Simply the best? Contested case of Arrogate proves more complex than that
Robin Gibson straddles racing's international digital divide
There are some positives to social media. It's made it much more likely that people will spend time checking their phone before they get out of bed, rather than smoking a couple of fags. So the period between waking and rising is much less likely now to be a contributing factor to terminal illness or fire.
But does that mean they're happy? Not if reports about social media overuse and addiction are credible. The Apple bloke doesn't even want the young to use social media at all! Overuse and addiction are making everyone tired, confused and spiritually drained.
If you think you've got it bad, spare a thought for Longines, the IFHA and other parties to the World's Best Racehorse Rankings. They must have been tired, confused and spiritually drained for weeks before the announcement on Tuesday of the world's best racehorse. Everyone knew, intuitively, that the IFHA was about as likely to downgrade Arrogate as the Pope was to downgrade his Catholicism.
So people had been droning on for ages about how Winx/Cracksman/Gun Runner/General Tufto were clearly miles better than Bad Arrogate – and how could he still be the world's best when he had been bossed around three times since he was Good Arrogate?
Other bores, taking an equally predictable but contrary position, droned about how there was a fundamental misunderstanding of the whole thing (by evident cretins – Arrogate's defenders being more unctuous and patronising than his attackers). The form of the Dubai World Cup was capable of extraterrestrial life despite its apparent extinction on earth, and anyway we never had these problems when it was called the International Classification. See?!?
In the old days of smoking-related house fires, these bores would have had their droning restricted to parlours and bar rooms. Instead there was a social trickle that grew to a tide in sync with the growing belief/knowledge/delight/dismay that Arrogate would retain the tarnished crown.
You couldn't have blamed the IFHA for not getting out of bed at all. You could have understood had it just sneaked out the info in a press release on its underwhelming but efficient website (see previous Surf & Turfs). But no! Longines-IFHA went for the awards live stream and #LonginesAwards.
Thoroughly hosted by Liz Price (@LizPriceRacing), this statement of the bleedin' contentious was a bit crackly on the day, with seemingly bad Wi-Fi in Claridge's. Watching it live was like being drunk at a riveters' convention during an electrical storm. But it has all been smoothed out now. Here it is.
The weeks-long lack of tension and anticipation over the award sagged for a further 55 minutes as the losers were announced, counting down from Gun Runner and Cracksman to Winx.
On our live blog, Lee Mottershead, a master of maintaining tension, nailed it when he said "Winx, on 132, is ranked second. This almost certainly means Arrogate will be crowned." The low rumble of Twitter began to grumble more loudly, but the posts might as well all have been timed. Like when Dancing Brave was chopped down to clear the way for Frankel, both sides had already prepared their remarks.
Stephen Brassel at Racenet opened a branch argument, articulately claiming that the awards are institutionally northern (hemisphere, not Halifax), or at least keep southern-hemisphere racing at arm's length, like an incontinent relative. Sorry mate. Winx will have to get up here.
There was a further anti-climax when, unlike in previous years, the handicappers didn't appear after the presentation to explain themselves. But then they didn't have to. Everyone else had. That's social media for you.
Still, as usual with such things, it was good that there was a live stream. There will always be anoraks who can't get into these Claridge's dos – certainly not in an anorak – and while the live chat numbers on YouTube were disappointing at zero, there were a few dozen watchers throughout the event.
In mitigation were some good highlights from Arrogate's theoretically world-beating year. Many, including Mike Smith, are still raving about him.
Jockey Mike Smith says on @NTRA teleconference that he would love to ride @Ascot Royal meeting this year. He is a big supporter of international racing to showcase American horses' talent; he still can't believe the "incredible" move Arrogate made to win 2017 @DWC_Meydan pic.twitter.com/UbLeR0F1t6— Michele MacDonald (@full_stride) January 22, 2018
Someone needs the last word on this. Arrogate used to be big. He is big. To paraphrase the immortal words of Norma Desmond, it's the races that got small.
Mind you, BHA head of handicapping Phil Smith can expand on that. There is confusion as to how the figures are calculated. It's all about sustainability. See?!?
Still on awards (it's that time of year), the Eclipse awards are 12 hours away as I write. Arrogate's up for those too. On the other hand, as you read, they will be done and gone. Newspapers, you see. I certainly don't care to predict the outcome or any resulting joy or schadenfreude.
If you're not worried about that, you might enjoy a good read from Danny Brewer on the Horseracing Scoop site as he sets out his Hillbilly Horse Awards. Some turns of phrase here. "Son, if you see a bear, don’t worry, it’ll be there." Sound advice.
The BHA was busy this week – isn't it always? – on issues other than awards and rankings, and among other needful business it was promoting the Northern Lights series for mid-tier jumps horses.
For a while the northern jumps scene seemed the definition of unlit uplands, with a lack of twinkling stars. But lately there's been a resurgence. And Jason Heavey (@JasonHeavey), "journalist, blogger and northerner", has launched a new site, Racing Up North.
It's good, with an appropriately optimistic outlook, a full racecourse guide with fixtures, and a nascent section on great horses so far featuring Ekbalco, Night Nurse, Noddy's Ryde and some select Sky Bet Chase winners. The north will rise again.
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