ascot’s opening race on Saturday and tell me if the start was by any means fair?  



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