FROM ROMAN ROAD TO HIGHWAY 2000 (Part III)

 horses racingHorseracing has always been an audio-visual sport and, as such, identified with and by the voices of its commentators.

One of the earliest was the legendary Charlie “Dollars to Donuts” McCormack.   When the little boy’s first “favourite horse”, Saumarez, won the 1962 Derby, he was called home by Charlie McCormack.  Charlie had called home the racetrack’s very first Derby winner, the filly Blush.  Her Derby win created excitement in the little boy’s family as her owner, the highly respected, perennial patron of the sport and Jockey Club President, Andrew H.B. Aguilar, was married to his grandmother’s sister, Vera.  “Andrew HB”, as he was known, was the proprietor of Jamaica’s leading sports goods store on Harbour Street (moved, many years later, to Church Street) run by the enigmatic Bernard Cridland.  Many Jamaican sporting heroes got his or her start with gear from Aguilar’s and Andrew HB was a man of much substance and influence.  Now, 50 years on, it’s hard to explain to Generation X the sort of respect that was earned by the likes of an Andrew H.B. Aguilar – the culture having changed so drastically to the point where to respect success is guaranteed to make you the object of scorn.

Blush’s Derby win has been followed by twelve more fillies but, before “modern times” (say, 1980), only four fillies had won the Derby.  After Blush, Princess Royal (trained by Sydney Watson for popular owner Pat Chung) won in 1961.  She was the first Derby win for the great Kenneth Mattis who also rode Ska (trained by R.A “Bobby” Hale for Lucien Chen “and friends”) the next filly to win the Derby (this time at the Jockey Club).  Ska finished second to Sunfisher in the race but Sunfisher was subsequently disqualified for failing a dope test.  Charlie McCormack called all these fillies home.

Imagine the little boy’s thrill when he was taken to the races by his father in the mid 1960s and allowed in the commentary booth to meet the great Charlie McCormack and see him call a race.  That was the first time the little boy knew that people watched races through binoculars – a magnificent instrument at the time.  The little boy watched in awestruck wonder as Charlie lowered his binoculars as the horses entered the final furlong and uttered his trademark call “it’s all over bar the shouting – Dollars to Donuts!!”  The little boy had never been happier.

Racing had to wait until 1974 before another filly won the Derby.  In the meantime, Charlie McCormack’s commentary dominance had ended and the rival radio stations had carved out new images.  On RJR, there was a two-man team anchored by Del Weller, the finest racing analyst ever to draw breath in Jamaica.  His Friday programme Raceday Preview (6:45 p.m., following a 15 minute niche show with a “cult” following called Folk, Roots and Branches, hosted by Hope Howard) was required listening.  It has been said (by rival tipsters) that Del Weller’s success was due to his having several clockers residing in his pocket but this only proves, if true, his determination to source the best information for his listeners.

Del Weller’s tipping and analytical skills were extraordinary and he took time out to explain the fundamentals of handicapping and the reasons why each horse on his “short list” had reached there.  Weller also wrote a series of columns for the Gleaner, entitled “Inside Racing” which remain the prototype for aspiring racing columnists and whose quality is yet to be surpassed.  He was genius plain and simple.  But he was also a plain speaking man who often rubbed Authority the wrong way and, after being unjustly warned-off for expressing an adverse opinion on the sport’s regulation, he became embittered and migrated to Texas from whence he only infrequently visited and where he sadly passed away over twenty years ago.  If racing had a Hall of Fame worthy of the name, Del Weller would be among its first inductees.

Del Weller’s was a pioneer analyst in Jamaican racing broadcasts and he sat in the RJR booth beside several race callers including Desmond Chambers and Ruddy Andrade.  JBC countered with Vin Lumsden who played a Lone Ranger role but whose race calling was superior to Andrade’s so the little boy developed the habit of listening to Del Weller’s pre-race comments before switching to Vin for the race itself.  Ruddy Andrade was replaced by the time’s most popular commentator and probably also the worst.  That unique double-honour goes to the one and only David “Wall of Horses” Vernon who got his nickname by only ever calling the principals in the race. So, there was always a “wall of horses” coming on the outside in the stretch.  DV’s trademark opening to each race: “The gates open!! The horses jump!!” was the signal to long suffering listeners that the commentating lottery had begun and the result wouldn’t be definitively known until you checked the next day’s newspaper.  But listeners loved it and he remains a beloved memory.

 

Part IV only two Fridays away.

 

DEPARTMENTS:

Clocked-In

This regular review of local performances is based on REAL times.

Abbreviations: CT = “Corrected Time”; TV = “Track Variant” (a calculation of the effect of track conditions on official times to arrive at “real” or “corrected” times); TVs are in fifths of a second; “minus” means a fast track; “plus” a slow track (e.g. -2 means fast by 2/5ths of a second). Variants beside horse’s names represent the difference between its official time and the grade standard.

Space is at a premium so let’s just say that, in July 28’s issue, you were told PEKING CRUZshould be followed all the way to the top”. He duly hacked up on first try at Overnight Allowance (August 18) and continues his march to the top.

Let’s see what’s happened since we last met:

August 11, 2018 [TV +0.25 per 200m (Rd)]

ZI BEAST (-3) made all (Race 4; 4yonw3; 1000m Rd; TV+1) winning, eased down, by 4½ lengths in 1:00.2! His CT (1:00.1) is better than 4yonw3/OT and wins any claiming race so, if he stays sound, he should win more races.

August 15, 2018 [TV+0.4 per 200m (Rd); +1 (Crucial Appeal) -2 (Big Dream)]

SIMPLY OUTRAGEOUS (-9) won what looks like a KEY RACE (Race 7; 4yonw3/0T; 1500m; TV+3) clocking 1:32.1 (CT 1:31.3). The CT is almost two seconds faster than Overnight Allowance standard (1:33.1) and a second faster than Open Allowance so she’s nailed on to repeat.

SUBBIE (-3’) 2nd; WINTER IS COMING (-3) 3rd; and UNCLE VINNIE (-3) 4th all recorded CTs of 1:32.4 (6 lengths faster than 4yonw3). Losses are lent.

N.B WINTER IS COMING, turned out quickly in a slightly higher grade ($550,000 claimers) on August 18 and badly hampered 800m out (nearly brought down; jockey lost his irons), confirmed the form by battling on bravely to lose by a short-head.  His CT was a second faster than 4yonw3/OT so he still has one of those to win.

RUN JOHNNY RUN (-2), thoroughly exposed but expertly placed and remains useful on his day, showed his consistency (Race 2; $450,000 claimers; 1000m Rd; TV+2) winning in 1:003 (CT 1:00.1) which converts to 2/5ths second faster than $550,000 claimers. He can win again.

AUGUST 18 [TV -0.2 per 200m (Rd)]

ANOTHER VIGOROUS (-8) confirmed himself a smart sprinter (Race 2; imported 3yonw3/mdn; 4yonw3/OT; Native bred 3yo; 1000m Rd; TV-1) beating NUCLEAR FLIGHT (-3’) by 4½ lengths in 0:59.0!  The winner’s CT (0:59.1) is 2/5ths second faster than Overnight Allowance while the 2nd’s (1:00.0’) is 2 ½ lengths faster than nw3. The winner has more to win and the second, previously unbeaten in two career starts, was unfortunate to run into such a tartar. Compensation awaits her. .

Overseas Betting Opportunities (OBOs)

Last time, punters profited when old pal VIA SERENDIPITY won the Shergar Mile at 7/2 and Shambolic (expected to be one for Frankie but Robert Havlin rode) won at 11/4 (Newmarket).

Popular handicap (The Ebor) is on tomorrow (York; 14f; 1540GMT).  Classy Weekender is among the favourites but may need even further while Stratum (possibly in the handicapper’s grip); and Blakeney Point (prefers soft) are also opposable. The two to concentrate on could be 2017 winner Nakeeta (peaking at the right time) and MUNTAHAA (perfect fit). The latter gets the nod.

We have space for one more notebook horse:

KING OF COMEDY [2 b.c. Kingman – Stage Presence (Selkirk)]:

Half-brother to smart Prix de Diane winner, Star of Seville, he looked an exciting prospect on debut (Sandown; July 6). He overcame inexperience (carrying his head awkwardly when shaken up two furlongs out); produced a nice turn of foot; took control in a few strides; and won with plenty in hand. Another novice event should be a cakewalk but he could return to Sandown for September’s Solario Stakes (won by his sire in 2013). He’s also entered for the Champagne Stakes (Doncaster; September 15).

 

Good Luck!

 

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