Thursday, 11 May 2017

2017 Season - Week 2: It's all go, go, GoPro!

The second week of the season welcomed the first meeting of the year in Wales, at Tir Prince Raceway in Towyn.  OK, so once again this blog post doesn't bring you racing from Scotland BUT if you read on, there is a cheeky wee visit to Corbiewood included so be patient.  Also note, I've finally managed to update the title of the blog to something a little more apt, considering my tendency to travel the full length of the British Isles!


On Saturday 6th May, Smarty and I were up sharp to get the horses jogged before making the 260 mile journey, along with another bookmaker (BMG), to Tir Prince.  I'm currently trying to run a marathon in May to raise money for the British Heart Foundation (I just need to run 26.2 miles over the course of the entire month - simple, right?  Wrong.) so I also had to cram in another mile or so before we left to ensure that I didn't fall behind and leave myself too much to do towards the end of the month.  All in all a very productive morning at the stables and after an uninterrupted journey we arrived at The Plough Inn, St Asaph, ahead of schedule.  If you're ever in the vicinity of Tir Prince, you should check this place out; the food is amazing.  And remember, I eat out a lot all over the country, so I'm getting to be a good judge of food.

We arrived at the track just over an hour before the racing was due to start, which gave me time to meet with Racing Manager, Eric Witherspoon, to see if we could get the GoPro fitted to the start car as I'd done at York.  He had no problems with that and sent me to find BHRC Vice Chairman, Jim McInally, who was filling the role of starter on the night.  Jim and I had a couple of other projects to discuss first (all will be revealed in due course I'm sure) and I was also asked by Jim to submit the Drive of the Year poll via the BHRC Facebook page as an entry for the World Trotting Conference media awards.  The submission deadline had passed however Gwenan Thomas (my fellow STAGBI director) submitted the Drive of the Year piece as well as my overall blog (yes, this blog, the one you're reading right now).  I received confirmation this morning that the submission had been accepted, so now we wait and see.  Don't get your hopes up; I'm not!

I then set about trying to fit the GoPro to the starting gate.  Whilst in the process of doing that, Darren Owen came onto the track and before I knew it I was involved in a Facebook Live interview with Darren and Jim.  I must point out that I had fairly little warning - Jim did mention it about five minutes before we went over to the start car, but I had no idea what the content of the interview was going to be about and I had no time to prepare.  Basically I winged it.

Not sure if this will work *fingers crossed*, but hopefully you can watch a few minutes of cringeworthy Sarah winging it here.

Although, my father did ring me on Sunday morning to tell me how proud he was of me.  He doesn't have Facebook, so I can only deduce that my mother or brother showed him.  They need to stop doing stuff like that.  First warning!

With a bit more preparation I think I could quite happily chat away to Darren before a race meeting kicks off, although I'm not sure I'll be a regular feature on his Live posts.  Who knows, stranger things have happened though (like that time Heather Vitale made 'Sarah Thomas Sunday' a thing on Facebook).

Anyway, the GoPro was fitted in the centre of the gate near the 3 hole.  Tir Prince's start car has wings on each side which fold forwards flush with the length of the car (there's room for 8 on the gate).  I realised during the first qualifier that as the car was following the horses behind the last horse in the field, it wasn't going to be collecting any in-race footage.  So, before the races began, I moved it to the 2 hole.

Biggest mistake EVER.

Because the 2 hole is situated on one of the folding wings, it's not protected from the wind as the vehicle moves such as the centre of the gate is (by the vehicle itself acting as a windbreak).  As a result, and possibly because the wing was less stable structurally, the footage from that point onwards was super shaky throughout.  What's worse was that as the wings closed as the car pulled away, I was missing out on that 'golden moment' where the screen pans out to capture all the horses hurtling side-by-side towards the first bend.  When I realised this after getting home at 2:45am, I was devastated.  Smarty tried to convince me it was a lesson learnt and I know for next time where's best to place the camera, but I was kicking myself for moving it in the first place.  I was right to begin with and I shouldn't have moved it.  Lesson well and truly learnt.

Once again I'm not going to talk you through each race; you can see the official results here.

Despite the disaster that was my GoPro footage, I did at least manage to get a handful of photos (mainly during warm ups).  I think I'm still getting to grips with the challenges of nighttime photography coupled with moving subjects...

All in all a very promising start to things at Tir Prince although it probably could have gone better for me (my laptop battery was also flat all the way home so no editing was done during the car journey).  I am not deterred though!


We were supposed to have been spending Sunday at the Lauderdale point at Mosshouses, however entries were thin on the ground due, in the main, to the very dry conditions we have had recently.  Going was firm, so we decided to give it a miss.  Hindsight proved that was a good idea, as several of the races were walkovers with only one horse declared to run.

Instead we ventured to Corbiewood for the first of the qualifier and workout days at the track.  I packed up all of my recording and photography equipment and made plans to gather as much footage as possible.

I spoke at length to SHRC Chairman Fred Hay about fitting the GoPro to the start car, which he was absolutely fine with.  During the conversation, driver Gordon Gilvear wandered over (in his defence we were standing at the stable door of one of the horses he was due to workout) and asked if I planned to fit it to a driver or sulky.  I explained that further down the line, if I could prove to the stewards that it was safe and secure and that I would only put appropriate footage in the public domain, that was the ultimate goal: to record in-race footage from the participants themselves.  Fred suggested that 'today is as good a day as any' and volunteered Gordon to carry it (which he was fine with).

So after a trial run on the start car in one of the qualifiers (which turned out fine, so we have a gate position for that for the future), I fitted it to Gordon's sulky.  He had two drives, so for the purposes of my new favourite phrase, 'trial and error', I tried it forward-facing in the first and rear-facing in the second.  Due to the angle I fitted it at and the post-production correcting I had to do to prevent you all from getting sore necks, the final videos aren't 100% what I'm looking for BUT after several failed attempts of gaining steady footage with the camera attached to the horse, I think I've now nailed the in-race recording method.  We are in business.

Forward-facing view from the sulky
Rear-facing view from the sulky

I've shared this footage with a few people who seem to be impressed and keen to get this going so fingers crossed, I should be able to get some really good footage in races with 8+ horses in the race.

I then took a bit of a mad moment earlier in the week (thanks to Gordon, for his innocent question about my GoPro) and I've ordered a 360° camera which in theory will fit into the mounts I have for my GoPro.  If and when it arrives, my goal is to recreate the AMAZING Montrell Teague and Wiggle It Jiggleit video.  Trial, and indeed, error.  Or as the creator of that video says in the description, 'working out the bugs'.  The biggest bug I have being the fact I am technologically clueless.  My only saving grace is that I have a vision.  If I know what the end product should look like, then I'll be able to work out my way to get to it.

I haven't actually had a chance to edit the photos I took from various locations both on and next to the track, but here are some that look *alright* in their raw form:

Owner/trainer John Govan & Ayr Majesty
Before I bore the brains out of you any more, one quick thing before I go.  I've been working away quietly in the background (about the only thing I've ever done quietly) on a new website for the Scottish Harness Racing Club.  Currently the SHRC are communicating with members via the Facebook page which I set up 2 years ago, however some members have asked for a website as they do not use Facebook.  It's probably 90% ready to go, I'm just waiting on the thumbs up from the committee to 'go live' with it.  Once you see it you'll know it was me who designed it.  It just screams SARAH THOMAS.

I'll be sharing it like mad once I get the go ahead so...

Over and out,

#1 Groom

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