Glorious Goodwood Calling
In the current media age when the all-seeing eye and the ever-listening ear seem to be ubiquitous realties; when every move made by the famous and the not-so can be accessed and commented upon at the click of a mouse, sports commentators are under more scrutiny than ever before.
That heightened analysis does not faze the genial Richard Hoiles as he looks forward to one of his favourite gigs of the year, working as one of the racecourse commentators at Glorious Goodwood
“I’ve been doing Glorious Goodwood for the last five years - maybe six,” says Hoiles.
“Goodwood is one of my favourite tracks, hence Glorious Goodwood is one of my favourite meetings - perhaps because I lived near Plumpton for years, so it was local.”
One might imagine that a five-day Festival covering 35 high-profile races with all of the horses, jockeys and colours that entails might result in stress levels reaching panic status. That may be the case before and during a race like the Bluesquare.com Stewards’ Cup, with 28 runners hurtling flat out down the Goodwood straight, but for the most part, Hoiles maintains a calm approach.
“The best thing is to just let it happen, relax as much as you can and let lots of things flood into your brain,” he reveals.
“People have a common perception that we come up with lots of lines in advance but you can’t. You have to wangle so much yourself to get them in that it just doesn’t work.
“The thing is, you run out of words. In a race like the Stewards’ Cup that takes a minute and 12 seconds, give or take, if you’re going to be intelligible, you can’t go above four words a second. That’s 280 words, which is not a lot. If you think about it you have 30 runners, some of them with two distinct words in their name, so you just don’t have time to say everything that everyone wants you to say. That’s an element that people sometimes don’t appreciate.”
Not only is Goodwood one of Hoiles’ preferred places to enjoy a day’s racing, he also considers it a special place to commentate.
“Goodwood is so good to work at,” he states. “It has a relaxed atmosphere that is almost unique to the place. There are moments of complete panic with the Stewards’ Cup, simply due to the quantity of numbers but, by and large, when they’re side on at the top of the hill, you can get a good pan-back through the field and as long as you don’t get lousy weather, the colours really stand out.
“That’s the beauty of Goodwood as a commentator, the backdrops, especially at the Glorious meeting, are so quintessentially English summertime. That actually makes the viewing very good. It’s not really a hard place to call because the colours are always against green. If you think about the backdrops you get at various tracks, there’s nothing worse than them running past the local B&Q, which makes them very hard to pick out.
“I always feel comfortable calling at Goodwood. It’s not a place that you go to feeling particularly worried.”
That is not to say that things always go smoothly. Of all the races at the Glorious meeting, the Bluesquare.com Stewards’ Cup is the one for which even the most composed commentators reserve their anxiety. It is inevitable then that the historic cavalry charge is the race that caused Hoiles his most memorable palpitation.
“Bentong caused a bit of a panic after last year’s Stewards’ Cup,” he admits.
“The race had finished without a problem or so I thought. Well, after everyone had put their headsets down, relieved and thinking it hadn’t gone too badly, we looked up and saw Bentong coming back with jockey! I remember thinking, what happened? Did he go in? In fact, he had gone in the stalls and then refused to come out.
“The thing is, there is a slight element of fiction in the early stages of all sprints. You have the draw written out, you know where the split is and you just name call. Sometimes you see them, other times you say ‘the far side includes’, which is correct but you’re just name shouting. So, I was thinking, ‘oh, no, did I mention a horse that hadn’t gone in,’ because that’s what I thought must have happened.
“Simon Holt was next to me and John Hunt in front - well none of us had a clue. We were frantically trying to find out while convincing ourselves that it didn’t really matter but everyone who backed that horse will have known what had happened.”
Hoiles has 17 years of race-calling experience behind him including stints in Hong Kong and North America but one of British racing’s most familiar voices may have remained anonymous had it not been for the last recession.
A qualified accountant, he was 25 and plying his profession in the retail industry when redundancy came knocking in 1992. A chance glance at the job section in The Sporting Life led to an application to SIS as a race commentator and he was soon relishing a career he had not previously considered.
Always passionate about horseracing, Hoiles naturally enjoys the buzz of calling home Group One winners and Glorious Goodwood has provided him with one of his all-time peaks.
“It’s a no-brainer really - the 2006 Nassau Stakes with Ouija Board and Alexander Goldrun was phenomenal. It was a really good race but on top of that Ouija Board’s Oaks was one of the first Classic races I called. I obviously had a soft spot for her and had seen her all around the world in the intervening two seasons.
“I’d also seen Alexander Goldrun a lot overseas, in Hong Kong and places, so to see those two mares coming down to a head-to-head at the furlong pole, with no other horses in it, that was a nice summation of their careers. That by some way is my favourite race at Goodwood and would certainly be in my all-time top five races.”
Hoiles is aware that he and his colleagues’ performances are scrutinized more intently since the advent of in-running internet betting as well as the proliferation of big-race replays on TV and online.
“Some days the brain is full of nice colourful phrases and you’re looking in the right place and then other days you’re looking at the left as one breaks through on the right,” says the commentator.
“That’s the way it goes. All you can do is hope you’re as accurate as you can be and then the language follows. It doesn’t matter how good a commentator you are in so far as the lovely things you can say, if you’re not accurate it doesn’t actually matter.
“With the better quality races like the Sussex Stakes or the Nassau Stakes, they do all the talking, you just describe. In the back of your mind, you’re hoping that you can stay in the background and do it justice. You just hope that in those few seconds, as things are mulling around in your head, you come up with something that fits what other people are seeing.
“You hope that when it gets played back it’s not cringe-worthy - because it sounds contrived. You are aware, with those races, that they are the ones that will get played back time and again. It’s no good if your punch-line is 10 yards after the post, you always want it to end hitting the line.”
GLORIOUS THIRD FESTIVAL FOR CHANNEL FOUR AT GOODWOOD
This year’s Glorious Goodwood festival marks the third occasion that Channel Four has covered the annual summer showpiece since entering into a successful accord with Goodwood Racecourse.
The two hooked up in 2007 and the continuing relationship has brought a number of exciting innovations that have benefited the course and heightened the televisual experience for those armchair fans watching five afternoons of tremendous racing at home.
Rod Fabricius, for one, is delighted with the arrangement between the TV station and the racecourse.
Goodwood Racecourse’s managing director commented: “The partnership with Channel Four has been a great success. We see them regularly throughout the summer and that is probably the biggest bonus.
“There is now a continuity throughout our racing season. The profiling that they give us, because of their regular involvement with horseracing on a weekly basis is, in a sense, more consistent and more substantial than historically we have ever achieved.”
Channel Four broadcast nine days racing from the picturesque Sussex Course this year, including five days of extended coverage from this week’s flagship Glorious Goodwood meeting that runs from Tuesday, July 28, to Saturday, August 1.
The channel is living up to its commitment with extensive live coverage starting at 1.45pm and concluding at 4.15pm for the first four days of the meeting. Saturday’s programme, featuring the Bluesquare.com Stewards’ Cup and the Group One Blue Square Nassau Stakes, commences at 2pm and ends at 4pm. That final day’s coverage also includes the popular Morning Line programme from Goodwood at 8am.
Therefore, Channel Four will broadcast just under 13 hours of racing coverage from the course during Glorious Goodwood.
Last year’s coverage of Glorious Goodwood was watched by 3.2 million people which equates to 5.7 per cent of the UK population
The Channel Four television audience averaged 565,000 over the five day and the viewing figures peaked at 650,000 (7.4 per cent of the audience share).
Considerable efforts have been made to widen the audience appeal of Channel Four Racing.
Interest features, inserted between races, are the order of the day and Channel Four has upped the ante this year with the Audi Speed Challenge that sees presenters and jockeys give the Goodwood Motor Racing Circuit the Top Gear treatment.
Alastair Down and Emma Spencer will go head to head with top riders Frankie Dettori, Ryan Moore, Alan Munro, Martin Dwyer and Jim Crowley in a hair-raising spectacle that should provide ample opportunity for a horsepower pun or two. They each went two laps in an Audi RS6 with a capped maximum speed of 152mph.
Viewers can also look forward to the sight of the sartorially incomparable John McCririck exploring the allure of Goodwood’s favourite accessory, the panama hat, while John Francome and jockey Richard Hughes head to the Goodwood clubhouse to explore the history of golf.
There is a feature on leading trainer John Gosden, who is based in Newmarket, revisiting Lewes where he was brought up at the Heath House training yard of his late father Towser.
Local trainer William Knight, who operates out of Lower Coombe Racing Stables, Angmering Park, near Littlehampton, will also have the spotlight shone on him
The production team’s broadcasts have been well received. With 29 cameras being deployed including a portable single camera unit plus the state-of-the-art Vortex camera, Channel Four is maintaining its level of coverage from last year. The Vortex is an aerial camera system which has the ability to lift a camera from ground level to 30 metres in 15 seconds and it will provide dynamic views of the course.
A team of 80 technicians and production crew are involved with the Channel Four broadcast from the beautiful Sussex course.
Racegoers too will reap a noticeable benefit. Previously, Channel Four’s trucks and equipment have been conspicuously located racecourse side, prompting Goodwood to take the positive step of investing in extensive cabling that has enabled their removal to a more concealed site.
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