Keep Calm But Be Serious

My favorite part of last week’s Royal Ascot coverage on NBC Sports Network came on Saturday, the final day of the five-day meeting, when cameras took us inside the stewards’ meeting to determine whether a foul had occurred during the stretch run of the Diamond Jubilee Stakes.

Video was reviewed, jockeys were addressed formally by surnames (“Mr. Queally, would you discuss the incident from your perspective?”), questions were answered in subdued, respectful tones. Then, after several minutes of private deliberations, loud chimes sounded throughout the grandstand (think “Hunger Games” or “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”) and the decision was announced to all. The finish positions would be unchanged!

It was all good theatre, and the level of transparency exhibited was refreshing. More than anything else, though, I was impressed by the level of seriousness on display from both stewards and riders.

A stewards’ inquiry in progress during the 2016 Royal Ascot meeting

Justified or not, horseplayers in the U.S. are sometimes left to feel as though they care more about certain aspects of the racing experience than do the actual insiders. This can manifest itself in a number of different ways: decisions with respect to the timing of surface switches or the ordering of races during Pick 6 sequences that aren’t always optimal from a bettor’s standpoint; disqualification decisions made with little in the way of official explanation to the public save perhaps for a cursory comment by the track announcer (who isn’t present during the decision-making process); even handicapping “experts” whose analyses sometimes suggest that they have spent significantly less time handicapping a race than we have. But the point of this is not the individual gripes (they exist in every enterprise), it’s the process.

It’s always easier not to go the extra mile (especially at short-staffed places of business). But to me, this is often less about industriousness and more about seriousness. When little details don’t get nailed down or things get done by half (as the British say), it’s usually because they’re too far down the priority list. And part of the reason they’re so far down the priority list is because their situations don’t occur very often—maybe only once every couple of weeks. As a result, these things are not taken very seriously. They get crowded out by other concerns (workload, budgets, et al.) that may seem more pressing to insiders—but not to a horseplayer.

It isn’t realistic to think racing organizations can throw money or manpower at every perceived deficiency. Still, it’s fun to think of how racing organizations here in North America might improve—and, at the same time, gain admiration from horseplayers—by following the lead of our friends across the pond and taking certain things—like whether our horse gets taken down—as seriously as we horseplayers take them.