The vast chasm between good and poor communication to the public was shown by two separate incidents on our Tellytrack screens last week. In the one race, the jockey and trainer were hung, drawn and quartered, while in the other, a fairly controversial objection, not a bleat was heard from anybody down the food chain.
Providing a cutting edge balanced entertainment and information platform has surely got to be high on the priority list of the Phumelela Gold bosses and the National Horseracing Authority. Punters make up the biggest single stakeholder group and most of their exposure to racing is not at the running rails. It is in front of the small screen.
The review of presentation should ideally be a joint effort by all concerned, as ultimately the show only goes ahead with everybody’s buy-in and professional co-operation. The operators and the National Horseracing Authority should also not overlook the reality that they are largely funded by public punting money and the dreams of the brave people who put their hands up at the sales. There is a right to information principle that is not being honoured.
We sling off about objections. About decisions. About the way things are handled. But life goes on. Nobody seems answerable. I was writing the same story five years ago. And little has changed.
The kick-start on the right road has to be a consistent (there is not one in place as we speak) communications policy subscribed to by all role players, with regard to all matters of objections and enquiries. These are the subjective issues that seriously affect the public pocket and ultimately the image of the sport.
Promoting world-class transparency via a live televised show hosted by the National Horseracing Authority,where matters and specific incidents of public interest could be highlighted, is also a much needed consideration as part of the new age of enlightenment. If we can show hours of, admittedly commercially motivated BMW Horse Show highlights on our only racing channel, then we surely have the space for the NHRA and joe public to slug things out and clear up the misconceptions? It can be dignified and really can only have one or two endings – happy, we continue. Sad, we fix and get the right people. How difficult can that really be?
Rob De Kock and his band of merry men (ever noticed there are no lady stipes?) have the worst job in horseracing. They are by nature and wordly purpose unpopular, superior and distant people who seem answerable only to God. Even though individually they are all nice guys, who generally wouldn’t hurt a fly. And as an individual, Mr De Kock has for years readily answered media questions telephonically and via email.
The policing body also boast all kinds of departments, except ironically for public relations, at their larny head office. They also get the invitations, even before the racing media at large, to local and international racing events and parties. So the tough job has its perks.
The concept of accessibility is not a wild dream and the possibilities and good intentions were demonstrated a few years ago when the NHRA used to host a monthly information slot on the now long defunct Keeping Track show on Monday nights. While it served its purposes, to a degree, by informing the public on various aspects of the rules and regulations and processes, it was very much on the lines of a high school lecture with prepared one-way information.
The show we now envisage has to be live, and punters and other stakeholders need to ask their questions with the guarantee of a no-strings response, explanation and corrective action, if required. What harm can it do, if the industry and the NHRA genuinely believe that they are doing a good and capable job?
And let’s face it, following the spate of, let’s call them bizarre, objections in the past few weeks, a punters forum, beyond the impassioned rantings on the ABC, is now long overdue.
The two examples, that got me going happened at the Vaal and Fairview. But there are others. They are materially different, but they show the highs and lows and inconsistency of the in and out animal called Tellytrack.But let us not forget that the channel and station is only as good as the racing operator’s co-operation levels and harmony with the NHRA.
At the Vaal on 15 March, Shaheen Shaw was in the studio when he announced that the Stipes had opened an enquiry into the running of the horse, Formation. Fanie Chambers had ridden St John Gray’s filly to a flying third from a hundred miles off the pace.
According to the official Stipes report Trainer Mr S J Gray and Jockey S Chambers were questioned regarding the running and riding of FORMATION. Mr Gray had instructed Jockey Chambers not to force this filly in the early stages as she had not responded in previous runs from being too handy. Mr Gray further explained that he however did not expect Jockey Chambers to drop her out quite as much as he had. The Board also took into account that in the latter stages, the second placed horse ZEBULON (S Khumalo) carried FORMATION (S Chambers) out. The Board has accepted both Trainer Gray’s and Jockey Chambers explanations.
While I have the highest regard for Shaw’s knowledge and enthusiasm, as he stands head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to information and the expediency at which he belts it out, what led to him announcing this ‘enquiry’? We never hear from the Stipes on course during race meetings about such matters. So why now, as an isolated case? Don’t get me wrong, it was fantastic to hear in real time, as I had thought that Chambers had ridden a strange race. And Tellytrack went a step further by broadcasting the post-race interview too. Top-class stuff to hear the thoughts from Mr Gray’s mouth. And I’d liked to have asked the Stipes why they did not object against Zebulon, in view of their comments?
But then take the Fairview third race objection on Friday last week, as the other end of the competency scale. A three way dead-heat for second ended in tears for Place Accumulator punters with the most fancied placed horse being relegated to fourth after the following stipes objection:
At approximately the 50 metre mark SUDDEN SURPRISE (B Lerena) shifted out away from the crop carrying FLYING HAWK (M Yeni) outwards which made contact with DERBAAS (C Taylor) which was carried out becoming unbalanced. MANONTHECATWALK (A Delpech) had to steady to avoid the heels of DERBAAS (C Taylor) and FOREST BLADE (W Kennedy), which was following, had to steady. A Stipendiary Steward called for a race review into this incident which was followed by him lodging an Objection on behalf of DERBAAS (C Taylor) dead heat 2nd against dead heat 2nd SUDDEN SURPRISE on the grounds of interference in the closing stages. The Objection Board after hearing the evidence, reviewing the Patrol Films and giving regard to the dead heat between these two horses was of the opinion that DERBAAS would have finished ahead of SUDDEN SURPRISE had this incident not occurred, upheld the Objection and amended the judges result to read 1st No 10, FLYING HAWK, 2nd No 3, IMPOSING MODEL and No 11, DERBAAS dead heated and 4th No 5, SUDDEN SURPRISE
Jockey B Lerena signed an Admission of Guilt for a contravention of rule 62.2.7 in that, whilst riding SUDDEN SURPRISE, he failed to ensure that he did not cause interference to FLYING HAWK, DERBAAS and MANONTHECATWALK in the latter stages. He is suspended from riding in races for a period of one week.
In this case we heard sweet nothing, other than Gareth Pepper in the Tellytrack studio providing the revised result. Mr Pepper told us what he had been told.
If the Vaal Stipes could speak to Tellytrack about the Formation incident, where were the PE guys when it came to an even bigger jolt and misery for the PA punters? The successful objection had taken a fancied horse out of the PA, yet they chose not to explain anything.
There is always debate on Stipes decisions. We can agree to differ on those. Their obligations in terms of communication procedures, however, should be laid down and written in policy documents.
Is anybody listening?