Where were you when Denman won? Not on Twitter, that's for sure
Robin Gibson examines racing's wheezing digital windpipe
First published in November 2017 to celebrate ten years since Denman's first Hennessy Gold Cup
Continuing the Denman theme – who wouldn't? – I can remember where I was when he won his first Hennessy.
I was in the pub squeezing in a couple of pints before going to watch St Mirren, who lost 5-1 at home to Falkirk with a performance of surprisingly appalling uselessness. Never mind. You get used to those things and anyway they get cancelled out by performances like Denman's.
It was also my birthday and his scornful extermination of his rivals is a gift that keeps on giving. It would be even more so if you could find a full video of it. Strange, that.
Anyway, I know where I was and I know I got there without GPS, because the iPhone had been released only a few weeks earlier and I didn't get one for my birthday.
But now, apparently, hardly anyone can get anywhere without GPS. Greg Milner's Pinpoint: How GPS Is Changing Our World is a good book that seeks to explain the matter, pointing out interestingly how it is shredding human capacity to store our own maps in our own bonces and demonstrating how those who drive for a living could be struggling soon because of it.
On the other hand, it seems useful for training racehorses. And seeing as the horses can't operate the equipment, it's unlikely horsepeople will share the fate of Uber drivers.
It's not as exciting as Denman, but the web is well stocked with info about GPS/heart-rate training. I've no brief for E-Trakka (video below) – no doubt their probably excellent system is no better, and yet no worse, than those of their excellent competitors – but their efforts look pretty typical of what you can do. A bit dry, but these things are. They also focus on some horses you've heard of, which is good.
You wonder what someone like Tim Forster (excellent piece, this, by David Ashforth) would have made of GPS-aided training, or if he'd be on Twitter. Perhaps he'd just have got someone else to do it, like Nicky Henderson. But you can't imagine persuading him to 'partner' with a bookie as a brand ambassador. That would have been about as likely as getting him trashed on white cider and down to the Miley Cyrus Bangerz tour at the O2.
Still, the pre-internet era, or at least the pre-everyone-using-the-internet era, is not as long ago as it seems. It's interesting to see what social media had to say about Denman's 2007 Hennessy. Yes! Your internal memory might tell you the great gallop preceded all but early efforts such as Friends Reunited and Myspace, but YouTube had been going for nearly two years and Twitter for one and a half. Facebook was over three.
One thing that's for sure is that Twitter has the best advanced search. So another thing that's for sure is that RTE sport – and only RTE Sport (@RTESport) – were tweeting about Denman. Just them.
"Denman must defy welter burden," they tweeted on November 30. "Denman runs Hennessy rivals ragged," they tweeted at 5.37pm on the day of the race, proving that (a) RTE Sport were so far ahead of the game they were in a game of their own and (b) there just wasn't the urgency in those days, was there? and (c) if anything was going to rid racing journalism of cliches, it wasn't going to be a 140-character microblogging format.
On YouTube no-one uploaded anything on Denman (or if they did they've removed it). And on Facebook there's nothing from 2007, except some pictures of people called Denman. They're all sort of unselfconscious snaps – it's a bit weird. You don't see many of those nowadays. But that's not important, except in a general anthropological way.
It's been a dispiriting time on Twitter. Firstly there was Altior, which annoyingly became a 'gate', and is aptly described by Lydia Hislop as an "unnecessarily explosive episode".
This Altior thing led, by coincidence, into grumbling about wind operations. It would have been the 'usual' grumbling, except now declaration of wind ops is a thing, like Brexit, and racing folk will have to survive under its iron heel/flourish in its warm embrace (delete etc).
There have been a lot of words on this. Nigel Moore (@Mooro1974) summed it up quite well: "The arrogance of some owners & trainers and the utter contempt they have for punters has shocked me. That's why the sport, particularly NH, is dying."
On the other hand, though, there's the Home & Hosed blog which seems to have been set up simply to complain about #windops. I could be wrong but there's only one post, 'Where does it stOP?' (geddit?!), and the 'About' page says: "This is an example of an about page."
Rory Delargy (@helynsar) drew attention to the blog's likening of the wind ops ruling to the DVLA requiring car owners to inform the public when they fit new tyres. That's imaginative, but it doesn't actually make sense.
It's perplexing to see quite a few punters/fans taking up the case on behalf of trainers and owners (even the ones who are happy to declare). It's like being back in the age of deference, and wasn't the internet supposed to put an end to that?
One Twitter account that is pleased (if an account can be pleased) is Wind Operations (@WindOps), which has done a good job over the past year of collecting windy info.
And one Twitter account that decided just to stick to irony was Stephen Morana's (@stephenmorana): "Given how useless it now appears wind ops are, assume owners will be telling trainers to get stuffed when they suggest owner pay for one?"
Not bad. On a different note, trainer Brendan Duke has started what looks like a campaign. Why, he asks, in large type, is the race programme being set and dictated by and favouring the small percentage at the top of the industry? It's a point of view. Duke is asking for support, so those who think they might support him should check in over there.
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