Man for all seasons is looking for recruits

  • Posted: Monday, 25th July 2022
  • Author: Carl Evans

A boy from Brum whose mum and dad worked in a Cadbury’s chocolate factory in Bournville heads a team which has a crucial role in point-to-pointing. Now he is looking for recruits, people who would like to become more involved in the sport, get paid for doing so and receive a pass to the races?

Martin Harris will be familiar to many who follow the sport for he is the Point-to-Point Racing Company’s chief race reader and correspondent. He is at a fixture every weekend and travels around Britain during the course of a season. He is also a leading (and highly accurate) commentator at licensed racecourses, so you may well have heard his voice calling races which are broadcast on terrestrial and satellite channels.

Combining his interest in racing with his ability to recognise colours, horses and riders has led Harris to the twin roles in which he is now involved. Initially it was a slow burn, but he stuck at it and his talent came through – now he is looking to open doors for other enthusiasts who want to become more than just spectators by becoming Point-to-Point Racing Company (PtPRC) correspondents. These are part-time roles for enthusiasts who would like to work occasional weekends, but could be a stepping stone to bigger things for those who would like to see how far they could travel within racing, racing administration or journalism.

He says: “My dad and granddad liked watching racing on a Saturday or going to the races, and I suppose I was destined to be a commentator. They are born, not manufactured. A key is having the ability to commentate and not sound like you’re wetting yourself.”

As a teenager he landed a job with Extel, the company which in past decades supplied racecourse commentaries – but not pictures – to betting shops. SIS then arrived on the scene with the ability to provide live pictures, and Extel merged into the Press Association to supply race commentaries for premium telephone lines. At 19 Harris made his commentating debut at a Carlisle fixture on the Flat.

A meeting with another commentator, Iain Mackenzie, led him into the world of point-to-pointing. Mackenzie and Terry Selby produced the sport’s annual formbook, an absolute must for anyone involved in the sport in the days when print was the only source of research. Selby’s Chase Publications supplied form guides and data to publications such as the Racing Post.

Harris topped up his income by becoming a correspondent for the organisation, and later became joint-editor of the annual when Weatherbys bought out Selby’s business.

The annual, which has been renamed the Point-to-Point & Hunter Chase Yearbook, is now part of the stable run by the PtPRC, the commercial arm of the sport based at Weatherbys in Wellingborough and owned in partnership with the Point-to-Point Authority.

Harris says: “My first job for Terry was a meeting at Upper Sapey [in Worcestershire]. The ground was good, there were ten or 11 races and more than 100 runners. I was chucked in the deep end, but my experience of being a commentator stood me in good stead.”

Note to would-be correspondents – you will be floated off in the shallow end with guidance, so do not fear a baptism of fire.

Breaking the job down into parts

Martin (pictured above) has had the opportunity to develop skills across several areas of Point-to-Point.

Martin says: “The job breaks down into various parts – ideally walk the course (going descriptions often vary from the official line, and in recent years Harris has ventured to measure race distances using an app), monitor betting moves by following the prices on the bookies’ boards. You will also get a look at the horses in the paddock and jot down anything of interest such as conformation of horses new to the sport or tack and equipment (never trust any announcements made over the PA).

“Then you follow the race and make notes for the comments in running. When I started I would commentate into a Dictaphone, which wasn’t always great. The wind could take your voice away, and on very wet days Dictaphones could become waterlogged. Many a time I had to dry one out on a radiator and hope it came back to life.

“Today I use a camcorder to follow the action, although some correspondents write down notes while listening to the course commentator (in the dangerous assumption they are accurate!!) .”

This side of the job has become easier with smaller field sizes and standard six- or seven-race cards. The days when huge entries led to divided races – ten or more races were not uncommon at certain times of the year prior to the turn of the century – seem to be in the past.

When racing has finished correspondents ring through to the PtPRC to notify them of the first three from each race, information which appears on the website Harris says: “Gone are the days when you had to drive around the countryside looking for a red telephone box from which to phone over the information.”

The next job is to send the comments in running to the PtPRC (carried out through a digital answer phone service). An edited version with brief comments is used on the website and must be in the can no later than Tuesday morning, while more detailed information has to be ready by early Wednesday morning for use in the Loose Leaf formbook, which is posted out each week to subscribers.

What is the appeal of this role within pointing for Harris? He says: “I enjoy the camaraderie, and invariably chat to 30 or 40 people at each meeting. Some are subscribers, some aren’t, and then there are riders, trainers and owners. The social side is quite different from racing under Rules.

“If you like visiting rural racecourses that is another draw, and while it can be tough when the weather is bad it’s rarely too awful. On a good day when the sun shines it is a pleasure. You’ve got to love it, but it’s a good way to get involved and learn more about the sport.

“We are not ageist or sexist and welcome anyone who would like to give it a try. Some of our correspondents have been doing the job for 30 years or more, so they must be getting something out of it.”

Correspondents are based all around Britain, so if you would like to apply or gain further information, please email Phil Lodge [email protected]