James Willoughby has written many fine things along the road, but nothing better than the piece I have just read in the June edition of the Kingsley Klarion on riding tactics and timings.
It’s utterly exasperating how racecourses and press alike wilfully ignore sectional times in their discussion of tactics, and if you give them half a chance they will ignore the final time as well. Three track records were broken on the first day at Royal Ascot and yet racegoers were never informed on the public address, and while we got many things right on ITV during the meeting, we got this one wrong.
For, with no planned record check, Jason Weaver misheard the time for the St James’s Palace Stakes (which was actually a course best) as two seconds slower than the record, and so he went into a long riff about how Ryan Moore had Churchill badly positioned behind a slow pace. Jason was the victim of a flawed system, but so too were the viewers and racing in general.
In our defence, ITV are only reflecting a wider malaise. We did at least start to display the winning times on subsequent days, and we will be looking to improve on this and to see what progress can be made on this my favourite hobby horse, the lack of sectional times. I defy anyone to say that it would not be interesting to know which horse ran the fastest individual furlong and fastest closing furlong on each day, and indeed over the whole week. Or to claim that straightforward comparisons of the time taken to run the same distance are not illuminating. Yet despite all this, the great bulk of professional racing folk continue to consider times not worth bothering about.
For example, the Diamond Jubilee win by The Tin Man on the Saturday of Royal Ascot meant that one of the most anticipated races of the summer will be the July Cup at Newmarket on July 15, where The Tin Man’s principal rival could be Caravaggio, who at Ascot on the Friday had been a brilliant winner over the same 6 furlongs in the Commonwealth Cup. The fact that (under admittedly slightly more favourable conditions) The Tin Man took 1m 12.02 seconds to run the distance while Caravaggio clocked only 1m 13.49 just 24 hours earlier is not a conclusive argument as to the merits of the two horses, but it beggars belief that a sport which at heart is no more and no less than equine athletics does not even discuss it.
I have talked about all this for years with Brendan Foster, one of Britain’s greatest athletes on the track, where lap times are crucial. He thinks I am joking! Even now I bet most racing people don’t know that the finish of most races is an optical illusion, with the last furlong slower, rather than faster, than those before it. How bad must my broadcasting career have been that in 45 years I haven’t even been able to even get that across?
Thanks again to James for such a lucid exposition and to Mark for continuing to fly the flag of logic in an illogical world.