Some Common Sense Please

As I write, Sedgefield is the only surviving turf fixture before Christmas and it must be 1.01 that will also suffer the same fate as the other, already Cancelled, turf meetings.

There are, of course, the ubiquitous “all weather” meetings still planned, indeed extra meetings are being scheduled, although these ill named fixtures are also being Cancelled.

With roads in most of the country being, often at best, treacherous and with most police forces advising drivers to make journeys only if absolutely essential, is there not a case to be made for cancelling all racing for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week, extending the Christmas break by three days?

There will be those who will undoubtedly express profound disagreements with this proposal.

Bookmakers will protest about the loss of turnover, simple answer just show more of your silly cartoon racing, or show Yak racing from outer Mongolia - I am sure there are mugs who would bet on it.

Racecourses will protest but will, of course, deny it is anything to do with loss of revenue due to lost hospitality and booze takings.

Trainers will argue they should have the choice as to whether they decide to send runners to the races in the current conditions. Of course it is easy for them to say that as, invariably, it will not be them who will be driving the horseboxes on icy roads.

Jockeys will protest at the loss of earnings.

All of those objections should be ignored and common sense should prevail.

Therein lies the rub, I have uttered the magic words “common sense” ….. there is little chance that prevailing is there?

Whilst on the subject of dangerous road conditions, the folly of driving in bad weather was hammered home on Friday after an abortive visit to Ascot.

It is 56 miles from the course to home and on a good day it takes about 1¼ hours, on Friday it took 4½ hours.

Primarily this was due to people being out on the roads who do not have the slightest idea how to drive in the snowy conditions and in doing so they actually make the roads worse. Either by having accidents because they cannot control their vehicles properly or by driving in a manner which actually makes the road conditions more dangerous than they need be, especially on hills.

So, turning back to horseboxes travelling to the races, it does not matter if the driver of the horsebox is fully capable of driving in poor conditions, the impact of the idiots who should not be on the road also needs to be considered.

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Twice in the last week I have arrived at a racecourse, only for racing to be called off after my arrival. Now I accept it is an occupational hazard when the weather conditions are poor, however I do wonder if, on occasion, courses are extracting the urine.

I appreciate it is a fine line in deciding if a meeting should go ahead and it can be a difficult call, as can be illustrated by the differing circumstances surrounding the two cancellations.

The first of my abortive meetings was Huntingdon last Sunday, the first attempt to rearrange the Peterborough Cup.

The course was perfectly raceable on Saturday and overnight temperatures of plus one were forecast. The forecast turned out to be very wrong and the mercury dropped to minus five.

This clearly caught officials out and an early inspection was called. At this time the forecast was predicting plus temperatures and some sunshine. So a second inspection was called for 10:00.

Now the temperatures did reach plus three and the sun did come out but it turned out to be too little too late and racing had to be called off. When called off the decision was communicated quickly so the media could let the public know immediately.

In these circumstances I can see why Huntingdon held the second inspection.

Ascot on Friday was a different story.

Frost covers had been laid but the temperatures were so low frost still managed to get into the ground. Again an early inspection was called which was said to be "inconclusive" and a second inspection was called for 11:00, just 55 minutes before the first race was due off.

Now I am no expert but when I arrived at the course just before 10:00 it was patently obvious racing would not be possible. The covers themselves were frozen and there were frozen patches where the covers had been lifted, more significantly the temperature was still below zero and showing no sign of rising.

Trainers and jockeys who had been on the course were almost as one in saying racing should not go ahead.

Yet, despite there being an inevitability, officials still waited until the prescribed time of 11:00 before carrying the inspection.

Once they had taken a look officials were asked about the prospects of racing. Yet, unlike at other courses where an immediate opinion would be given, an official, who could only be described as arrogant in the extreme (the sort of old fashioned pompous twit who should have been thrown out of racing years ago) simply said “you know the rules, the Stewards have to meet first”.

The meeting was eventually called off just after 11:15, less than 40 minutes before the opening race.

As one cynic commented, “late enough to make sure the most of the hospitality guests had arrived.”    

I do also appreciate the job of Clerk Of Course is a tricky one and there is a fine line between being a hero or villain.

For example for Barry Johnson at Exeter the other week, holding out and having late inspections paid off and racing was able to go ahead, albeit only getting the go-ahead less than 30 minutes before the first race.

In this case it did pay off but what if the course had not recovered sufficiently and racing had to be Cancelled, Johnson would, probably rightly, have been vilified.

Should the decision as to whether to race not be left with the Clerks who, after all, are under pressure from racecourse executives, who pay their wages, to race if at all possible?

The decision should be handed to the BHA’s course inspectorate and there should be a rule that if a course is not raceable two hours before the scheduled off time of the first race then racing should be Cancelled.    

Yes some meetings may be lost where conditions improve late on, however this should be weighed against the reputational damage which is caused when decisions to cancel are made at the last minute.

Instead of tinkering with what does not need to be changed, Racing For Change should, instead, be looking at some of these more fundamental issues.


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