Freelancer, Director and sole employee of Rowlands Racing & Research Limited, with clients including At The Races, The Irish Field, various owners and bloodstock agents, and occasionally Timeform still.
Date you joined Timeform?
July 7th 1986, the Monday after Dancing Brave’s Eclipse. It was my dream job and one that I had begged Timeform to consider me for when I was still at school. One of my first tasks was to update the short comment on the outstanding mare Triptych.
What did you do immediately before joining Timeform?
I managed one of William Hill’s busiest shops in London. Back then, it was one of the few ways of keeping in touch with the sport on a daily basis.
What was your first role at Timeform?
After the comment-writing I became Timeform’s jumps handicapper in a wonderful era that included Desert Orchid, Carvill’s Hill and many other greats.
There’s a hell of a lot to learn about horse racing. What has stuck with you most about what you learnt during your Timeform years?
I was nuts about horseracing from an early age, especially about handicapping, but came from a non-racing background, lived nowhere near a racecourse, and had been racing only a few times before starting at Timeform. Suddenly, I started going racing two or three times a week and learnt the hard way how little I knew about that aspect. Pedigree analysis was also a mystery but something I really enjoyed picking up. I had a degree in English, and fancied I could write a bit, but it was nowhere near good enough for Timeform stalwarts like Derek Adams and Geoff Greetham, who taught me so much.
There’s pluses and minuses with moving to a new town, what are your lasting memories about your time living in Halifax?
I moved from London, where I might go to the theatre, a museum or an art gallery, to the cultural desert that was small-town West Yorkshire in the 1980s and hated it to begin with. When I came to leave Halifax, nearly 20 years later, I was in tears. It was the only place I have ever felt I truly belonged and proved to be a fantastic place to spend and mis-spend my 20s and 30s. Timeform was a real melting pot for information exchange about horseracing, betting, life, love, sport, beer, music, politics, and much more. Many of these increasingly drunken ramblings took place in bars such as Fagins, Maggies and the Big 6, with the likes of James Willoughby, David Carr, Richard “Vince” O’Brien, Ian Dean, Stewart Copeland and David Cleary. Happy days.
Thinking back, what was the job you enjoyed doing most while you were at Timeform?
Handicapping, though some of the R&D projects – including various automations, launching Timeform Ireland and helping to launch what became Timeform US – when I came back as a contractor proved to be as fulfilling as they were challenging.
What was your final role at Timeform?
I combined handicapping two-year-olds – a part-time position – with betting for a living between 2002 and 2005.
Date you left Timeform?
August 2005, though I returned – at a safe distance and very much WFH – late in 2007 until finally cutting the umbilical cord in January 2016.
What was the first job you had after leaving Timeform?
Racing Editor of The Sportsman, a tragically short-lived competitor to Racing Post. It could have been a contender.
Favourite racecourse/meeting and why?
Kempton, which is the racecourse I first went to in 1980, has a unique place in my heart, especially since they brought in all-weather in 2006. But York and the Dante or Ebor meetings are difficult to top. I have been fortunate enough to attend recent Melbourne Cups and Arcs, both of which have been sensational experiences.
Best race seen live and why?
Frankel treating proper Group 1 rivals like platers in the International Stakes at York.
Horse you have fondest memories of and why?
What piqued your interest in the sport?
I had been intrigued by the spectacle of horseracing for a while, but the 1973 Grand National, in which Red Rum ran down Crisp, clinched it. My first foray into “horseracing journalism” involved writing about the race in my junior school “what I did at the weekend” diary, pointing out that Crisp came out best at the weights. The following year, my parents bought me a Form Book for my 11th birthday, I discovered ratings, and the rest is history.
Give us a successful horse you spotted early on their route to the top?
I managed to spot Katabatic early, well before he justified support at two Cheltenham Festivals.
Give us a horse you thought was going to reach the top but never quite made it?
Visinari, though perhaps he will redeem himself in 2020! He had an enormous stride on his debut – surpassed in length only by Sea The Stars in my experience of measuring these things with video-editing technology – and I lumped on him at 40/1 ante-post for the Guineas, but he came up short in three subsequent races.
What factor/factors do you think punters place too much emphasis on?
I think people will have got the message that “going”, while it matters, is too readily used as an excuse for poor performances. There is also far too much emphasis in the racing media on trainer and jockey quotes. The evidence is in front of you in the form of races, results and data: the verbal testimony of those closest to individual horses seldom adds much of merit and can even put you away.
What factor/factors do you think is largely overlooked by punters?
Sectionals! Timeform analysis remains a long way ahead of its rivals not least because its race-reading is framed with pace firmly in mind, and pace is best measured by sectionals.
What one piece of advice would you give to someone analysing a horserace?
Establish the facts first, ideally backed up with hard numbers, and only then layer your interpretation over it. Specialise if necessary (and it is usually necessary).
What would you change about the sport?
Prune the fixture list so that it is possible for the dedicated enthusiast to follow all/nearly all of it, involve licensed personnel in actively promoting the sport on race days a bit like “Racemakers” have done already, reduce the power of some of the vested interests in decision-making, introduce a small number of valuable four-furlong handicaps, press on with sectional and other data.
Give us a trainer you think is underrated?
Ed Walker was consistently good in 2019 and got in among some even bigger names with a return of 58.5% of rivals beaten in handicaps. He also has some interesting types for Listed/Group races.
Give us a young jockey you think will reach the top?
Give us a Horse To Follow now that we are all back up and running?
The clock – sectionals even more than overall times – suggests that Domino Darling will be Group class this year.
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