Victoria simply outnumbered when it comes to rating tracks

Good 2 go: ATC racecourse manager Lindsay Murphy, right, with trainer Gary Nickson. Photo: Jenny Evans
Good 2 go: ATC racecourse manager Lindsay Murphy, right, with trainer Gary Nickson. Photo: Jenny Evans

Victoria wants to take racing ''a step backwards'' with official track descriptions, says Lindsay Murphy, the most experienced racecourse manager in Australia.

Murphy has an unlikely ally in bookmaker Rob Waterhouse, more a scholar on turf matters from a historical and statistical viewpoint rather than hands on dirt.

It would appear Victoria wants to restructure the system and possibly go it alone, which would inflict chaos on the industry.

''A meeting has been sought and [Racing NSW chief steward] Ray Murrihy suggested we get the views from the owners, trainers and jockeys,'' Murphy said.

Murphy, of the Australian Turf Club, devised today's system: fast 1, good 2, good 3, dead 4, dead 5, slow 6, slow 7, heavy 8, heavy 9, and heavy 10.

However, Victoria wants to simplify it to: firm, good to firm, good, yielding (the meaning is confusing), soft and heavy.

''These days if an owner or trainer rings me about the state of the track they refer to figures more than words,'' Murphy said.

''For instance they'll say 'how affected is the surface?' and I'll say 'a six' more than 'slow'.

''It gives a more accurate assessment than the old way of 'the better side of slow' or 'heavy'.''

Waterhouse regards the Victorian plan as ''an ill-thought-out proposal'' to remove the numerical component.

''It ought to be rejected for a number of reasons, the chief of which is that it moves the track descriptions from a time-based rationale to ground based, contrary to long-standing Australian practice,'' he said after researching a thesis on the subject for Gai's Gazette, the Gai Waterhouse magazine, another branch of the lady trainer's empire.

''While the proposal will reduce the number of going categories from 10 to six, in reality, these days only seven categories are frequently used - the 'fast one' descriptions have gone the way of the extinct Tasmania tiger.

''There hasn't been one 'fast' in Melbourne or Sydney for 12 years; 20 years ago 24 per cent of tracks were 'fast'; 'good 2s' and 'heavy 10s' nomenclatures are also now rare birds.

''Because course curators will be terrified of losing their jobs if they use the proposed words 'firm' or 'good to firm', in all likelihood, the proposed 'six' will be only 'four'.''

Obviously, Racing Victoria has gone the British way, irking Waterhouse.

''What racing's consumers [owners, trainers and punters] crave is precision in track classifications - the more going gradations, the better,'' he said .

''They want more information concerning the state of going for a meeting, not less. In fact, in my form records, I use 90 divisions between 'Fast1' and 'Heavy9'. 'Heavy10s' add for me another 400!''

Waterhouse pointed out that the prestigious Timeform organisation, based in Britain, has adopted all our terms, except slow, but including fast and dead.

''Good on them,'' he said - but he disagreed that Australia invented official going descriptions, first sighted in 1891 by McCall's Racing Chronicle, using 50.

However, official reports did not come into vogue until 1971, prompting Waterhouse to suggest Britain should fall into line with us.

''It must be stressed the 80-year-gap between the first published going in the UK [which was for punters] and the official publication demonstrates they were and are primarily a tool for punters.''

''The current Australian descriptions tie themselves to the notion of running times, are adjectives of time - 'fast time', 'good time', 'dead time', 'slow time', 'heavy' being debatable.

''By contrast, the UK equivalent terms describe the actual ground. The proponents of the proposal may think that is better, but it is not. Track managers must be accountable for their going descriptions. Owners, trainers and punters can only determine the accuracy of going descriptions by reference to the times run on that day.''

Alas, Waterhouse and Murphy differ when it comes to watering of racing surfaces.

''There is a misguided move, I understand, to have the Australian Racing Board produce guidelines to curators having them produce, no better than 'dead' tracks,'' Waterhouse said regarding a long-time hobby horse about what he regards as a false belief tracks should never be produced firmer than dead.

''I say this is a dangerous misapprehension. A policy of aiming all tracks to be no better than 'dead' would be a big mistake and adversely affect all in the industry.

''Dare I say, horseracing must be the only industry where the customer seems to be totally ignored?''

Particularly punters. Note they did not get a mention from Murphy regarding the views Murrihy is canvassing.

This story Victoria simply outnumbered when it comes to rating tracks first appeared on WA Today.