Hand­i­cap­ping boss calls it a day

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

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

weights.

“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.”

Merit Rat­ing

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

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