Monday, 6 November 2017

A FREE VOICE FOR ALL



Until the birth of social media no platform was available for racing fans to freely express their views and put the racing world to right.Well, you did have readers letters pages in some racing publications, but nothing that would rock the boat could be uttered. 

Much respected trainer .... no jockey riding better.... charming owner and a benefit to the sport.That's all they wanted to print from you. Most of the time at least. It meant the voiceless thousands could be kept silent.Criticism was only accepted in a gentle way.

This meant a few 'yes people' with their fingers deep in the heavily agendasised pie had freedom of the stage and the microphones to themselves. The nearest the rest of us got to a public platform was airing views in a racecourse bar, or betting office.Nothing that could possibly rile Brough Scott and his like.

The arrival of internet forums changed all that.The gags came off and you were able to express views  that would make many uncomfortable. All of a sudden those who were use to their crowns being polished,often undeservedly, had to now learn to grow a skin.

Those who claimed never to read the Betfair Forum were clearly monitoring it. Never having had to contend with such riff raff before, they would be quick to take exception to any statement concerning themselves which they did not find agreeable.

Posters received suspensions or even lifetime bans for voicing opinions that did not even border on being libelous. As an example, a frequent but intelligent and coherent poster on the Betfair Forum, received a life ban for airing the view that a particular racecourse commentator was rubbish. It was nothing more or nothing less than this.

Another thin skinned writer and television journalist, himself a forum member, would lose it on the keyboards and has even invited posters to meet him for a physical fight.

Some challenged characters in the racing media are so precious that their names are starred out when you attempt to type them.There are rumours that lawyers scan the forum for potentially libelous comments. What is strange is that a post can be pulled for a comment that says very little about some jockeys, while others are accused of strangling a mount or purposely finding trouble in running, and the comments stand unchallenged.

Racing Post editor Bruce Millington once wrote that Betfair Forum members were not fit to be let loose with a set of crayons. He also suggested that some mental home residents must be getting access to computers.

While it was easy to conjure up a freaky image in the mind's eye of Gremlin like characters on keyboards up and down the country, cackling away and making mischief, there were and still are some excellently stated threads criticising how the Racing Post has fallen from grace, and that the publication exists to serve the bookmaking industry.

Some of these threads disappear. So do most that mention Millington's name.This is a court were career journalists are too scared to tread.

The most celebrated thread on the Forum was the one titled 'Clerkwatch', which began in April 2008. This was set up to build evidence that the going descriptions issued by clerks of the courses were on the scale of inaccurate to downright false.

There was an underlying allegation that confusing the playing arena for the punter would lead to more unpredictable results, increased profits for the bookmakers, which in turn would benefit racing through the Gross Profits Tax structure, used to determine the levy collected.

It was an open thread based on the trust that if you contributed, then you knew what you were talking about. Each day race times were studied against the standard times, then discussed in the context of the going descriptions and stick readings.

Patterns emerged where some racecourse clerks grew reputations for taking more liberties with going descriptions than others.The problem was with it being a free for all it would only take one or two to undermine the whole thread.

An owner who has had some decent animals with both Roger Charlton, and the Hannons, contributed to the thread making some interesting observations. He eventually left due to the views of one or two headstrong individuals who would not consider valid and well constructed views that challenged their own.

Furthermore, a popular racecourse commentator who is a member of the forum was dismayed when a poster accused Ascot of selective watering during the middle of the Royal meeting one year, in order to switch the bias of the draw and confuse the punting public.

The thread reached its high point when its two main engineers, Londoner Nick Davies who posted as 'Zilzal' , and a person from the Middlesbrough area who posted as 'Jonjo', were invited to a preliminary meeting with some clerks of courses organised by the BHA. They were led to believe that the meeting would be a precursor to a larger gathering, with the possibility of television cameras being present.

Nothing from the meeting was taken any further.They never heard from the BHA again.Not long after the thread went silent, hope abandoned.

The thread received recognition from Guardian journalist Greg Wood.The rest of the scribes, too snug and settled to risk biting the hands that feed, did not wish to turn any of their mutually beneficial friendships sour. Besides, they could  not contemplate giving recognition to a forum that may have fired arrows at them in the past.

When assessing the Betfair Forum in general, it has to be said that the number of intelligent and enthusiastic posters has declined in recent years.There are a handful of good ones but many have disappeared.

The other popular forum  is 'The Racing Forum' . Posters are generally more respectful to one another than the Betfair Forum, the pace is more sedate, but worryingly there are a few regulars who seem to work for major bookmaking firms,thus may have an agenda. Put it this way, a certain bookmaking firm appears to have more influence on the forum than Betfair do on theirs.

Hopefully there will be a resurgence in the Betfair Forum, an increased intensity ( without the introductions of tools if possible) on The Racing Forum, or even the birth of a new forum..

That we can only hope could be less of a sign that many genuine, articulate members were fed up with the idiots aboard the ship and more to do with the fact that interest in the sport of horse racing overall is declining. And that is a suspicion that should make every racing enthusiast uneasy.

Picture licensed by Creative Commons

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