More Realism and Less Over Optimism Please

Take half a glass of water and ask people to explain how full the glass is you will generally get one of two answers.

To the pessimist the glass will be half empty, to the optimist it will be half full.

However as the same question of one of racings Clerk’s Of The Course and the answer will be something along the lines the glass is about to overflow.

To say Clerk’s Of Courses  are generally an over-optimistic breed is not that much of an exaggeration, although to be fair there are some with their feet firmly on the ground. With some, however, there could be the seven plagues of Egypt attacking the course, yet they would still be optimistic of racing going ahead.  

Now there is, of course, nothing wrong with being optimistic. Indeed I am generally a fully paid up member of the “glass is half full” brigade.

If there is a positive side I will find it. At the same time, however, I am also a realist and I am pretty adept at identifying a lost cause.

What can be dangerous, however, is over optimism. Indeed in some circumstances it can be downright dangerous.  If not reaching the state of threatening life or limb, over optimism can still cause a great deal of inconvenience and angst.

Take the goings-on at Newcastle on Wednesday.

There was an unexpectedly sharp frost overnight with temperatures plummeting to as low as minus three degrees. As a result an inspection was called for 09:00.

For locals that is not too much of a problem. But for some, like trainer David Pipe, whose runners have a six hour trip from the West Country. Or for hacks like myself who are venturing up from down sarf, there is a dilemma.

I happened to hear of the inspection whilst awaiting my transport of delight, so I took the prudent step of ringing the racecourse office before committing myself to the journey north.  I asked the pointed question, “what is the percentage chance of racing taking place?” The lady I spoke to was not prepared to commit herself and she went away to find out.

My thinking was anything less than a 60% chance then I would cut my losses and divert to Newbury instead. I was most pleasantly surprised when the lady came back and said there was a 90% chance of racing going ahead. I thought those were fair odds and decided to continue the journey.

Roll the clock forward and the approach into Newcastle. It was certainly clear and sunny, however the vista was worryingly very much of the white variety.

As soon as I was able I was back online and not totally surprised to hear the 9:00 inspection had been inconclusive and there would be a further inspection at 11:00.  

I eventually arrived at the course just after 11:15 and the inspection was still going on, concentrating on the far side of the course as the turn from the back straight begins – an area in shade.

Looking through the bins it did not look good. However some of the hacks who had been there all morning said the track in front of the stands had thawed really quickly once it had got going.

Perhaps this was lulling the officials into a false sense of security regarding the far turn.

Just before 11:30 another inspection was announced for 12:15, just a quarter of an hour before the start of the first race, although it was also announced racing would be delayed by 30 mins if it did go ahead.

The one optimist in the press room was commentator Malcolm Tomlinson who was still, studiously, studying the colours, when lesser mortals would have given up. Then again with 108 runners I suppose he couldn’t take the chance and not take advantage of all the study time available.

In the 45 minutes until 12:15 the patch of ground on the far turn must have been the most observed turf anywhere in the United Kingdom, with numerous pairs of binoculars scanning the ground, literally looking for green shoots of hope. As none appeared there was a growing sense of inevitability as to what the verdict would be.

Gordon Brown, the ATR manifestation, not the PM version even went on air to say he was pessimistic – he wasn’t the only one.

The locals clearly knew as well, as they were staying away in their droves, even at 12:15 there were probably more  bookmakers in the ring than there were punters in view. Indeed a couple had even begun packing up in anticipation of the inevitable.

It was just after 12:25 that the inevitable news filtered through – racing was off.

So how do we view what happened?

Surprisingly I think they did reasonably well on this occasion. They certainly gave racing every chance of going ahead. On this occasion the weather God’s were not on racings side.

The one gripe was the 90% chance of racing proffered earlier in the morning. That was intensely optimistic. Made with good intention granted, based on a forecast of a quick rise in temperature, however there was no basis of fact in the prediction.

It must also be asked is it wise leaving the decision to race until so soon before the scheduled start time. Even more so, when racing is already scheduled to finish so close to sunset and there is minimal scope to run late.

Events have served to underline my belief there should be an instruction from the BHA that unless a course is fit for racing two hours before the scheduled start of the first race, then racing should be Cancelled.

Calling a meeting off minutes before the start of the first race does the credibility of racing little favour.

This is not the first occasion where a Clerk Of The Course has been overly optimistic.

There was a classic case at Huntingdon in 2007 where the course was “passed fit” for racing at around 9:00 only to be Cancelled half an hour before racing, even though the general consensus was it never was fit in the first place.

Clerk’s Of The Course do have an unenviable and thankless task. It is one of those roles where when they get it right (which is the vast majority of the time) nobody notices, yet when they get it wrong they are pilloried.

That is why the BHA need to bring in some instructions  to make the decision making easier.

They can, however, help themselves – not least in taking off those rose coloured spectacles and not seeing their glasses filled to almost overflowing.      



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