Race callers integral to the big picture

October 15, 2021

Racing is only as strong as the sum of its moving parts and so much goes in to make it a successful sport, writes Gary Lemke for GGaming.bet.

The horses, rightly, get all the attention because it really is all about them. Racing was given the name “The Sport Of Kings” and while it might be a moniker that is long past its sell-by date, it was always seen as a sport for royalty and the rich. I remember attending a racing awards banquet as a rookie racing reporter when I had reason to go to the men’s bathroom. Standing there, a stranger, in his black suit and tie, remarked: “I feel a bit out of place here. The people at my table don’t talk about money, they’re talking in terms of yachts and planes.”

One thing you also learn early in this game is there are egos. Many, many egos. People are judged by others based on their own “royalty” – and in this game royalty is described as those with big money.

I also remember a few years ago, when prolific owner Markus Jooste was at the heart of the Steinhoff empire, which crumbled in late 2017. I asked a trainer in 2018 if they’d ever had reason to suspect Jooste as a rogue and why take his money if it was tainted. The answer I received wasn’t surprising. “We never saw that side of him. He kept to himself. He always paid his bills on time and in this industry that’s important.”

So, it’s the horses, owners, trainers, jockeys, grooms, work riders, punters and public which all go into the melting pot and give us what we see. And the decision to allow up to 2 000 racegoers to attend meetings on the lowered Covid lockdown restrictions is a healthy boost. However, it is debatable whether any racecourse in the country will attract 2 000 racegoers on a meeting that doesn’t have a high feature race appeal to it. The turnkey solution to attracting fans on course still remains out of reach.

One of the parts that I haven’t mentioned, but want to, are the race callers, or the commentators. I say this because they are integral to the race experience. Try watching a race with the commentary down – I have done it often to block out a certain racecaller I don’t like listening to, and I can watch the silks well enough to know how a race is unfolding – but it’s a thankless job.

South Africa though has produced quality racecallers down the years and the latest cab off the ranks, quite literally as he’s headed for work in Dubai, is Alastair Cohen. He’s a consummate professional and is a racecaller that I’ve grown used to listening to, and also someone that I don’t need to actually watch the race to know how its unfolding. 

There’s a landline number one can call to hear a race live and I often use it when driving, and this is a telling illustration of who are giving punters the true picture and a real run for their money.

I have to say this: I have tried, long ago, to call a race with the sound down off the telly. I failed miserably each time. It’s a passion and an art. 

Cohen might be relatively young, but he’s experienced and now he’s off to the Emirates. He goes there with the support of the entire South African racing community and a huge well done and thank you for how he’s grown into the world-class racecaller. His boots will be filled, but he’s a hard act to follow.

So, spar a thought for the racecallers. Us punters often judge them too harshly. Each one has their own distinctive style, the world over, and we all have our own favourites. Alastair Cohen was a favourite of mine, but he’ll return even better and as a son of the South African soil he will always be one of us.

The Bass Racing stable is sponsored by GGGaming.bet and their best chance of a winner at Durbanville on Saturday is Dragonfly (pictured) who races in the first race over 1400m. He should get on the board, so is the horse you should start off all your doubles and all to comes with.

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