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Sunday, 09 December, 2018

The trying phrases racing commentators need to stop using

The Thursday column

Punters cheer on their horses at Royal Ascot
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Here's a message to racing commentators, the men who bring meaning to what our eyes are trying to comprehend as we witness a group of brown animals hurtling along.

First things first. You’re so damn good. Collectively, you’re better than any other type of sports commentator and, like Premier League referees, you make a job that most people would find impossible seem reasonably easy.

It isn’t remotely, and anyone who doubts that should try calling a race from the privacy of their lounge. You might be okay for a furlong or two but sooner or later you will fall apart.

Four of you, Messrs Hoiles, Holt, Hunt and Johnson, are astonishingly superb. You are able to convey the nuts and bolts of what is happening in the race crisply and clearly and then embellish it with atmosphere and feeling, and I don’t know how the hell you do it.

The rest of you are mostly excellent too. One or two of you get a bit panicky in the closing stages, as if you’re trying to call them home while noticing a small fire has broken out in the corner of the commentary box, but all in all the standard is remarkably and admirably high.

It’s just there are a few things you could do to make your collective output even more magnificent. Some are small, some are more significant and they are all personal thoughts, although I know from conversations I have had down the years I am not the only one who holds these views.

First up, use times to give us a clue on pace. I’m no sectionalista by any means but I am mildly keen to know whether they are going hell for leather early on or plodding and I don’t believe it’s easy to gauge that without a stopwatch.

It should be possible to let us know how quickly they have gone through a particular checkpoint and offer an idea of how that compares to average times.

Next up, when there is a ragged start to a jump race please point out who has benefited from being prominent and who has seen their chances diminish by being caught on their heels.

Highlighting when they have gone off in an unacceptably spaced out fashion, as still happens too often, might also help focus the starters’ minds.

And then we come to the little things that grate. Most of all, don’t have your own set of comments and sayings. The four giants of the gantry don’t get involved in this kind of thing.

Saying heads turn for home, steadfastly refusing to refer to jockeys by anything other than just their surnames. That sort of thing. Cut it out.

End mentions of the end. It’s not the front end, it’s just the front. And don’t talk about the shadows of the post when it’s a cloudy day and the post casts no shadow.

Stop telling us a jockey is getting lower in the saddle. It’s not like they are sitting bolt upright until that point and it’s an annoyingly overused phrase. Likewise, telling us a horse didn’t get very high at that one sounded quite original at first but is now just plain dull when it is used every single time something makes a mistake.

I penned a similar piece to this around a decade ago and, while I might be deluding myself that it did any good, I couldn’t help noticing references to them ‘going out in the country’ dropped away after I had mentioned it, so now I’m going to try to stop the commentators making me swear by saying ‘x lengths would cover the field’. Why do you always use the conditional tense in this instance, chaps? Forget the could and just say that x lengths cover the field.

Also, please remember, especially if your handiwork is going out on an audio-only feed, that some of us bet on distances so it’s unhelpful to tell us something is coming home in splendid isolation when you could be more specific about the winning margin.

Don’t tell us the backmarker is whipping them in. Don’t say any horse is being booted along. Don’t tell us they are facing up to the judge. Do tell us a jockey is asking his mount to giddy up. That would be quite funny.

And when it comes to the end of a big race, do lose your inhibitions and give it some welly.

Most of all, though, keep being fantastic. Your ability to memorise the colours, keep mistakes to an incredibly low level and provide a coherent narrative are crucial to our enjoyment of the sport.

So even though I have an irrational dislike of the way the presenters are so monumentally grateful to you for your day’s work (“and for the final time, let’s go to our commentator and say a very big thank-you for all your efforts to…”), I heartily salute the racing commentators for their excellence.

Surely, though, well into the 21st century there should be a female caller. As with football, it simply isn’t logical that lack of ability is the sole reason why no woman has made it on to the list.

There was a competition to find a female commentator a few years ago but nothing really came of it, and it’s time a more serious attempt was made to address the gender imbalance.

Sound of silence is the perfect accompaniment to TV snooker

So Racing commentators might not be entirely perfect but it all happens so fast and is so chaotic and the need for accuracy is so acute that they’ve got plenty of excuses for the rare errors that do occur.

There are commentators on other sports who have no such excuses for the things they do wrong.

I’ve just spent far more time watching snooker than is healthy and the range between the best gantrymen and the worst is enormous. The best ones realise people tune in to snooker for some colour-sensory relaxation and to idly admire the players’ ability to control the cue ball.

The ideal accompaniment to that is silence and the occasional sound of the clonk of the balls.

What we don’t want above all is people trying to guess where the balls are going. If I produced snooker I would tell the commentary teams to keep quiet until there is no more movement on the table.

It drove me bananas the amount of times someone would say: “It’s in...oh no!” Why guess? What’s the upside? Wait and see.

It’s a similar story in golf, where there is nothing more annoying than some oaf telling you the bloke you have backed’s putt is going in only for it to lip out.

And finally in today’s quest to make the life of sofa-bound sports viewers’ better, here’s a plea to directors of football matches: when the ball is in play show the ball. At all times.

Sky seldom used to be guilty of this but for some reason they have started regularly robbing viewers of the chance to follow the play and are instead showing us lingering shots of players and coaches sitting impassively on the bench, or players warming up, or a former star sitting in the stands.

This is fine when play has stopped - and when the video assistant referee is introduced to wreck the game there will be time to have interviews and even ad breaks during stoppages. But until that calamitous day arrives it is a sin to show anything other than the match when the match is on.

These fidgety-fingered directors should be made to watch fans watching football at the ground. Unless they are under seven and bored, they watch the play unfold. That’s what those of us watching from home want too.

Some of us bet on distances so it’s unhelpful to tell us something is coming home in splendid isolation when you could be more specific
E.W. Terms
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