COUNTDOWN TO THE FLAT: IT’S ABOUT TIME: It’s been a long, lonely winter for Flat fans but here comes the sun, and the start of the English season at Doncaster this weekend. Daqman says of new trials at the big meetings this year: it’s about time!

The problem with authority is it never likes to blame itself. As we approach a new Flat-racing season, we leave behind over the jumps the charade of the whips controversy and the flag-waving Champion Chase official.

Has nothing changed since Flag Waving Man failed one day to call back the field in the Grand National? For jockeys and trainers, racing officialdom is a necessary evil in everyday administration.

And in the greater scheme of things, like any government, it obeys the politician’s law – ‘we must do something; this is something; let’s do it’ – but needs massive pressure to act on matters that really do need attending to.

I have to be selfish and say that, unless my wallet is affected, I don’t often get involved. But there are areas in which my wallet, and yours as a punter, is seriously compromised.

Soccer has hung fire on the obvious – goal-line technology – in complete disregard for the actual result of the match, whereas another sport which relies on a painted line (tennis) has had an electronic ‘umpire’ since 1993 (though it was available to the sport from 1974).

Racing is ahead in this area, if you like: new digital technology that can record 10,000 frames a second is used to determine a photo-finish.

In fact, it probably goes too far, and there are times when a dead-heat would be fairer: like the drugs laws, when a stray polo-mint can result in disqualification for detection of a ‘prohibited substance’ to the Nth decimal place, so – by blowing up (and up!) the vital finish frame – a horse can be awarded a race by the width of a postage stamp.

Yes, give officialdom a toy of its own initiative and it will over-enthuse and, as we found with speed cameras, fine as many of the population as use cars or, in racing’s case, whips.

But you don’t have to be Sepp Blatter to know that the bureaucrat will not easily be moved by the needs of others; it takes a generation to get to him, as if accepting an obvious requirement somehow loses him his power; Samson on a bad hair day.

The pressing matter in horse racing of sectional timing has had desultory attention but is a matter of urgency all round, topical at a time when memories of Frankel’s feats will be revived.

Only 19 racedays will be covered this year, mainly the big festivals – trust them to choose meetings where pace is almost guaranteed – but it’s a start. Let’s hope it’s not the false start that we had on AW tracks.

Now that exchange betting is dominant, and laying a horse is commonplace, we need sectional race timing, particularly up to a mile and a half, at every meeting.

When a horse goes clear in a race, when a heat seems to be fast, or seems to be slow, punters need confirmation of that, as fact, furlong by furlong, or quarter by quarter, during the contest.

They need it at the time – or a punter may lay a horse which in fact is only cruising – and they need it for form study after the event, so that they have confirmation of the shape of the race.
And they need it for a long-term view of what conditions, and what shape of race, a particular horse needs to show his best form.

There were supposed to be sectional-timing microchips in 2,000 Guineas saddles but it didn’t happen. So it was that some marveled at Frankel; others thought that the jockeys behind must have given up; did they think he was the pacemaker?

I’d prefer to have had sectional timing for the previous year’s Dewhurst when Frankel blew them away; was this all it appeared to be? We couldn’t tell without knowing whether they all went flat out and he was a freak, or whether they all waited as though he would come back to the field.

We have to rely on hand times taken from recordings of our races, which some of my Australian counterparts have a good laugh about.

But now that, more and more, in many parts of the globe, exchange betting on English racing is a night-time affair, disgruntled punters are saying that our authorities need to wake up. The Aussie is not a man to hide his contempt.

Quick to ban jockeys and fine trainers, eager to spot a racegoer who is not wearing a tie, but unable to tell you the time of day. That’s how our racing officials appear to the rest of the world.

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