Dave Clarkson, who was named commentator of the century in 1974 and was a life member of the trotting Hall of Fame, died in Christchurch last week, aged 70, after a long illness.
He began commentating in 1937 at the Banks Peninsula Racing Club, and during a thirty-four-year career he became known for his distinctive style of commentaries at galloping and trotting meetings in the Canterbury region, and also at Trentham for a number of years.
Always a keen racing enthusiast, Mr Clarkson was involved in many areas of the racing industry, both professionally and privately. He was bloodstock manager for Pyne Gould Guiness Ltd in Christchurch for many years until he retired from the position about five years ago. Mr Clarkson was also an auctioneer at the Trentham Yearling Sale for about 25 years and he was instrumental in establishing the South Island bloodstock sale.
After his retirement from race commentating in 1971, Mr Clarkson served as judge for the Canterbury Jockey Club, after which he became a steward for the club and he was later elected an honorary steward. Also a racehorse owner, Mr Clarkson had a good deal of success with the smart galloper Just A Rebel, whom he raced in partnership with the Riccarton trainer Dave Kerr.
Mr Clarkson is survived by two sons.
NZ Trotting Calendar 5Sep45
"I'll pick them up for you as I see them walking round." Yes, its the voice of Dave Clarkson - a voice known to every owner of a radio who ever heard of a horse, from one end od the Dominion to the other. He even has his fans in Australia; he has been listened to with bated breath in Egypt, in Italy, Fiji and Trieste.
Recently the well known radio personality, Jack Maybury, managed to entice Dave Clarkson into the 3ZB studios for an interview. As was only to be expected when these two able 'men of the mike' got together, it was a very successful and very entertaining interview.
Jack Maybury started off by saying that the voice of racing commentator Dave Clarkson has at some time or other been listened to on every radio set in the land. "I feel justified in saying too," said Jacko, "that thousands of listeners, including this one, have repeatedly questioned,'How does he do it?' Well, Dave, I dont know whether, like the Society of Magicians, you are sworn to secrecy - are you? Good! How did you come to take up racing commentaries?"
Answer: Well, I just fluked it. I was drafting sheep with Mr Guy Nicoll one day for the late Mr Walter Parkinson at Kaituna, when the conversation turned to the question of securing a commentator for the Banks Peninsula Club. I listened to the various suggestions of those present and then when we were coming away said to Mr Parkinson,'How about me having a go at this racing business?' One thing led to another, the result being that I was given a start and did my first broadcast for the Banks Peninsula Club on October 20, 1937.
Question: It is not a full-time job with you?
A: No, it is not a full-time job. Actually I am an auctioneer and stock agent and am employed by Messrs H Matson and Co, of Christchurch, my headquarters being at Leeston, in the Ellesmere district.
Q: Having a sporting chief like Allan Matson, I presume, facilitates your fulfilling microphone engagements?
A: Yes, it does. Mr Allan Matson and his brother John, who are the principals of the firm, are very good and let me off just whenever I am wanted by the various racing and trotting clubs.
Q: Do you find the task a tedious one?
A: No, I do not. I Enjoy every race day.
Q: If the answer to this one is yes - you don't show it in your work - ever get nervous?
A: No. Never now. Although I must admit when I first started I was very nervous for the first few days.
Q: Now, let me see - does, say, a race as important as the NZ Cup impose a greater strain on you than does, well, an ordinary hack event?
A: Yes, it does a little. When you broadcast the NZ Cup it is usually relayed throughout the country, and when the technician in the box with you says 'Don't forget you are on a national hook-up' you think, well, here goes, and it has to be good.
Q: From an announcing point of view, which is the more difficult to commentate on - galloping or trotting?
A: Galloping is the harder, mainly because the tracks are further round in circumference and therefore the horses are further away. Added to this is the fact that the gallopers race in closer formation and travel faster.
Q: In the course of your duties, you are called upon to descibe races over all manner of distances - have you any special preference in this direction?
A: Yes, I have. If the track is a mile and a half in circumference, I prefer a mile and a half race, the reason being that the start is directly below you as you stand in the box, and you therefore have what you might call a proper sight of them as they leave the barrier. In the same way, if it is a mile and a quarter track, I prefer a race of that distance and so on. This can be easily understood when you think how hard it is to see them up at the six furlong barrier as at Riccarton and Trentham.
Q: Now Dave, heres's a thing that has most of us guessing - we go to the races and maybe in a field of 20 we back our particular fancy. I think I speak for a lot of sports when I say it's a ticklish job to pick up that one horse at the barrier, let alone follow his fortunes - good or bad - during the race. With you, well, as easy as falling off the preverbial log - you lay aside the racebook and with that now quite famous phrase,'I'll pick them up for you as I see them walking round'...you proceed to run through the entire field. Is it numerology, psychology, astrology, or just plain Clarksonology?
A: Well, now, that is a question I am often asked, and it is not so easy to answer. Firstly, you must have good binoculars and I am particularly proud of mine. Secondly, I have been brought up among horses all my life, and have a great love for them.
Q: Does it entail a great degree of initial study on your part?
A: When I first started I used to swot the colours up quite a bit, But now I never see them until the actual day of the races.
Q: I hope you don't consider me too inquisitive, and please don't think I have any designs on a racing commentator's job. I tried it once - yes - a draught horse derby in Hereford Street - only three starters too - believe me I had a headache for days afterwards. It is rumoured that a lot of people see pink elephants - do you see horses in your sleep?
A: Well, I am afraid I don't see horses in my sleep, and am lucky enough to be one of those who sleeps particularly soundly.
Q: How exactly do you follow the candidates through the progress of a race?
A: There are several small things that give us a clue to the various horses in the race, but the main item is the colours. You must know them from A to Z. Then some particular horse may have a white bridle or martingale on, or both. Another might be wearing a breast-
plate. Then one of the horses in the race may be grey and this is a wonderful help. Then in the trotting sport you get to know the crouch of the various drivers in the sulkies. They have their little pecularities in style which stand out to you. Can't you see at this moment the crouch of Dil Edwards, the way F J Smith holds his hands and the way Allan Holmes leans forward behind Gold Bar. Then in the galloping sport riders such as L J Ellis, W J Broughton and R J Mackie have a seat of their own that is hard to miss, and you couldn't help but pick up Arthur Didham with his long legs. All these points help to make the job a bit easier.
Q: When something comes out of the blue, as it were, is your judgement taxed?
A: Well, no, it is not. But knowing the colours and those smaller points you are able to pick out the horse 'that comes from the clouds' just as soon as it appears.
Q: Do adverse weather conditions make it very difficult?
A: Yes, they make a big difference. If it is a lovely fine day the horses are brought into the birdcage and the jockeys come out to mount with their colours up and you get a good look at them as they parade round. Then you get them set in the back of your mind. If it is a wet day the riders or drivers appear with their coats on, and go to the post like this, which means that you don't get a chance to get a look at the colours and freshen up your memory until about two minutes before the starter lets them go.
Q: When your engagements take you away from your home area, is it difficult to become acquainted with new horses?
A: Yes, it is rather. When I first went up to Trentham to act for the Wellington Racing Club, I found it was nearly like starting all over again. I had then to become acquainted with a big number of North Island horses, and learn their colours. Even now on each trip to Trentham I find that I come in contact with a good number of fresh horses on each visit.
Q: Do you really get as excited during the finish of a race as you appear to over the air?
A: Do I really get excited? I have been asked this question several times. Well, yes I do. The tougher the finish the better I like it. Nothing appeals more than a race with the pace on all the way and a head and head finish. I love to see them go.
"Again our grateful thanks for having made this broadcast possible," said Jacko in conclusion. "I feel I voice the sentiments of many thousands of listeners all over NZ in saying 'Thanks a million for the job you have done so well in the past." We appreciate you, and trust you may enjoy the very best of health to enable you to carry on the good work for many many years to come."
Credit: NZ Trotting Calendar 16Aug83