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Saturday, 20 October, 2018

Absence of commercialism gives Ascot site a classy feel

Robin Gibson wades through racing's digital swamp

Royal Ascot racegoers: typically, Lee Marvin is their favourite celebrity
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It's highly likely everyone is sick of polls. But a weighted survey of Surf & Turf since it began (2011 apparently) shows that every year about now it's Royal Ascot.

And with reason. It's great to read about Bitcoin or Julia Feilden, but these are minority interests. Royal Ascot, with Cheltenham and the National, is the strongest racing bait of the year.

The Ascot site is, as always, good. It has class. As expected – but not everything that ought to have class does. Look at the Tory party (I mocked Labour four weeks ago, so this is just balance – sorry Tories).

Part of its class is the lack of commercialism. Nothing about conferences or car boot sales, although there is news that Christy is Ascot's official textile supplier. Christy is an unfamiliar name – TK Maxx satisfies textile needs around here – but it's versatile. It will be supplying products "from horse blankets to table linen and, it goes without saying, towels". But why? When did towels become a vogue product?

The big thing for Ascot is the new village enclosure. It's trumpeted with the line "Every great tradition has its beginning", putting it right in the tradition of great traditions, even though it's not started.

The village "offers the best of contemporary British summertime". Dunno about that – depends where you are, innit? Whole summers go by when I never meet anyone who's wearing a bowler hat, far less have them make me a cocktail. Anyway, the music on the trailer is superb. Don't know who it is, but here it is. 

Talking of polls (we were), despite/because of those ludicrous/prophetic (delete later) forecasts by YouGov, the site is addictive. Keeps you heading back like Ray Milland hunting bottles in The Lost Weekend. I even signed up.

Once you join, they ask you questions, based presumably on your interests. After about three topics it becomes boring. During the rigmarole I commented about Millwall FC that I admired their defiance in adversity. Throwaway remark, but 36 people voted on my opinion. Thirty-six actually voted on it.

Come on! What sort of poll-hog roots around at this level? Have they nothing better to do – anything – than vote on comments about Millwall? And how much does their opinion weigh on the surveys spewed daily by media?

A few months ago I highlighted YouGov's entertaining profile of a racing fan. Now for Royal Ascot fans. Your average racing fan was a borderline rightwinger, living grimly up north with no spending money (but a yen for asparagus soup). The Royal Ascot fan is a different summer vegetable. He's still male, but has a grand in spare cash every month. He's more rightwing – practically a blackshirt, going by YouGov's dial – and more Welsh/Midlander-ish. He's  employed in sport, or possibly military and defence. Rarely in translation and interpretation.

Who can possibly make use of this data? It's not only self-selecting, it's random. Just a laugh. How can Lee Marvin be anyone's favourite celebrity?! There must be someone better. Yet he's number one for Ascot fans. Is this weighted? For Lee Marvin, to make sure he gets a fair hearing? He rarely does well in public votes these days.

Royal Ascot does well in the polls compared to greyhound racing. About 38 per cent of YouGovvers really don't like it and only seven per cent really do. That's a shame, but shameless connections with no scruples have gradually sullied the sport in the view of the public and its presence is waning if not yet expiring. YouGov profiles say dogs fans are leftwing, though. Just left of centre. No sign of Lee Marvin. They like Arthur Askey, Status Quo and the Larry Sanders Show – another kettle of queer fish.

The Greyhound Derby has moved out of London after the capital's last track standing fell over. Google didn't know that on Monday, though. The knowledge panel (that box at the side) said it was at Wimbledon. I sent a correction (you can do that easily, straight from the box) at 2.41pm and by Wednesday they'd changed it – and added a picture! So it's all been worthwhile.

There's no official Greyhound Derby site but Star Sports, the new sponsor, has a neat section with expert assessment in the video vault.

The custodians of the sport must be careful. A bit more – just any – sparkly online promotion would be welcome. Unsparkly promotion can be found here. Retro in style, retrospective in outlook, it seems to be from the keyboard of John Slusar, who wrote the four-volume Racecourses Here Today And Gone Tomorrow reviewed here recently.

It's called greyhoundderby.com but has more: horseracing, speedway and rugby league too. And it is a superb site – the kind you can just read and read, without logging in via Facebook, getting battered by pop-ups or answering questions about which supermarkets you're aware of (all of them, really).

Everyone knows there were old tracks, but this many? I'd no idea there were dogs in Brixton for seven years in the 1930s. At 0° 6' W 51° 28' N. Near Loughborough Junction. An interesting little snippet on Battersea too: "In February 1937 the track was purchased by the GRA who endeavoured to close it and build an ice rink on the land." See?

Twitter: @surfnturfRP

The Royal Ascot fan is still male, but has a grand in spare cash every month. He's more rightwing – practically a blackshirt
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