The Irish Outsider: September 18th 2013

An Irish Outsider

An Irish Outsider

The Irish Outsider – September 18th, 2013

An Open Letter to the Turf Club,

To Whom It May Concern at the Turf Club,

I love Irish racing and rate it the best in the world in a pure sense; we have great trainers, jockeys, racecourses and not least horses.

All of this makes what I’m going to write more difficult but for all our great qualities as a racing nation, we remain, in the words of chief flat handicapper Gary O’Gorman, a ‘third world racing country’ in terms of our data availability and dissemination of such information.

Back in March 2012, I sent a similar open letter to this to all 25 racetracks in Ireland, Laytown excepted, making the same requests as are listed below. The response was minimal; only five even replied and their answers were for the most part deeply unsatisfactory.

It is difficult to draw any conclusion other than the obvious; that in terms of relaying vital information to the betting public, the tracks have copped out, coming out with such comments as they haven’t got time (see Ballinrobe in recent weeks), and seem quite content with getting away with the bare minimum of work in this regard.

Perhaps such laziness is human nature and we can all do the same but it is not acceptable and it is time for a dictum to come from the relevant authorities, namely the Turf Club, as to how this area is to be managed. I am not expecting a data revolution in terms of knowledge of breathing operations or mares in foal or even pre-race weighing of horses; rather, my proposals are modest and focus on two key areas:

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1. Going updates

That the Irish climate is changeable is sometimes given as a reason why going updates and weather forecasts for individual tracks are not better publicised; on the contrary, it is because of this variance in weather that updates should be given and it is certainly not an excuse.

Tracks should update the ground at all the key stages: when the 5-day entries for a fixture are released; on the morning of declarations; early in the morning of race-day; and, perhaps most importantly, any other time between the last two stages when the ground changes. All too often there is an information vacuum between declaration stage and the final alterations to the card an hour before the first and it is time to fill this black hole.

Some courses have improved in this regard in the last year or so but what we need is absolute consistency of response across all tracks. Forecasts need to be expressed probabilistically; after all you are dealing with punters who think about probability all the time, this is what they do.

As for actual weather conditions at the track in the run up to race-day, some sort of individual standardised weather station that could be hooked up to the Irish Weather Network or the Turf Club’s own website could be the way to go. They are available for a nominal cost – you would have change out of €600 – and would take the pressure off some of the tracks reporting and I’m sure they’ve already got something in place for measuring rainfall.

 2. Rail movements

The term ‘about’, as used to describe race distances, needs to be eradicated from the Irish racing lexicon. What we need are exact distances, down to the yard, and if that means sending a racecourse employee out on the track the evening before racing with trundle wheel then so be it.

A relaxed attitude to the distance races are being run over needs to stop; such attitudes were exemplified by the comments in the Irish Field by Naas racecourse manager Tom Ryan in response to John Lynam after the 2012 June Bank Holiday meeting and in an email by Turf Club employee Vincent Hughes to PJ Walsh a few weeks back in which he said he ‘would question the usefulness of knowing whether a race is run over a couple of yards more or less than that stated.’

Even a casual viewer of Irish racing can recognise that some courses have utterly different track configurations from one meeting to the next. Moving rails to preserve ground is of course an important part of husbandry but it is time to tell punters about these movements; I have little doubt that all movements are noted in detail at each track so there should be little problem in making this information public.

To focus on another of Hughes’ points in said email, he also stated that race conditions were published about a month in advance and it may not be ‘practicable’ for tracks to measure distances closer to the day; this is moot point and it should be made practicable.

I for one would love to be able to study sectional times on Irish tracks, to deepen my understanding of a sport I am passionate about, but I have little faith in the distances races are being run over so why waste the effort?

We live in an era of Big Data, where seemingly every conceivable figure is measured, but Irish racing takes no part in this and could even be said to actively work against it; even Mediocre Data would be a huge improvement. The modern sports fan, who is obviously the future of the sport, wants to know these things and if the Turf Club decides not to provide it, they will go elsewhere for their sporting fix; give us the information and let us decide how we will use it.

I eagerly await your response.

Yours, in sport,

Tony Keenan,

An Irish racing punter.


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