Thursday 7 January 2010

Racing for idiots

15st 3lb, zero units. And another thing. In the endless loop of the Radio 4 news playing through most of my nightmare journey home on Tuesday evening, I grew increasingly annoyed by the repeated reports of Racing for Change and their attempt to introduce decimal odds to the nation’s racecourses. Proof, if proof were needed, that there is nothing quirky or charming under the sun that can be left alone without some busybody coming along to try and bugger it up.

My first reaction was that Racing for Change must be some sort of loony pressure group, but apparently it is official in nature and its board comprises all the great and good of the industry. I’m none the wiser as to whether this is true or not because I’ve just spent 15 minutes on Google searching for its website and found two with the right name, but one was dedicated to increasing “diversity” in US motor sports and the other seemed to be something to do with quadriplegic triathletes. I think it is fair to conclude that the UK Racing for Change people are not masters of either the internet or PR.

To be completely honest, for nearly all my life I’ve been bored rigid by racing, as by all other activities featured in the sports section of the newspapers. One of my principal reasons for continuing to buy the Daily Telegraph, despite its relentless dumbing down under its current proprietors, is the convenient way it puts all its sports coverage into a separate section that makes a satisfying thud as I drop it straight into the recycling bin.

However, last year two kind and generous individuals invited Mrs H and me to separate race meetings: at Newmarket in May and the St Leger meeting at Doncaster in September. And, for the first time, I started to get what people saw in it. And do you know what I really liked? The peculiar, old fashioned things like the fact that the odds are in complex fractions, the courses are measured in furlongs and the race prizes (and prices of the bloodstock at auction) expressed in guineas. Yes, Mrs H and I missed the opportunity to bet on Frankie Dettori in his first race because he was described on the race card as L Dettori, and we assumed that he must be the great man’s less talented younger brother. Another thing that Racing for Change wants to do away with to increase the sport’s appeal to “the young”. But isn’t there something to be said for mystique, and arcane club rules that it takes a bit of effort to learn? Surely that’s what has kept Freemasonry in business for so long?

Ah, they say, but “the young” don’t understand fractions. Well, here’s an idea: why not educate the little buggers. It’s not that hard, for God’s sake. And surely they can still grasp the concept of dividing a pie into quarters rather than 0.25s? The last bloody thing that went decimal in this country was those signs telling you how steep hills are, and when I’m heading over a near precipice I could really do without having to pause to work out that 33% is actually bloody steep. Whereas 1 in 3 said it all in an instant.

Oh, well. Let them ruin their sport if they must. But it’s an odds-on certainty that blokes like me won’t be heading back to the course in a hurry if they do.

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