Two of my “favourite” gripes have come to the fore in the past few days, so it’s time, once again to go into full Victor Meldrew mode and say “I don’t believe it”
Or that is what I should be saying, the sad reality is I do believe it, as once again racing shows how it has the ability to make itself look absolutely stupid without really having to try.
The first of my bugbears is repeated inspections and in the last three days we have seen examples of them going both ways.
On Friday Musselburgh played the rolling inspection game but with a new twist, whereby they moved the goalposts, along with the first race time.
After a couple of failed inspections they called yet another inspection for 12:00 and moved the first race time back from 12:10 to 12:40.
When the course failed to pass the 12:00 inspection they moved the first race back to 13:10 pending a further inspection but had to, eventually, call the meeting off at 13:00, some 50 minutes after the original scheduled time of the opening race.
Roll forward two days and it was the turn of Leicester to play musical inspections and an almost similar pattern followed. This time the controversial decision was taken to race just after midday, with the first race scheduled for 12:50 being put back 20 minutes.
I say controversial decision as the decision to race was not met with universal acclaim with, apparently the jockeys being more happy to race than the trainers. As a consequence 31 of the 62 declared runners did not run.
It’s also clear the course could not have been fit to race when the meeting was given the go ahead as ground staff frantically continued to work on the course right up until the off time of the first race.
Now I can understand courses wanting to give meetings every opportunity to go ahead, especially in the case of Leicester who have lost eight meetings already this year, including five on the bounce.
However is making such late calls fair on racegoers, their customers, or is getting Levy income more important.
Not all racegoers live within ten miles of a racecourse, is it acceptable for them to be expected to make what could be long and ultimately fruitless journeys.
On Friday, whilst the Musselburgh saga was unfolding I tweeted, “If I were cynical I would say it's a case of getting punters in and into the bars, mitigating losses if off”.
In truth I wasn’t being cynical at all – after all the bar and catering staff will be in place and will presumably need to be paid, so why not get the punters in the doors and get some income from alcohol sales?
You think I’m being cynical there?
Well I recall driving to one of our major racecourses where they were having an ongoing inspection saga, it was a really frosty day and it looked like going to the line.
Listening to the radio as I drove to the course a spokesman for the course was interviewed and they, maybe inadvertently, gave the game away when they said, “racegoers should still come to the course because even if we call the meeting off all the bars will be open and the away racing will be shown.”
The trouble with these ongoing inspections is the decision ultimately comes down to the course in the shape of the Clerk Of The Course and the Stewards. The former is an employee of the course and the latter (apart from the Stipes) are appointed by the course so will therefore be disinclined to upset the course.
The course, understandably, has an interest in the meeting going ahead so will always tend to err on the side of proceeding where there is even the remotest glimmer of hope.
Whilst in no was questioning the professionalism of the Clerks, they are put in a difficult position because of their closeness to the course.
Where the decision to race is a close call it is my belief the final decision should be taken away from the courses themselves as they have too big a vested interest. The BHA employ course inspectors and where it looks like being a close call as to whether racing can proceed the decision to race or not should be made by the course inspector and stipendiary stewards.
Additionally a meeting should be called off if the course is not fit to race two hours before the scheduled off time of the opening race. Yes it may mean some meetings may fall which may otherwise have gone ahead but it would result in less inconvenience to racegoers and trainers and would be better PR for the sport.
My other bugbear is race times.
The big race on Saturday was the Hennessy Gold Cup, one of the biggest handicaps of the season, a race that takes around 6’30” to run and it was scheduled to start at 15:10 on Saturday.
Toiwcester’s final race of the afternoon, an insignificant bumper, was scheduled to begin at 15:15, so it was guaranteed to clash with the Hennessy.
Racing cannot organise even the simple things.
First of all it was crass bad planning to schedule the Towcester bumper to start at that time, why could it not have been scheduled for a 15:20 start?
However it was announced over the PA at Towcester that the start of the bumper would be held back until after the Hennessy finished and the Hennessy would be shown on the big screen, with commentary – excellent planning on the part of Towcester.
So what happened?
The Towcester bumper went off just as the
leaders cleared the last in the Hennessy.
Why the hell could they not have held the start of the bumper back for a matter of another 30 seconds?
The starter has absolutely no excuse for not knowing about the Hennessy as it was being shown on the big screen with the commentary on the PA and the Towcester start was immediately in front of the stands - so unless the starter was deaf and / or stupid he could not have failed to have been aware the Hennessy was still running. Indeed even some of the jocks were watching the big race on the big screen.
It is telling that as soon as the field was off the starter sprinted to the car park - presumably to make a swift exit.
Commentator Ian Bartlett was left with something of a dilemma - did he start the commentary of the bumper or did he allow the Hennessy commentary to finish - we ended up with both being broadcast over the PA.
At least the director in the scanner van didn’t cut off the end of the Hennessy on the big screen, I think there would have been a riot had he done so, as I would say 97% of the crowd (and 100% of the press room) were watching the Hennessy as opposed to the bumper.
The words piss-up and brewery spring to mind.