“What are we on?”
“Where are we?”
“Out wide, in the blue”
“The light blue?”
“Nah, the navy”
“Ah shit, what?”
“Yeah that wasn’t us. We were on the other one.”
The memory isn’t 100% clear from the Guineas on Saturday, but I definitely overhead that conversation from punters trying to follow their bets on the TV screen. And I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard variations of it over the years.
At the risk of taking into account those who aren’t obsessed with racing… a lot of the time it’s not that easy to follow if you don’t know what you’re looking at.
But it really shouldn’t be.
It’s a bunch of horses running for first past the post. It doesn’t get much more simple than that and the most popular sports in the world are often the simplest.
The real, basic thrill of horse racing, what gets people hooked, is the magical feeling when your runner gets clear in the straight and the dollar signs rise with the realisation that the work has paid off.
Why would racing risk people even potentially missing that? Because it does happen, a lot more often than some might think.
There’s a few areas of the race coverage which, taking a step back, seem to not make a lot of sense in 2016. Consider a few examples:
The most basic aspect (pardon the pun) of coverage is the view. Racing gets the straight and the finish right.
That works because it’s close to the action and elevated. So why isn’t the rest of the race broadcast that way? Why are we stuck with telescopic views from the other side of the suburb making it difficult to make out which runner is which?
75% of the screen real estate is taken up by the periphery. It doesn’t make any sense.
Would it be beyond the realms of possibility to put a few cameras around the inside of the track so that every section is covered from a close, elevated angle, recreating the traditional view of the straight all the way around the course?
We occasionally go to the shot from the car on the pace, but it’s too low and you’re usually left staring at a collection of running rails in front of the horse.
There’s been talk of drones but do we really need to wait for that? Put them on a post. Run them along a wire like they do with the footy. It can’t be that hard.
The helicopter shots used by the commercial networks have their place, but you lose a bit of perspective. Beside the track and elevated is the way to go.
This seems to be one very basic area we don’t even look at. Why on earth would you have two runners in a race in the exact same colours? It happens far too often, and there’s enough combinations of colours and patterns to avoid it.
The colours represent the stable? Big deal. The colours of Arsenal, Richmond or the Broncos are fairly familiar too. Doesn’t mean they don’t switch them around when they need to. Stables are capable of employing a clash strip.
There are of course iconic racing colours for some high profile horses, but they don’t need to be the ones changing anyway.
This is a more complex issue that is far more detailed than what we’re looking at here, but at what point do fields become too big and messy on the eye?
It’s a particular problem on carnival days where you often see fields nearing twenty for almost every race. Of course everybody wants to have a runner on the big days, but is racing sacrificing the overall quality of the product to satisfy this? That’s of course the time when the most non-racing people are watching. What about their experience?
Do we really need so many runners clogging up the fields and the screen, particularly when they’re horses that can’t win anyway? It only exacerbates the issues we’ve already talked about.
Ideally, I think tight, high quality fields of 12 – 14 runners each work the best. Once it starts to get beyond this, you really have to question why they’re there.
Obviously there’s cost involved in all of these changes, but I’m not talking about sweeping changes at every bush meeting across the country. Saturday racing at metro tracks is the product to be sold here, and that’s where the changes could (and should) happen. The industry can afford to spend a little money making a more attractive product for what is clearly the number one ticketholder for all sport: television.