Hoiles -- the race caller with a head for figures

Ascot (United Kingdom) (AFP) –


Richard Hoiles, whose voice millions round the world will hear calling the horses at Royal Ascot this week, has travelled an unconventional route to commentating and helping English broadcaster ITV garner awards for its racing coverage.

The urbane Englishman loved racing but he never dreamt of being a commentator and qualified as an accountant.

However, finding that "young hard-nosed strategic analysts" were not flavour of the month when the recession hit in 1992 he looked elsewhere for a career change and says modestly he "stumbled and fluked," his way into commentating.

"My mother's other half at the time worked in TV and as a favour to her set up a mock studio for me with Uttoxeter races on TV," Hoiles told AFP as he prepared to commentate for five days of Royal Ascot.

"Halfway through the third race he stopped me and I thought oh oh but instead he said you can do this!"

Feeling like a "child in a toy box" Hoiles secured one of the two jobs on offer to do racecourse commentaries round the United Kingdom for a broadcasting company that serviced bookmakers -- this though presented some quixotic challenges.

"It did break the mould compared to the old style," he said.

"However, some tracks were not so keen on us doing that.

"So we would have to commentate from bookmakers pitches without TV monitors and dodgy phonelines which sometimes people kicked out of their sockets!

"Nevertheless it was a great way of learning the craft."

However, commentators before his day had other challenges to face when calling the races for the racegoers.

"In Oh So Sharp's 1000 Guineas win at Newmarket in 1985 the last racegoers knew was she was third (about a furlong/200 metres out)," said Hoiles.

"The commentators had to shut up once the field passed them so as not to disturb the judges line of thinking in case they called the result wrong! (Oh So Sharp won in a thrilling finish)

"Commentators realised they were down the pecking order in importance but it has of course changed radically since then."

- 'Find the words that fit' -

Hoiles's big break came when he was hired by the Hong Kong Jockey Club in 1997 as a commentator and presenter -- thanks to a recommendation by legendary Australian commentator JA McGrath who according to Hoiles "revolutionised racing commentary" in the British Isles.

"I consider it my three year university degree," said Hoiles, who stayed three years out there.

"The Chinese media were manic and one had a lot more time to chat to jockeys and trainers.

"My abiding memory was working under lights in a 10 race card at Sha Tin drinking three litres of water and never getting up to go to the loo."

Hoiles, who has due to that found doors opening all over the world from Japan and Dubai to the unlikely environs of Hastings Park in Vancouver, said the passion aroused by racing in Hong Kong was extraordinary.

"Racing was like the Premier League is over here, everyone followed racing.

"If you were on the tram with the race form the passengers would crowd round you and go 'tips, tips, tips'.

"It was the most watched programme of the week like Coronation Street over here."

Having now become the master after an eventful apprenticeship Hoiles, who remarks flat racing is tougher to commentate on than the jumps, says the lesson he has learned is not to be clever.

"The fundamental thing is be accurate and get into a good rhythm," he said.

"The challenge for the better races is for the words to fit what people are seeing.

"You can't be in their face all the time going at 90 miles an hour.

"It is trying to find the words that fit and are right not the clever ones...It does not work like that."