Handicapping boss calls it a day
IT’S A time of flux at the National Horse Racing Authority (NHRA), a feeling enhanced by the announcement that long-standing handicapping manager Roger Smith, pictured, is emigrating, and will be vacating his position at the end of September.
The 56-year-old Smith was born and bred in Johannesburg, growing up in the Mondeor area.
His grandparents were small-scale owners and breeders, which provided his first contact to a horsey environment.
“My grandmother, Lorna, took me to the stables of her brother-in-law, Ernie Williams, on a Sunday.
“In those days no under 18s were allowed on the racecourse, so you couldn’t go to the racing itself.
“My father played an odd jackpot and PA, but my parents weren’t involved in racing as such.”
His entry into racing administration came in 1985.
“I was taken on as Assistant Handicapper to Jeff Moffett at Gosforth Park, who was my early mentor. He was a good influence – very accurate and meticulous.
“In those days things were very different. Each racing club had its own handicapper, so there was one at Turffontein, Newmarket, and Gosforth Park, all working independently.
“We used the race figure system, which meant a more or less fixed six-point penalty for each win.
“And there were no computers used – everything was done with handwritten cards.
“You would fill in the form line manually after each run, and then the next time the horse accepted, you would have to find the card, and work out the weight to be carried. I much prefer the way we do it now,” he added.
He performed many other roles along the way.
Clerk of scales
“I was clerk of scales sometimes, and was also involved in marketing and promotions. In more recent times I have also done duty as a judge on occasion when needed.
“In 1988 I took up the position of handicapper at Newmarket, but a year later Gauteng racing was rationalised into one body under the banner of the Highveld Racing Authority.
“I worked in handicapping and managed racing services doing things like weights and acceptances.
“Then in September 1999 I moved to Turffontein and the NHRA soon after the Merit Rating system was implemented, and have been here for exactly 19 years”.
Roger has worked with a few handicappers along the way.
“The late Colin Buckham gave me valuable advice, and was knowledgeable and experienced.
“I also worked with Mike Wanklin for a long period, and he is now working with us again as a consultant from overseas.
“Internationally I have found Nigel Gray from Hong Kong to be a good sounding board, and he has always been helpful when asked for input.”
Roger has seen many changes in his three decades in racing, not all of it good.
“I still enjoy the competition and racing, but a lot of the on course vibe has disappeared in modern times due to the drop in attendance.
“In days gone by there was more mainstream interest in our sport.”
Many a great horse has come and gone in Roger’s time, but he singled out a few.
“Golden Loom was a special horse and a favourite of mine – he won with huge
“Others springing to mind are Horse Chestnut, Jungle Rock, the filly Roland’s Song, and recently Variety Club – he was brilliant, and his Grade 1 win in Hong Kong where he thrashed Able Friend was quite sensational.”
An exciting potential new development in our handicapping is a proposal put forward by Roger, Mathew Lips and Mike Wanklin to the NHRA Graded Races committee to remove weight-for-age from the Merit Rating system, and only work with nett ratings.
“This would make a big difference, but nothing has been agreed as yet.”
The impetus for Roger leaving the NHRA and South Africa came when his wife, Gerlind, secured a senior position in Jersey, one of the British Channel Islands.
“They have racing in Jersey, but only about eight meetings a year.
“I’m keeping my future options open, but this chance to expand our horizons was impossible to turn down.”
Roger and Gerlind have two adult children, who will be based in the Netherlands, only a short trip away.
The departure of Roger Smith will leave a big gap in our handicapping ranks, and replacing this dedicated and highly committed individual is going to be no easy task.
– TAB News