Tweeters exchange cynicism for joy as festival moves to 48-hour decs
Robin Gibson stops and smells the roses on racing's digital landscape
Is it only 20-odd years ago that a few naive oafs, on the revelation of the internet, foresaw sunlit uplands for spreading knowledge and harvesting positive ideas, cultivated with the creative energy of can-do enthusiasts and policed by no-one – a new free world of limitless opportunity?
Yes it is.
Who thought the tillers of the land would be enslaved in a relentless anti-carnival of bile, cynicism and irony, where clouds of joy rarely float by, where the limitless opportunity is to be followed wherever you plough, to plough when you'd rather not, and to buy a phone for a grand to keep all your ploughing in sync?
Not me, but clearly some were striving for it. They're the ones collecting pennies from heaven now.
So it was delightful on Tuesday to see a near-uniform welcome for the BHA's announcement of 48-hour decs for the Cheltenham Festival.
To the lay person this is equivalent to a slight change in the recipe for Flora, but for racing it's more like the New Deal. The difference is that even Conservatives can't oppose 48-hour decs as an enemy of business and growth.
On the other hand, as James Knight (@jamesaknight) from Coral put it, with a Flora-style spreading of internet irony: "An idea in racing is only a good idea if there are loads of horsepeople whingeing about it. Not read much dissent on this 48hr decs yet?"
A nice point, but the bulk of reaction is condensed by this tweet from Joe (@steeeeele): "48 hour decs for Cheltenham, am I in heaven?" and this from McKeown (@McK30wn): "Glad the 48 hour decs in place, they were great to have for Irish champions weekend! Getting with the times nowadays."
Yes, getting with the times. Something racing might do more often.
Still, there were sceptical voices, such as Dave Arthur (@flutter61): "Wonder what the @RacehorseOwners take on this is & were they also consulted?"
The ROA (@RacehorseOwners) batted it back though: "Hello, yes the Horsemen's Group/ROA were indeed consulted and support the proposal."
This left, for persistent stone turners, only the question of how far the consultation went. Don Clark (@dclark3105) reasonably argued: "If ROA were consulted, surely there would have been some communication with its members. #surely."
#Surely, sure, but with a hanging question mark. You know what it's like with the Labour party, for instance. Ask it a straight question and a cabal of trade union plotters replies in code (don't worry Tories, you'll get it next time).
Talking of getting with the times – the theme today – the BHA, deliverer of the good news, has overhauled its website. It's a massive improvement. The old site seemed somewhat conflicted, splashing its home page with news and big-race previews when its clients, you'd think, would be more interested in Gradgrindian facts and figures.
Now those are the main attraction, although it's not Gragrindianly joyless. It's authoritative. Unfortunately, the lack of a news splash meant the announcement of the 48-hour decs was not bugled that loudly, accessible via the dropdown 'News and media' tab. But never mind. The new approach, with live updates, fixture finder and industry stats, is well thought out. It's not only owners and horsepeople who should like the set-up. Enthusiasts and nerds might too.
Updates come in a social-style stream of going, weather and non-runner news and they are not only clear but loud, if you switch on the audio alert.
On the statistics dashboard (still in beta) you get a compact picture of fixtures, attendances, races, field sizes, runners, non-runners, prize-money, televised races, SPs, goings, sugar lumps dished out, ties purchased on entry and so on, in summary and detailed breakdown. There are up-to-date monthly PDF datapacks of similar info.
It's a set of little goldmines and all the other stuff is there too, including the always interesting handicappers' blogs. A lot of info is presented well and the BHA site is now focused on what visitors to the BHA site might want, which is the point – #surely.
Still getting with the times, I note with interest that Google plans a miniature version of Google Home, which might be a sparky competitor for Amazon's popular Echo Dot. No, actually, wait a minute, I don't. And who does? What sort of weirdo fills their home with voice command interfaces until they're accompanied by digital assistants even in the smallest room?
Wouldn't it be great if they just stopped, instead of pestering us with unwanted refinements to products we own and frankly unnecessary ones we don't? No more "mysterious project Bison", no more relaunching Google Glass – a bit like that referendum in Ireland, they just won't take no for an answer – and no more chatty thermostats.
Bezos could go into space and stay, Zuckerberg could run for president and be unliked once and for all and the Google guys whose names no-one can remember could just sod off. We're all modern enough.
I mean, look – even Sir Mark Prescott is modern. Yes! Hot on the hooves of Mick Easterby's surprisingly up-to-date effort, SMP has gone online too with a Heath House Stables website.
And it's excellent, with a nifty side menu, plenty of info including strike-rate and winnings stats (a nice touch not evident on all trainer sites) and loads of superb pictures of the horses and the place. Really, who wouldn't want to work there? Assuming you could get the odd lie-in.
Prescott says: "We run a boutique operation here." Now that's modern. As is the unexpected use of the term 'groom' to introduce the staff. Note: stop being prejudiced and see the internet as a force for good.
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