Has the first ripple of discontent in the arrangements between Arena Racing Company (ARC) and Channel 4 just emerged? The broadcaster has changed its coverage for Saturday following discussion with the racecourse management group.
The initial schedule for this year had cameras at Kempton to cover four races on the Racing Post Chase card and two races from the all weather meeting at Lingfield. This latter fixture was covered in the previous two years. A change of plan announced yesterday sees Lingfield bounced off the agenda, and a handicap hurdle and the Eider chase from Newcastle, and ARC sister track to Lingfield, added.
Not surprisingly, clerk of the course at Newcastle, James Armstrong was thrilled at the change of heart. He said, “It’s good news for the race and our sponsors. Since last year the Eider has been increased in value from £15,000 to £50,000, which is where it should be, and it will hopefully attract a field that reflects the prize money.”
That looks likely as the entries this morning show 22 runners, headed by David Pipe’s Mister Overseer. Two of last year’s placed horses, Captain Americo (James Ewart) and Boris The Blade (Rina Jackson) are also entered, and the quality of runners will be boosted if Thyestes Chase runner up Tarquinius (Gordon Elliott) stands his ground.
Armstrong said that “Conditions are improving and although the race hopefully won’t be as tough as it was two years ago (when only three finished), it is going to be hard work. The ground will be tiring.”
Whilst officials at Lingfield remained silent on the matter, Blue Square, who are sponsors of the races at Lingfield expressed themselves disappointed by the change. It means less coverage for the final of the Blue Square Sprint Series of races. Spokesman Alan Alger said, “We’re disappointed with the decision to drop our races but the sprint series still works well for us and I don’t think losing Channel 4 coverage devalues the sponsorship.”
His additional comments suggested that Channel 4 might actually have little interest in all weather racing, as they had not taken up opportunities to go to Lingfield when other meetings had been abandoned earlier in the year. He said, “When channel 4 had the chance to come to Lingfield this year they haven’t done, including three weeks ago when Doncaster was abandoned and there were only four races from Cheltenham shown. That perhaps suggests an emphasis away from the all weather, which is a shame for us. But you can argue it might be best for Channel 4 to concentrate on top quality jumping racing at this time of year.” They’ll certainly get that at Newcastle on Saturday.