Kempton ponders programme change to allow Sprinter broadcast

Will we see Sprinter Sacre on the telly?

Will we see Sprinter Sacre on the telly?

The opening skirmishes have been fired in what could become an interesting contest between Channel 4 and the controllers of the race programme. Last week we learned that the executive at Cheltenham had willingly juggled the race programme at the Festival next March. That means viewers will be able to watch Quevega attempt to beat Golden Miller’s record of winning at five successive Festivals when she runs in the OLGG Mares Hurdle.

Yesterday, the same co-operation was not forthcoming from the executive at Kempton Park, which showed some reluctance to move the William Hill Desert Orchid Chase from its current 27 December date to Boxing Day. The only reason this has come onto the radar is that it is increasingly likely to be the race in which Sprinter Sacre makes his come back appearance.

It’s easy to see where both sides are coming from. Channel 4 naturally wants to feature the best horses and the top races in its coverage. Kempton wants to build its Christmas meeting into a two-day festival type event, and to bring the highlight of the second day forward 24 hours would detract from that goal.

Clerk of the course Barney Clifford saw business reasons not to make a change. He reckons that a clash between Sprinter Sacre and Sire De Grugy would add 3,000 to 4,000 to the gate on 27 December, whereas bringing it forward would have a marginal impact on the Boxing Day attendance.

Speaking to sportinglife.com, Kempton general manager Phil White put the onus on Channel 4 to find a way of covering the second day at Sunbury. He said, “If Channel Four are able to provide coverage, our first choice would obviously be for him to run on the 27th. We've invested more in prize-money in the second day of the meeting and this would be a brilliant way to cement it as a Festival meeting. If that can't happen, I'd say that at this stage we're open-minded. There’s some way to go before we make any decisions”

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Channel 4 Racing presenter Nick Luck was clearly strongly in favour of broadcasting the race, but recognised there were several difficulties to overcome. He said, “Editorially, I think there is a very strong case for it. We've just spent the weekend hailing Sire De Grugy and this would give us a great opportunity to keep that story going by weighing him up against Sprinter Sacre.

We are already broadcasting on Boxing Day, on the Saturday with the Challow Hurdle from Newbury and the Welsh National at Chepstow, and then again on New Year's Day at Cheltenham and Musselburgh. Of course, it's a decision that is going to need a lot of discussion and it will be up to the sponsors, to the racecourse, to Racecourse Media Group, the British Horseracing Authority all to be happy with whatever is decided.”

You can’t help but wonder if the race might well have been scheduled on Channel 4 anyway had the BBC continued to include racing in its schedule, not least because the Welsh National was a meeting the BBC always covered.

As it is, there remains the possibility that Sprinter Sacre may not run in any case, although the vibes from Nicky Henderson’s stable were encouraging. The horse could not be treated early last week for the dirty scope he produced, as that would have ruled him out for certain from the Tingle Creek Chase. In the event he still wasn’t quite fit enough to run, hence the even greater interest in the race at Kempton. But if that isn’t fully resolved, or another problem arises, or something happens to Sire De Grugy, and one or other of them doesn’t run, any change in the programming at either the racecourse or Channel 4 will look misplaced at best.

Therein lies the problem when this sort of situation arises. Television schedules and race programmes have to be settled well in advance; horses can fall ill or go lame at any time. To alter the programming to enable coverage of an expected clash is a risky business, because there is so much that can happen to the horses at the centre of the change. Great if it comes off, egg on face if it doesn’t.

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