VAR from the Madding Crowd: Thankfully technology hasn’t yet derailed horse racing experience

Unlike with football, my enthusiasm for horse racing hasn't yet been curtailed.

‘Creative slowdown’ and ‘blank-page syndrome’ are a couple of polite euphemisms to describe the dreaded condition known as ‘writer’s block’.

Sometimes a novelist, a poet and dare I say it a lowly correspondent can find themselves utterly bereft of inspiration.

I’ve experienced it a few times but thankfully this week I almost had too many topics to consider for subject matter.

Option one was to write about the race that stops a nation – Australia’s sporting showpiece the Melbourne Cup. Then fair dinkum it dawned on me that by the time you read this the race, run on the first Tuesday in November, would have been run.

The second option was to sing the Breeders Cup praises of the all-conquering European triumvirate of Ryan Moore, William Buick and Frankie Dettori, who between them won four races at Santa Anita on Saturday and in so doing produced four sensational rides.

Once again I thought better of it. The reason being I didn’t want to annoy my good friends, Lyle Cooper and The Ghostryder who remain convinced that their beloved Irad Ortiz Jnr is the best jockey in the world.
Personally I’m not convinced he’s the best rider in New York.

Finally, I had planned to share the back story of my horse, Laudato, shedding his maiden certificate at tote odds of R26.70 a win. But in today’s fast moving world, that story is now ancient news so the considerable thanks and praise I was going to pour on Garth Puller and Jane Thomas will have to wait until he wins again!

ALSO READ: ‘Moron’ jockey makes history at Melbourne Cup

In nautical terms having writer’s block is to be becalmed. Without any wind, a sailing vessel won’t move and when a writer can’t muster a breath of motivation to fill their creative sails it can soon become a literary shipwreck.

One of the most noted authors to find herself artistically marooned was acclaimed American novelist Harper Lee. Her belated second publication Go Set A Watchman appeared on bookshelves in 2015, a full 55 years after she penned her enduring classic To Kill A Mockingbird.

Atticus Finch

The principle protagonist in Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning book is the small-town Alabama lawyer Atticus Finch. It’s a name that will be familiar with local punters, for the racehorse named after the fictional character landed Saturday’s Victory Moon at Turffontein and in so doing reeled off his fourth successive victory.

Alec Laird was born and bred to condition thoroughbred racehorses. It’s in his genes and when Syd’s son finds a good one to train he’s sure to make headlines not only in local papers but also in the London news.

After the emphatic Summer Cup statement that Puerto Manzano made the previous weekend in the Grade 2 Charity Mile, the Grade 3 Victory Moon Stakes offered an opportunity for the Varsfontein bred son of Master Of My Fate to up his game further. Stepped up to 1 800 metres and well supported in the betting market, Atticus Finch argued his Summer Cup case with conviction. He is now the outright third favourite at odds of 13-2.

Over the last six decades since he appeared on the pages of To Kill A Mockingbird, literary critics have described Atticus Finch as one of the most righteous and progressive characters in modern American literature. To that end I wish that Atticus Finch could transcend fiction and save us from VAR.

ALSO READ: Racing stalwart Cecil Mthembu has long service in his bloodline

Any high school study-review will tell you that Atticus represents reason and morality and while I am convinced that the video assistant referee’s mean well, perhaps it wouldn’t do any harm for Gregory Peck, who immortalised Finch in the 1962 film adaptation of the book, to pitch up at Stockley Park and raise the standard of what PGMOL (Professional Game Match Officials Limited) have been delivering this season.

It is getting worse with every passing match day.

Anthony Gordon’s contentious goal for Newcastle against Arsenal survived a three-cornered VAR review that took more than four minutes to process. On Monday night VAR outdid itself in the Spurs/Chelsea fixture.

In the first half alone there were 12 minutes of VAR intervention. Small wonder then that the Spurs boss Ange Postecoglou felt obliged to remark, “I don’t like the way the game is going”, adding that on numerous occasions his team were left “just standing around waiting for decisions”.

As football fans do we really want to be subjected to truncated half-time and full-time studio analysis devoted exclusively to debating VAR interventions?

Bring back the beautiful game I say. The one in which we leapt off bar stools and lounge suites to celebrate goals. I find little joy in having to curtail my enthusiasm as I wait for someone to rewind game footage and ascertain whether the Jack Grealish calf muscle played Mo Salah’s big toe onside.

On a positive note we must be grateful for small mercies. So far technology and micromanagement haven’t combined to derail the horse racing experience but woe betide the day Flemington Racecourse employs VASS, Video Assistant Stipendiary Stewards, to monitor every move of all 24 runners in the 2025 Melbourne Cup.

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