Racehorse owner wants misleading track bulletins to be going, going, gone
British Horseracing Authority Racehorse owner wants misleading track bulletins to be going, going, gone Ritchie Fiddes: ‘We don’t feel able to trust going descriptions’
British Horseracing Authority says it will be ‘talking to tracks’
Those in racing who complain about inaccuracies in the going descriptions provided by racecourses have a new champion in the owner Ritchie Fiddes, a multi-millionaire from his work in IT who is now intent on helping to cajole this most traditional sport into the 21st century. Fiddes has been lobbying the Turf’s ruling body on this topic, has been pleased with the response and believes progress will be made.
Fiddes, whose racing interests include a share in the popular sprinter Easton Angel, stresses that he has much sympathy with the clerks of the course whose job it is to describe the state of the ground at their track. “I understand that they’re doing their best,” he said on Monday. “But the going descriptions at times are factually wrong and it should be a simple thing to correct and resolve. There’s a general improvement that can be made.”
Nor is this, for him, an issue solely for owners. Fiddes points out that trainers and punters depend on accurate descriptions, while jockeys can have their day ruined by non-runners if the racing surface turns out to be other than advertised.
Fiddes has nothing but praise for the team who manage York, the nearest major track to his Ripon home, but does not have similar faith in many other venues. “At the moment we don’t feel able to trust the going descriptions that we’re being given. We’re having to walk the course on the day in order to take our own view.
“But by the time you’re there it’s really too late to be finding out that the ground is not what you expected. You’ve paid for the horse to get there, you’re there with your nice suit on, your friends and your family might be there as well. And your preparation has been for that race. There’s too much at stake to get there and find that the going is wrong.”
Fiddes also fears that clerks are rather too ready to irrigate their tracks, with the result that opportunities for fast-ground horses are harder to find. “Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to see a return to the rattling firm ground of the past, the type of ground that injures horses or results in lots of non-runners. But as things are now, there’s a cultural aspect to this; people are shying away from good to firm ground with no jar as if it were dangerous.
“There are also safety issues involved. There have been meetings abandoned this year because over-watering causes tracks to be loose on top. That’s dangerous, especially on the bends. A small amount of rain in those situations can cause a track to become loose and slippy.”
Fiddes says he got an excellent response when he took his concerns to the British Horseracing Authority: “They’re proactive in areas where they can be but they always need more resources and their spectrum is so broad, it’s impossible for them to see everything that goes on at all times. They have responded with interest when I’ve approached them. They have acted on it and, as an owner, I can’t ask for any more.”
The BHA’s spokesman, Robin Mounsey, confirmed: “We are always interested in the views of owners and have spent some time with Mr Fiddes discussing various constructive questions he has raised about the going. We are always looking to see how we can work with racecourses to improve the service which our customers receive and have also been gathering wider views on this topic for some time. We will be speaking to the racecourses about various ideas we have on this front, and other areas, in the near future.
“One development which we are looking forward to introducing is a new software system which will allow clerks of the course to provide more detailed information about the going, and more quickly, via a mobile app.”
On all known form, such a development will be taken up and used enthusiastically by some clerks and quietly forgotten by others. But Mounsey added that the BHA’s meetings with clerks in the near future will be an excellent opportunity to stress the benefits of providing accurate and reliable information at a time when all courses are keen to attract full fields of runners.