Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Weighty matters on a winter night


Even worse this time: 13 days between chapters.  It's the 24th of the month and only my second post on here.  Pathetic.  Still, better late than never, so here we go.  I can't even say that there's not much going on, and use that as an excuse for not putting anything up here; but in fact it's the opposite.  Too much going on.  But, in fairness, it's not really anything going on which is worth writing about; it's just the daily grind.  But there's plenty of it, hence there never being enough hours in the day.  But I should put something up, so I'll do so now, and will ramble on in a direction which presented itself a couple of weeks ago.



I've got another Sunday Forum booking this coming Sunday, which will be nice.  We'll have to see what we end up discussing (the Cheltenham Festival is likely to feature, of course) and I doubt that it'll be the subject of weighing horses.  But that was what they were talking about the other day.  And, gee, there was some nonsense spoken.  Basically, the refrain was, "We have to have horses' weights published", which is an admirable sentiment, until one comes to think about it.  When I hear such opinions being spouted, I do tend to think about it, even though I suspect that the spouters don't.  And, when you do think about it, it's not a very good idea.



The first point to consider is the issue of when the horses are weighed.  We've been pushed fairly far down the road of getting the betting going early.  So, if the horses' weights are going to be an important factor in punters' calculations (and there's not much point in getting this going if it isn't) then it's important to get the information out there early.  In other words, it needs to be in the morning papers, along with the other important factors, ie jockey, weight, draw, likely going etc.  So the horses need to be weighed the previous day.


We'll come back to that in a minute, though, because first we'll look at how it would work if they were only going to be weighed once they had arrived at the racecourse, which would be the easier.  We aim to get to the races three hours before the race, so even if we get held up in traffic for an hour, we're still there two hours before the race.  Getting there three hours before the race, we find that on the Flat we're among the later arrivers, but over jumps we're one of the earlier ones.  But that's by the by.  If we say that horses are going to get there three hours before the race, how on earth are they all going to be weighed in time?


For people who don't know what's involved in handling horses, weighing horses is simple: you just weigh them. But, in practice, it's hard and time-consuming.  It's easier to get a horse into the starting stalls than on to the weighing machine, but it's harder to get them onto the weighing machine so that the weight recorded is accurate.  The thing is that the weighing pad is not a solid footing, so horses feel uneasy standing on it, and it's very hard to get them to stand still for a few seconds, which is what is required for an accurate reading.



Furthermore, the horse does not need merely to be standing still: he needs to be standing still while not being pushed or pulled, and he has to have his head left free.  If the man holding him is putting any pressure on him - pulling his head, pushing him, pulling him back or forward, steadying him - then the man is either taking some of the horse's weight himself or is adding to the horse's weight, depending on whether what is happening is the man taking some of the horse's weight or the horse taking some of the man's weight.  Unless a horse is accustomed to being weighed, you're just not going to get an accurate reading - or if you are, it'll only be after a long period of pushing and pulling him around.


And then you have to consider who will weigh him.  You might need several people, so effectively you'll need a team of stalls handlers to help.  And you'll have to consider other points.  Bearing in mind that you're going to be weighing quite a lot of horses in a short period, how long do you allow each horse before you give up?  Some of the experienced ones will only take a few seconds, but some of the inexperienced ones might take half an hour.  And, bearing in mind that there's a limit to how many times a horse can be hit in the race, the stewards are obviously going to have to decide the limit to the coercion permitted.  And how worked up do you allow the horse to become before you decide not to weigh him, bearing in mind that if he gets too wound up beforehand, he's probably going to underperform in the race?



So the horses who don't get weighed - do you make them non-runners, or do you decide that they can run without a published weight?  And when horses are held up in traffic and there isn't time to get them weighed irrespective of whether or not they are easy or difficult to weigh, do you make them non-runners, or just let them run with no published weight.  My estimate would be that of every 10 runners, you would have accurate weights (ie accurate to within, say, 5 kilos) for four of them, inaccurate weights for three of them, and no published weight for three of them.  Would that make the project worthwhile?  Or would it just be useless?  Or would it be worse than useless?  My money would be on the last one.


But really they have to be weighed the previous day if the information is going to be disseminated in time for it to be useful.  How is this going to work?  Do you bring them to the races the previous day?  Does each stable have its own set of scales?  If the latter, does each trainer, with his staff obviously, weigh his own horses and supply the weight, or does a BHA team go to each stable to do the job?  When you consider that pretty much every stable in the country is understaffed (even the ones which make a big profit, because it's not a matter of money, but the fact that there aren't the people around to fill the vacancies) you'd really need to have the BHA team doing the job - particularly as Monday racing would mean that the stable staff couldn't have the Sunday off, bearing in mind that in many stables you'd need the complete complement of staff there to weigh the horse who was running the next day.


If it was just a case of the trainer and his staff weighing the horse, in reality with the difficult horses one wouldn't weigh them.  One would just guess.  It would be, "What did we say that this horse weighed when he ran last time?  460?  Well, he looks like he's got a bit stronger since then, so shall we say 466?".  It just wouldn't work however you look at things.  It would be very feasible in jurisdictions where the horses are trained on the track, and in jurisdictions where there are plenty of Jockey Club employees and staff floating around.  You'd just get in a routine of going round the stables every night and weighing horses every day.  It would become a run-of-the-mill event, and the pre-race weighing would be a formality.


But in the UK, where the stables are all around the country, and where racing is chronically underfunded, it just couldn't happen in anything like a satisfactory manner.  And if it's happening is going to be woefully inaccurate and unsatisfactory, how can supposedly intelligent people think it a project worth advocating?  Well, maybe the advocates of this idea understand what is involved a lot better than I do.  Or maybe they just haven't actually thought it through very well, because any time I've ever heard it proposed, I've never even heard an opinion on when it should be done, never mind how it could be done feasibly and accurately.


If the weighing became compulsory (whether that means that one has to attempt to weigh a horse before he runs, or whether it means that you do actually have to weigh him in a manner which produces a reasonably accurate weight) then Indira would have to be weighed in advance of next Tuesday, because she is likely to run at Lingfield then.  She'll be our next runner.  We've had a runner this week - Cherry Street ran OK at Wolverhampton on Monday on his first run for this stable - and we had one last week, when Zarosa again found the really testing winter conditions too much on what was otherwise a lovely day at Fontwell (seen here).  We'll wait with her until we get conditions more suitable for a Flat-bred horse, and see what happens next time.

2 comments:

David Winter said...

John...you really had me chuckling reading your disposition about weighing bloody horses. There is a huge gap in the understanding of the animals between people who own, race or train them and the punter, who try to treat them like automons. I guess it's all part of the fun of keeping said punters interested and investing by dangling more carrots before to them with the hope they find the key to nirvana. Even the TV pundits go into limitless minutiae in trying to find the winner.
I have heard it all now I think, from " I fancy this one because it's been clipped out since its last race"..to " It won't win because it only runs left handed with a following wind ". Even [ and it will be impossible to implement in any relevant manner as you so humourously put] we do publish weights, only the professionals, and more specifically its trainer, will be able to interpret it's meaning in any substantive way. Other than the trainer, who would know what work regime it had had recently, what feeding program it had be on and had it changed recently.
The other major factor to assess in the chances of a horse winning is whether it is placed to win on any single occasion or as a step in its education/experience, almost irrespective of form,weight ..... or whether it's clipped out or not !
Great post John.....

David Winter said...

John...you really had me chuckling reading your disposition about weighing bloody horses. There is a huge gap in the understanding of the animals between people who own, race or train them and the punter, who try to treat them like automons. I guess it's all part of the fun of keeping said punters interested and investing by dangling more carrots before to them with the hope they find the key to nirvana. Even the TV pundits go into limitless minutiae in trying to find the winner.
I have heard it all now I think, from " I fancy this one because it's been clipped out since its last race"..to " It won't win because it only runs left handed with a following wind ". Even [ and it will be impossible to implement in any relevant manner as you so humourously put] we do publish weights, only the professionals, and more specifically its trainer, will be able to interpret it's meaning in any substantive way. Other than the trainer, who would know what work regime it had had recently, what feeding program it had be on and had it changed recently.
The other major factor to assess in the chances of a horse winning is whether it is placed to win on any single occasion or as a step in its education/experience, almost irrespective of form,weight ..... or whether it's clipped out or not !
Great post John.....