“I’ll tell you after the seventh!”
Goodwood’s clerk of the course, Ed Arkell, invited me to spend a race day with him – but anybody who has ever asked him how the day is going while proceedings are ongoing will be familiar with his response.
Throughout the day, I learned that Arkell works meticulously to detail – as, of course, he will be when Glorious Goodwood gets under way next Tuesday.
So much so that, should you ask, you will be afforded no inkling of how the day is going, with Arkell telling me when I shadowed him he would “tell me after the seventh”.
My learning experience began at 6am – after I’d been plied with a much-needed coffee – when we embarked on our first walk of the course.
Arkell had handed me a chart showing the difference in rainfall between April and May 2018 and 2019, respectively. It showed a huge 100mm less this year.
He explained: “Natural rainfall is heading towards being three times as effective as irrigation – meaning that for every 7mm of rainfall, you’d need around 21mm of irrigation in order for it to achieve the same effect.”
The groundsmen had been working tirelessly through the night in order to ensure the racing surface was in perfect condition – and it was.
Although the TurfTrax digital going stick updated the going chart through a simple wire, each section was checked by the clerk, with a few amendments to the zones – in keeping with the course.
Having scaled every inch of the Goodwood track, and with the going for the day updated, we headed off for breakfast.
My full English was followed by a trip to the stables, to ensure all was well there.
After visiting the stables, I was then afforded the luxury of ‘the calm before the storm’ – or as most people refer to it – a break!
If there is one thing we could all learn from the clerk, it is that by preparing in advance, you make for a less arduous job on the day. Or as he put it – “It affords us extra time to deal with any unforeseen issues which may occur throughout the day.”
As Arkell had already prepared everything he could the evening before, it was a chance for us to sit and read through the day’s racing news and the card for the day ahead.
This was also perfect timing for him to update Goodwood’s social media followers with a short video describing the going.
We reconvened at 11am for our second course walk, this time joined by the BHA stewards’ panel chair for the day – whose job during that walk is to ensure he is happy with the ground and that nobody had missed any potential hazards.
Thankfully there were no issues – which was to be expected from a clerk of the course who oversaw more than 140 race days a year in his previous role.
Arkell joined the panel in the ‘Stewards’ Room – where a briefing took place; running through things such as non-runners, any horses which are to go early to post, and other key details.
No sooner had the morning begun – it was time to swap our wellies for our suits and prepare for the first race.
We spent pre-race in the parade ring as Arkell mingled with connections and thanked them for choosing to run at Goodwood. His role was to be available should anybody wish to approach him for questions, but more importantly, to ensure everything ran to schedule and the horses made it safely on to the racecourse.
We then took the stairs to the stewards box – where we watched each race. The clerk’s job was to ensure the course was laid out correctly, that the horses got down to the start okay and there were no problems with the stalls.
The first five races went without mishap. I wanted to ask questions and gain information – but perhaps asking how things were going during the racing did come with a ‘curse’ after all…
In race six, a horse burst the stalls, prompting a false start. But this was dealt with in a calm and professional manner – you’d have been forgiven for not realising there was an issue.
There was a stewards inquiry held after racing, my cue to end a fantastic day and make a run for it.
I must thank Ed for allowing me to shadow him. And if I do it again, I promise not to ask how it’s going.