After his review of the Fillies Classic two weeks ago – with a glass of Kleine Zalze Sauvignon for company – Martin Locke settles down for an afternoon’s appraisal of the Colt’s Classic, this time with something stronger to hand.
I decided on this wonderful Classic day’s racing, The Grand Parade Guineas, that I would spoil myself and up my game with a glass of my favorite Kleine Zalze Shiraz – somewhat heavier than my Fillies Guineas Sauvignon – just in case the TV coverage was anything like last time!
However, I was prepared to put memories of the Fillies Guineas coverage behind me as the superb racing to come was sure to be better than last time! So feet up in the Fat Sac, a sip of this distinctive red, mmmm one more and now, I decided to give Supabets one more go, l mean these untrained panelists do love their sport and betting! It wasn’t long before our MBE, Terry Paine ripped into Australia’s Heayweight opening bowler, big Rod (he was a good un!), stating he doesn’t know what Rod is doing on the show, he doesn’t tip any winners (much guffaw from the panel) and couldn’t even pick his own nose! Well, not to put too fine a point on it, Terry couldn’t even tip his own team Southampton to win! With apologies to Her Majesty The Queen, after his nose quip I decided that after my upbringing in Manchester and landing up in sophisticated Stellenbosch, I would muzzle Terry, back Man U and with apologies to Gary, Alistair and Liam, switch off until USO.
Reliable, popular, knowledgeable Stan Elley and Justin Vermaak lifted the tone up to the level expected for this classic day. If I might digress for a moment, last season’s preview programmes often included the very talented young trainers that are coming through such as Adam Marcus, Mathew de Kock and young Timothy Woodruff. I did feel that having just the two of them was not doing justice to the Classic – I would like to have had one of the aforementioned plus either Joey Ramsden or Brett Crawford.
Start with TV
While The Stipes are trying to figure out the lightning detectors at the Big T (great article, Mike de Kock!), one wonders whether it’s time to look after our good looking jocks and world class thoroughbreds and spare a thought for the fact that it’s long overdue that local horse racing realized it’s time to change the image NOW. I’ve been involved in TV for over 50 years and in horse racing since the late 70’s and really feel I am qualified to say ‘guys, please start with TV’. Never in my opinion, has racing in SA been in a stronger position from every single point of view except from the TV coverage, which is abysmal. That’s not meant to be a knock, it’s just a fact, but it can be fixed.
With rumours of Government intervention and thoughts about following the Hong Kong model, how come South African racing and its profits are going into the back pockets of shareholders of a listed company? Pondering these imponderables, I took another sip of Shiraz, watched a couple of races and rather let excitement get the better of me as we were treated to a glorious ten whole minutes coverage of the horses in the Parade Ring – allowing me hope that there might be more to come for the fabulous Thoroughbreds lined up for later.
Penny wise, pound foolish?
However, the flow was jarred with the delay to Turffontein’s race 3. The hold up illustrated the frailty of having only one presenter to carry the entire load. Julie Alexander struggled to fill air time while Lady Cristina was reshod and viewers at home twiddled their thumbs. The single presenter decision was taken to save costs, as reinforced by Mike de Kock pointing out that turnover and attendances are on the slide. However, scenarios such as this force the question why, when there are such obvious and glaring inadequacies, 50% of the reported two hundred million it takes to run the industry makes its way into the hands of the shareholders as dividends? The Industry surely could be better served if (some of) that money was set aside for the development of horse racing and an increase in stakes, translating into a healthier sport and industry. Our breeders, mainly the smaller ones, are dying out and the smaller owners are not far behind. We need to reverse these trends! Government must ask some questions and get involved, hopefully a white paper from our Minister of Finance, not the President!
Back to our single presenter problem and watching Julie, who is one of the best I have trained, floundering a couple of times and baring all – well nearly – one has to come to the conclusion that there’s something seriously wrong. Why, when there is footage of two local meetings running concurrently and there are delays with one, doesn’t the Producer simply switch to the other? Especially if the other is the day’s big feature with, presumably, the lion’s share of the day’s betting turnover?
Leading up to Kenilworth race 2, we had Vicky doing her thing as a voice over on a split screen with Julie doing hers up at Turffontein. The Producer cut from one to the other with no intro from the studio and viewers were put through some strenuous mental gymnastics to work out which picture to watch!
Back to Kenilworth Race 3, the first glimpse of the horses was the canter down with 9 minutes to the off. This was not very promising with the big races to come and two additional international meetings to try and squeeze in. Trying to cover four meetings at once is just one of the reasons channel 239 is not watched by outsiders – you have to be a devout racing fan to make head or tail of it! The whole thing was hit and miss, giving the general feel that the production team were flying by the seat of their pants and I was being constantly bombarded with owners and mares, sorry, mates slinging off about the hopeless coverage.
Then we were subjected to a different set of betting odds on screen, but without any accompanying voiceover. Then voices fading in without a crossing into a race and the viewer at home left to try and fathom which was which. GENTLEMEN, TellyTrack’s channel 239 is the voice and image of the sport and the horse racing industry. Bearing in mind that you are judged against the likes of Super Sport, are you truly happy with this dog’s breakfast?
I have been involved for decades with the leaders and administrators of most sports and they are constantly updating their coverage. Take the IPL T Twenty as an example – it’s an exciting product and they make use of players in order to provide an inside view and bring the game alive for viewers. Just look at the past internationals Jackman, Bishop, Pollock, Wessells and many more. By contrast, I have trained and coached top jockeys from the past and they tell me they don’t like TellyTrack’s coverage and are not prepared to be part of the way they do things. What a massive opportunity passing us by.
Back to the racing, sort of
With 11 mins to the off of race 4, we were treated to shots of a few of the horses leaving the Parade Ring, this accompanied by our Studio Presenter discussing the soccer pools! Then a couple of minutes silence before Stan introduced a venue for the aged having a festive occasion! While it is a commendable gesture, it was hard to reconcile that this was the lead up to the rest of the afternoon’s top notch racing.
The pattern stayed pretty much the same, with coverage cutting in and out of the 4 different race meetings, interspersed with the odd interview pre-recorded at the stables sometime during the week. It felt very bitty and I have to feel sorry for Stan and Vicky in particular, who really tried to lift her presentation.
The main event
But let’s deal with the build up to the big race. This consisted of a large gulp of Shiraz because there quite simply wasn’t any build up. I hate to dwell on this, but for the decades Robin Bruss and myself covered this race for the SABC, we had top, world class producers who would tie in with Dieter Wohlberg and TellyTrack and it rated right up alongside our coverage of cricket, golf, rugby etc. One only needs to look at the list of past winners to appreciate what a truly great sporting event this is on our calendar. Variety Club won it in 2011 for Markus Jooste and went on to give him a thrilling ride all over the world, developing him into an international owner, international breeder, dare I say it Markus, maybe even more important than your international business!
Due to trying to cover 4 meetings, the Producer decided to flight things in chronological running order and there was no crossing to the Parade ring to view the Guineas runners. Surely to goodness, it would be OK to pop back and forth to the other races with quick live updates from Kenilworth to build up the Guineas? Television is about immersing people in events as they unfold and bringing people to love watching the sport. We saw none of that on Saturday.
That awful camera angle
It was a great shame to miss the runners on parade as it is a fantastic part of the race and for many viewers it’s the first chance to see some of these fabulous 3yo’s. But in the end, with 5 minutes to the off, we were left with the usual view of anonymous backsides (horse and human) receding off into the distance courtesy of that horrid camera angle. Stan and Vicky were left with so little time and justice surely was not done to the race sponsor, Grand Parade Investments and particularly to one of the most dynamic businessmen, horse owner, breeder and administrator for WP racing, Hassen Adams, the boss man who has done so much for Cape Racing.
Another sip of Shiraz. I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that I haven’t seen the horses in the parade ring, haven’t seen them going down and have 3 minutes left to see this massive race. I’m absolutely bemused and downright disappointed. If I put my Gold Circle hat on for the moment, if TellyTrack did that to the Daily News, I don’t think they’d be invited back again !
No mess, no fuss
We did get coverage of the race itself and then, with no ceremony or post race fuss, Kenilworth and our day’s main event were dispatched with and coverage peremptorily switched to the next venue. Viewers around the country could be forgiven for wondering what on earth was going on – and quite why they’d bothered to tune in in the first place!
MJ Byleveld rode a great race, Vaughan Marshall is a consummate professional and one could see by his emotions after the race how much this humble man deserved his moment. Plus the relationship between trainer and jockey is an example to the industry – sticking with each other through thick and thin. This is one of the good stories in racing and we missed it!
Instead of a glorious day of the very best of the country’s 3yo’s battling for supremacy at our flagship racecourse and a celebration for some of our long-standing racing men, it was a sad anti-climax to what should have been one of our headline meetings of the year. They don’t come around that often – how hard can it really be to make a little extra fuss and treat viewers to an entertaining day’s coverage with all the pomp and build up a race of this stature deserves? Having assisted WP Racing with all their SABC coverage from 1976 till the turn of the century, I can’t remember anything like this inexplicable performance. There is no excuse for not having Fiona, who did a stout job on horseback with the winning jockey, in the parade ring to bring the event alive. Something. Anything! But no, our top Classic was dismissed with about as much ceremony as a bog standard maiden. What a shocker! And what a pity.