Trackmen were once stars with a stopwatch

Race against time … the famous clock tower at Flemington.
Race against time … the famous clock tower at Flemington.

Jack Norman, a trainer who won the Golden Slipper with Reisling in 1965, once pursued Horrie Gollan, the Rosehill trackman, around the course's hosing-down stalls with the intention of skewering him with a pitchfork.

During that era, gallops and those who timed them were important indeed. The Herald employed more trackmen than social reporters.

Even the ABC had a Randwick clocker, a member of a hardy team who identified and timed hundreds of horses on fast mornings when they were involved in serious workouts.

Trainers went to extremes to keep smart gallops shrouded. Some would work in the dark and others gave out wrong names to throw reporters off the scent.

To steal a trainer's market (top odds), by making public a sensational gallop, was worse than taking liberties with his wife. Thus the Norman frenzy when Gollan was attempting to identify one of his team.

Getting the times right, though, was an art, pressing the button when a horse was at a certain mark and stopping at the finish. A second was vital.

But the identification skills were freakish. Randwick trackmen such as Bob Jones, Joe Tauro, Mick O'Brien and before them Mick Hayes were uncanny.

Apart from Gollan at Rosehill, Ron Duggan had an eagle eye as did Warwick Farm's Billy Bell.

Winning systems on the punt revolved around gallops, published three times a week in the main newspapers as well as form guides.

But they are long gone with the exception of the few given exposure in The Sportsman.

"Contrast the ATC with what the Hong Kong Jockey Club provides to help punters. Detailed sectional times … racing video library … trackwork times," Bruce Freeman wrote. "I believe the ATC should provide every assistance to punters, or horse racing will continue to lose the 'punting dollar' to sports betting."

Hong Kong emphasises the importance of track gallops. At one stage the club tried a special helmet, worn by jockeys and perfected for the Israeli army, for timing but it proved unsatisfactory.

Now all horses are given a number and saddlecloth. In every gallop, the saddlecloth must be worn. Gallops are electronically timed.

With trainers attempting to safeguard some privacy - the Norman syndrome - mistakes occur but heavy fines are imposed if a horse carries the wrong saddlecloth.

In Hong Kong all trackwork is filmed and available to the punters.

Australian racing authorities don't concern themselves with punters in general and gallops in particular. Maybe it could be argued barrier trials have taken over.

Sectional times in races on most Sydney tracks are regarded by professionals as a joke. Possibly a new system is on the way - like Christmas 2015. "World's best practice" is being bandied around as a reason for delay.

"Hong Kong has the best racing model in the world,'' John Schreck, the former Australian Jockey Club and Hong Jockey Club chief steward, said when comparing the two turf centres. Surely there is a lesson to be learnt.

With gallops, perhaps ClockitEQ, promoted by Mike Davis, a British vet who spends six months a year in Perth, is the answer.

According to the sales pitch, it "records accurate heart rate, speed and GPS data for every training gallop by every horse, using an iPhone carried by the jockey''.

"If the trainer and jockey subscribe to the system, then data is transmitted live to the trainer trackside or at any location in the world, and is uploaded to a secure server for later analysis.

"All data is encrypted for total security. Trainers can create reports on individual horses and can share these with the horse's connections …

"The system is preset for a number of training centres, and is customised to any track in the world.

The jockey app is designed to be carried by a track rider and is primarily a data-logging device, while the trainer's app gives them the benefit of real-time track data of speed and sectional times as the horse is actually running … "

No stopwatches required. Full attention can be given to the workout in what is horseback technology on the boil. Jim Cassidy gave it the thumbs up after a test ride.

Alas, cost is the hurdle.

Who is going to pay? Trainers are apprehensive, suggesting the settling be picked up by the cash-strapped ATC.

No doubt Racing NSW is in a better position. However, Peter V'landys is the controller of the purse and it's easier to pull a bale of hay off a hungry elephant than to get financial largesse there.

So make do with the few denizens of the dawn who survive: Craig Tompson (Randwick), John Mok (Rosehill) and Jock Gollogley at Broadmeadow, which has a proud tradition of track watchers including Val Harland, who declared Luskin Star a champion before he raced.

Gollogley is keen on Whitlam, trained by Kris Lees, shooting for a hat-trick of wins in the last at Rosehill on Saturday.

"He is jumping out of his skin and was a handful for his rider doing even time on Thursday," Gollogley reported.

Fortunately, Lees is unlikely to do a Jack Norman on him.

This story Trackmen were once stars with a stopwatch first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.