Thursday, 19 June 2014

Another Job I Couldn't Do...

Spare a thought for Ian Bartlett, John Hunt and Simon Holt this weekend. They are the men who will be calling home the 28 runners competing for the Wokingham Stakes at Royal Ascot on Saturday: Ian Bartlett over the racecourse PA system, John Hunt for BBC 5 Live and Simon Holt for Channel 4 television.
Run over a distance of 6 furlongs, for a prize of £175,000, the race is one of the most important sprints of the year and normally you’d expect it to be all over in about 72 seconds. I’ve just tried to read out the names of all 28 runners and it took me exactly 36 seconds – so there might just be time to mention them all twice. However, imagine that they are galloping down a straight track, head-on, in three separate groups, at nearly 40mph, some of them with similar coloured silks … and that you are trying to name them in roughly the correct order.

I stumbled a bit over the horse called Trinityelitedotcom and I’m not quite sure how you pronounce Saayerr. If I were a commentator I don’t think I’d bother mentioning those ones… Unless they’re in front right at the end, in which case I don’t suppose the commentators will have much choice. It’s a shame for the owners; I’m sure they’d like to hear their horses’ names being mentioned – but that’s also a good incentive for owners to keep their horses’ names short and simple. I’d like that and I bet the commentators would too.
I once marvelled at a commentary that Simon Holt gave from within a thick sea-fret at Goodwood. I commented how well he had done considering that I couldn’t see any horses at all. He said that he couldn’t either, but then nor could anyone else - and there weren’t any complaints.

It should be a much easier trick to pull off on radio, where no one can actually see whether the horses in front are the ones you are calling. But radio has an added pressure in that you also have to paint the scene. The best radio commentators are somehow descriptive of the mood as well as accurate at conveying the action and I love the way they create an atmosphere without the aid of pictures.
Track records have been tumbling at Royal Ascot this year, so the chances are that there will be even less time than usual for the commentators to get their words out. When a course record falls a defensive Clerk of the Course might claim "The ground isn’t too fast, we moved the rails and the course is fractionally shorter". That wouldn't really wash on the straight course at Ascot, not that I think there’s anything wrong with the going there.
I suppose, if they wanted to slow the horses up a bit, they could move the rails and put in a chicane half way down the track. That would put a new slant on the analysis of the draw (each horse’s position in the starting stalls ranging across the track) and it would create an interesting challenge for the commentators – as if they needed any more.
Obviously the winner of this year’s Wokingham (and my selection for this week) is Annunciation.

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