By Ella Gillings
It’s 11.15 as I pull into Lingfield for a 1.15pm start. I’ve walked my dogs, checked some sheep and ridden a horse before getting here so I’m delighted the first thing I see is a voucher for a free lunch, left on my desk by Clerk of the course, George Hill. I can already smell the chicken curry cooking. Laptop switched on, race card downloaded, trackers charging (or outside turning on) and there’s a bounce in my step as I go to set up the laptop in the tower, completely ignorant to the black cloud looming. Two different internet cables later and its clear the internet in the tower is down, perhaps the result of power cuts overnight. Quick call to some higher powers, a solution is found, and I finish setting up. Now to walk to the middle of the track to erect the remote repeater aerial. By the time I get back to the weighing room I’ve lost the bounce because the heavens have opened. I begin to prepare the number cloths for race one , should really try and get the first three races -it means I’m always slightly ahead if anything happens on course that I need to go and investigate. As I’m clothing there comes an announcement that the first race will be delayed to allow a lightning storm to pass over…so I head for an early chicken curry.
Lunch eaten, lightning passed over and the runners are at post. Another announcement that stalls will not be used in the first race due to the lightening. This has never happened to me in a flat race before and I send another quick SOS message to the Support Team. With luck they are quick to reply- I will have to manually send a start signal when the horses jump off. I pray that the TV I can see is not a delayed feed and that my reaction time is on point. Reports come in that it all looked good and accurate, and fortunately stalls are reinstated after the first. The day is a little chaotic with some big fields meaning I can only be one full race ahead, and trackers are having to go straight back out instead of being downloaded and charged between races, but there are no other issues. Day done, a casual 24,427 steps down and a full belly.
Brighton. Traffic is hideous trying to get to the course, and due to a remote repeater being needed at the top of the long straight course I’m unable to take advantage of any shortcuts. I head directly to the repeater position, on the inside of the track about a mile from the finish, as its very hard to get back to it once the roads start to be closed for racing, and the service road is not great for my car. The weighing room has recently been redesigned, and although there’s now a top class jockeys lounge (with Pool table), the TPD facilities are sadly not yet finished. The room (cupboard) assigned to us doesn’t yet have any internet, and only recently had a working plug socket installed. Floor space is tight; there’s a table, a chair and a TV, but I have to take the chair out the room to shut the door. Not ideal. It’s a work in progress. I set up as best I can, turn on my dongle to find some signal and climb the front of the stands to set up ‘base station’ laptop. An on-site boxing gym means not everything is always where it should be at base, but today is a good day.
Dodging spiders and webs (huge, unjustified fear of spiders making progress slow) I set up base. The first two races go well, though my step counter is going like the counter on a petrol pump as I have to walk backwards and forwards between the TPD closet and the business end of the weighing room where the cloths need to be laid out for each race. Race three is in the parade ring about to be mounted when I lose internet on my ‘temporary’ Wi-Fi and the trackers on my lap top screen stop moving. Quick SOS message to the WhatsApp lifeline at Gmax, and with a password found for an alternative, emergency Wi-Fi I manage to regain internet as the horses are about to be loaded… delayed by an unruly in stalls that has to be withdrawn. It’s inevitable that for the rest of the day I will play Wi-Fi cat and mouse. Race five is the 1m4f, which starts at the furthest point of the course. My breath is always slightly held as they go to post in case some curious footpath walker has (re)moved the remote repeater, or in case the coastal winds flip the cloths (and therefore the trackers) and we lose signal on the runners. It goes fine. The rest of the day goes smoothly. I’ve clocked a disappointing 19,867 steps by the time I’ve packed up and it takes me little under an hour to get from the weighing room to the remote repeater at the end of the day. Then home.
Ffos Las is over a 400 mile round trip from my home in Sussex so it’s an early start. Glorious day though, and I love this course…I just wish it was closer. The people are friendly and the racing is good. I climb the endless flights of stairs to the top of the judge’s tower and set up. However, when I get back to the weighing room, none of the trackers are showing on my viewer. WhatsApp sent to the support group, no help, so a call to the man himself, Will Bradley. All at a loss; the internet is in good working order, all the equipment seems to be working fine and the trackers are charged and flashing, just not being picked up. WB suggests it might be as simple as a faulty antenna. The tricky part about that is even if I hung out the window with someone holding my ankles (five floors up so that isn’t going to happen anyway), I wouldn’t be able to reach the antenna to change it. I do have a spare one in my car, so I rig it up to a pole near the parade ring to see if things start working. Success!!
Trackers start to appear on my viewer. I cloth up races 1-3 and run out onto the course with my makeshift pole, antenna and remote repeater and set about getting it as high as possible in this perfectly lovely flat oval of a course (easier said than done!) Reports are that data in the first was okay but could be better if we get the antenna higher. Cue ninth climb up the tower, where I’m able to point it out the top floor window used by a Racetech cameraman, without it appearing on the television. Data in the second race was perfect, so I return to the safety of the weighing room, where a kind soul (Clerk of the scales Robert Cuthbert) has put lunch, a cup of tea and a bag of milky bar buttons on my desk….heaven! Rest of the day is delightful, my step tracker has gone completely haywire and I can reward myself with some good old unhealthy food on my (long) drive home.
Sunday morning trip to Fontwell; the place is heaving and the traffic is queuing down the road. Great for Fontwell, not great for me trying to get onto the course! I like to be 2.5 hours early for a jumps meeting as operators have to walk the course to get the GPS co-ordinates of the obstacles. Fontwell isn’t the biggest course so it doesn’t take too long, but Lingfield or Ascot can take a while. The weather is kind today, and I remembered my trainers which are both positives, and I have a successful walk round. Set up is quick, and the day goes very smoothly until race four, when a jockey comes to weigh out and the number cloth they are due to take is missing. Using the trackers in said cloth I’m able to track it down to the stable yard, and it would seem an early weigh for race five has taken the wrong number. This isn’t the end of the world seeing as how it was caught nice and early, and the jockey queried it rather than improvising as they often seem to do. Closer to the race time and it may have been more stressful. A meagre 13,654 steps and home for a large glass of something red, it is still the weekend after all.