Royal Ascot Round Up 2014

Royal Ascot 2014 round up

Royal Ascot 2014 round up

So that was Royal Ascot 2014. How was it for you?

As is the case every year, there were winners and losers, and this post is dedicated in equal measure to both of them. It will take in along its meandering path TV viewing figures, competition winners, and - of course - the horses.

We'll start with the telly. Channel 4 has been under pressure of various sorts with its horse racing production pretty much since it acquired a monopoly to transmit racing to terrestrial TV audiences in 2012. The main points of that pressure have been raised elsewhere on here, and it is not the purpose of this blog to reprise them.

However, last week was a huge one in terms of the fundamental commercial viability of the station's coverage, in light of dramatic decreases in both viewing numbers and audience share during Epsom's Derby weekend.

So how did the numbers stack up last week? And, as importantly, what changes did C4 introduce to attempt to halt the slide?

Before I go on, I think it is important to say that I am a supporter of Channel 4's coverage of racing. Not necessarily in its current format, but I do believe the channel is extremely committed to the sport.

I also feel that the general media consensus of C4-bashing rather cherry picks its data to serve that negative end. The headline figure is that average viewing across the week was down from 658,000 to 583,000, a drop of 13% or so. But that figure does not offer a fair comparison.

Firstly - and implicit in this is the nub of the issue - C4's share of the TV viewing audience was actually up on last year. In that context, the channel can be argued to have done a decent job.

Indeed, the recruitment of Frankie Dettori - insightful and media-savvy - is a great addition; and, specifically for Royal Ascot, Gok Wan was a surprisingly (to me, anyway) good presenter and fused the necessary fashion blethering with the racing pretty well. In getting behind the scenes about the morning wear palaver, I - as a confirmed informal dresser - learned some new stuff that was of mild interest. And I'm generally not at all interested in such things.

I think it is hard to crab C4's effort in terms of Royal Ascot, and there are clear signs of their determination to turn the viewing situation around.

There are still issues - such as the lack of variety in the form analysis department; the banality of some of the immediate post-race interviews (which, in fairness, did seem better than usual - personally, I'd be happy to dispense with, in favour of a more considered view after the jockey has spoken to connections); and the pointlessness of asking all members of the cast for their tips, as though they all have an equally relevant contribution to make on that score.

But in covering all thirty races at the Royal meeting; in merging the requirement to reflect the social/fashion elements of the fixture with the high class racing; and in bringing in A-Listers in Frankie and Gok, who know their business and have keen existing audiences, C4 has bounced back well since the flop of Epsom just a fortnight prior.

It's a long game, and a legacy super-tanker doesn't turn in a short space of time. It is my opinion that the channel has earned the right to slightly more empathic, if not supportive, media coverage. Alas, it is seemingly the malady of British racing, and its mainstream media, to search for stains which others may not notice or consider material.

The Royal Ascot viewing figures need to be taken in the macro context: in a context which externally recognises the rise of live streaming on the internet, and of catch up TV; a context which accepts that people spend more time surfing than they do watching telly; and a context that, consequently, accepts that comparing viewing figures year on year is a meaningless likeness, unless it is undertaken against the backdrop of the overall reduction in viewing figures.

Audience share is a far more contextual measure, and the C4 numbers were up on that basis. We should further keep in mind that there is a World Cup on and, despite the disappointing performance of the home team (for some of us), it has been utterly riveting fare. And, moreover, the rather splendid weather will have given cause for many to take a walk in the park, or to sit in a beer garden, rather than jab their finger at the remote control.

These are all material factors in the somewhat two-dimensional 'viewing figures' debate, which have been largely (and conveniently) overlooked by some members of the press who should be - and usually are - more responsible.

Let's hope C4 can build on what I thought was solid progress last week, in the coming weeks and months.

**

To the sport itself now, and it was a great week for high class action, and also for followers of the top end of the market. (I avoid the use of sayings like "a great week for punters", which assume we all back favourites religiously).

Tuesday is always a high class day, and this year was no exception, with Toronado underlining his Group 1 credentials in the very first race. Some people consider that this race should be moved to later in the day, or even later in the week, but I don't agree. I think it is a suitably high profile race with which to shout to all-comers that Royal Ascot has opened for business.

Unlike other meetings, people don't turn up at Royal Ascot just before the third race. They get there early, have a picnic and a Pimm's - or a pie and a pint, and they're there for the full six races (note, not seven or eight, like other meetings where cards have expanded with a resultant dilution of quality elsewhere).

That said, there was a case for moving the feature race each day from the third to the fourth on the card, and that was another successful change this year.

The fourth race on Tuesday was the St James's Palace Stakes, won in striking style by Kingman. In swerving rapidly into the lead inside the final furlong, Kingman showed he had electric acceleration and cemented his place as the top Classic generation miler this term. He will be a strong favourite for the Sussex Stakes at Glorious Goodwood given the excellent record of three-year-olds against their elders (weight for age and all that), and I'm looking forward to seeing whether Toronado takes his seat at the Sussex table.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Clock watchers - and especially the sectionalistas, who seem to largely hang out on twitter - were moistened by the performance, and you can get a view on their excitement for Kingman here.

In the sprint department, Eddie Lynam again showed his power - actually, he showed his Powers: Sole Power winning the King's Stand on Tuesday, and Slade Power the Golden Jubilee on Saturday. In between, the relatively small-time Irish handler unleashed another speedster in Anthem Alexander to win the five furlong Queen Mary. That gave Lynam a 75% strike rate on the week, which is frankly preposterous. Excellent work.

The biggest disappointment of the week, the loss of three horses aside, was the defeat of the amazing Treve. She wasn't suited by the distance or the going, but most of all she was inconvenienced by what has subsequently emerged as pulled muscles in her back. She is the sort of older horse that the flat variant of our sport absolutely must cherish if it wants to retain its appeal, and so it is to be hoped she enjoys a speedy convalescence, and can return to a racetrack near us in time for late season events, most notably the Arc.

Despite her trailing in third, it was an excellent race with genuine Group 1 horses beating her. The Fugue is a machine on lightning fast ground, and she (re-)confirmed that ten furlongs is her range when readily despatching of Magician, himself operating under optimal conditions.

Thursday's Gold Cup was a belter. The first three home were separated by just a neck and a short head, with stories everywhere. The oft-maligned (occasionally by me!) Joseph O'Brien rode one of his uncomplicated stormers on Leading Light, 10/11 favourite. In fact, that might not do him enough credit, because a car park draw, some mid-race scrimmaging, and a devil of a fight to hold off the other podium protagonists showed 'son of Aiden' in a very good light.

That he was repelling the Queen's defending champ, Estimate, at the death added spice to the tale; and that long-time leader, and hugely popular dual purpose race mare, Missunited, was fractions back in third, made it an epic of a Gold Cup. My big-priced fancies are still running, and it's a race in which I have a pretty consistent profile... of finding loser after loser after loser.

Friday started with a possible early contender for next year's 1000 Guineas. Cursory Glance deserves at least that for those tempted to wager so far in advance, and her post-race quote of 20/1 for the Newmarket Classic looks fair enough, given that she fair scooted away from some speedy types, and that she's bred to get the mile. Against that, she might need it quick - something far from guaranteed in early May - and her sire, Distorted Humor, is a noted producer of 'early types' (i.e. two year olds).

One to take from that race was Malabar. Flagged in my preview of the race last week at 33/1, she ran on stoutly to be denied second by just a head and a neck. She'll clearly win races, though is likely to be a very short price next time she lines up.

The King Edward VII Stakes - the Ascot Derby, as it's become known - was won in facile fashion by Eagle Top, a Johnny G-trained dark'un having just his third run. He'd been 'wrong' when only fourth last time, and showed his true colours here to hack up. He'd lobbed into the race and then booted more than three clear of the second, Adelaide, and almost six clear of the third.

I guess it might be another King next on Eagle Top's agenda: the King George over the same course and distance. However, the trainer is in no rush and may wait for late season targets like the Arc. Clearly this fellow is held in very high regard.

Saturday's final day was a good one for Sir Michael Stoute, as the week as a whole had been, and he enjoyed a back-to-back double courtesy of Arab Spring and Telescope, the latter charging seven lengths clear of his field. Both were impressive, though, and the former - winning a handicap here - looks every inch a Group horse, and might be a smidge of value next time in Group 2 class.

The Wokingham was won by the well-backed Baccarat - maybe that should be the well-bacc'ed Baccarat. My two were a little unlucky. Glen Moss won the race on the far side by over a length, but that was only good enough for ninth overall. And Seeking Magic looked as though he was feeling the ground a bit, finishing a six length eleventh. Ho hum.

Overall, it was a great week. Attendances were up 5%, all of the races were covered on terrestrial telly and, despite three equine fatalities, the ground staff did a fine job of ensuring safe and fair ground in a very dry week.

**

And finally, we had a competition. 115 of you entered, and some did better than others! An impressive 42 of you broke even or better, with seven players achieving a greater than 100% ROI. Nice shooting, and I hope you all followed up your tips with real cash, which you're still counting now. 🙂

To the winners, and at the top of the pile, with six winners from 18 selections, and a profit of 760 points, is racingguy, aka Paul Graham, aka 'Scottish Paul'. I've known Paul a long time, and he was responsible for some of the smarter elements of geegeez' look and feel back in the day.

He's a keen punter, and I know it will have given him great satisfaction to claim this title. The £100 will be a welcome bonus too!

Paul had an amazing week, notching winners at 20/1 (Field Of Dream), 14/1 (Born In Bombay), 10/1 (Richard Pankhurst) and 9/1 (Baccarat), as well as a couple of shorties.

The runners up prize of various Royal Ascot goodies goes to Richiebhoy in what I'm assuming could be a Scottish 1-2. Richie's five winners from twelve picks included Domination (12/1), Hootenanny (7/2) and Slade Power (7/2).

Stod180 also pushed hard but couldn't find the winner he needed to get in the mix on Saturday, meaning he settles for a prizeless (though kudos-rich) third. His consolation is that a nice winner at Ponty yesterday leaves him well placed for the monthly prize in the tipping league. If you're not yet playing that game, why not? We give away £240 in prizes EVERY MONTH, and it's free to enter. Full details are on the 'Rules' tab here.

That's all from me. What did you think of the Channel 4 coverage? And how about the racing? How did you get on? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.

Matt

Your first 30 days for just £1
20 replies
  1. Dave says:

    Hi Matt, Fantastic five days racing at Royal Ascot with two winning trebles for me on the first and last day (thanks Ryan). I thought the C4 coverage was very good this year, (definitely do not miss the irritating Willie Carson) with the exception of the Matty Batchelor Charades time filler! Who’s idea was that? All in all great racing and great TV coverage.

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      Hi Dave,

      Well done on your winning triples. Nice work!

      And thanks for your comment on the C4 coverage. I doubt the Charades bit will become too much of a regular feature..!

      Best,
      Matt

  2. Ian Winfield says:

    Hi Matt, i agree with you to extent on what you have said, however C4 are in trouble, lets not beat about the bush, their viewers are dwindling and its hardly surprising when you look at the cast, Lord Snooty it seems is always trying to down Graham and Jim with his so called knowledge and he tries to be funny but cannot carry it off, Graham Cunningham cannot answer a question without handing it over to Jim McGrath mid sentence and hes not one for me, Mick Fitzgerald should among the horses to tell us what he thinks and not sitting behind a desk where he seems a little lost at times, as for Tanya Stevenson, now i like Tanya but she needs to toughen up abit and make that pitch her own as she seems timid when confronted with powerful co-presenters, i would keep Emma talking to the jockeys as she gets more out of them than the dreadful Mr Persad and thats what he is,SAD and he thinks he knows it all and is very condecending, one thing i would do is get rid of Miss Prim and look at me, Gina whats her name, she is boring and asks the stupid of questions and she is certainly not in the same league as Alice Plunkett or even Lydia Hislop (attheraces), Claire Balding needs to decide what she is doing as one minute she is heading the show then shes off doing some other crap and it lacks continuity, the one main point that bugs me is that they talk at length after the race has run but they dont say a lot before as to who has done what and who will be better suited to the going or distance which is what the show should be all about, finally Frankie did his best but it just papers over the cracks, Gok Wan is not the answer as he is only high street fashion in my book, i mean, come on he’s not exactly Alexander McQueen or even Victoria Beckham, now that would have been a coup, what i would like to see is less fashion talk and more racing talk as the clue is in the title, after all it is supposed to be a racing channel.

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      Hi Ian

      Thanks for your comment, and that’s the way you see it, of course.

      But Royal Ascot has never ‘just’ been about racing. Gok Wan was, in my view, a very good choice for the fashion sections which are not going to appear in every C4 racing bulletin. They are, however, relevant for Ascot.

      Your views on the presentation team are a little more ‘forthright’ than mine, and you probably speak for a fair number of people with what you say. I wouldn’t be one of that group, though!

      Matt

  3. Josh Wright says:

    A fantastic week of racing, i really enjoyed it and on the whole thought that the C4 coverage was quite good,not many complaints from me. Punting wise it was quite good – i managed to plunder 26 points – alas all of my losers,plus a few more, were tipped up in the competition!!! I I was only playing with half point stakes on the whole so was happy enough-i didnt put enough time into form study to be overly aggressive. the highlight being backing the middle 4 winners on Friday. Of course, the one day i did have time to put some ‘proper work’, Saturday, i couldnt back a winner.

    I did find the jockey blogs very good – namely Moore’s on betfair, he does know his stuff and will tell you when he fancies one. Learnt my lesson as I didnt back Cannock Chase or Arab Spring,who he was particularly keen on. Spencer’s blog on Coral was interesting as well,especially little snippets about some horses homework – esp those he wasnt riding,interesting insight into the newmarket rumour mill!

    So, a good week all in all – just wish I was a bit more thoughtful with my tipping!!

  4. Brian says:

    Hi Matt, it seems to me that the fact that Joseph O’Brien didn’t lose the race constituted a fine ride or as Channel 4 reminded us ” a defining ride”.O,Brien was on the best horse- who is a real trier- over a long distance and the horse was the meritorious winner not the jockey.Incidentally Leading Light jinked to his left which seemed to happen to a lot of horses O’Brien rode which suggests he’s just not strong enough as well as the fact that he was lying too far back on ground that was fast.

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      Very unfair, Brian. The stats for outside draws in the Gold Cup are incredibly negative. He did very well to win, in my opinion, best horse or not.

      As for horses jinking towards the end, lots of them do it, not just O’Brien ones. Watch Kingman for instance. It’s a long known idiosyncrasy, which could be down to where the tannoy is, or where the wall of noise from the stands get to the horses. But lots of horses do it, and to single O’Brien out does rather smell of your personal dislike for him… 😉

      Matt

  5. Shaun says:

    Enjoyed reading your ‘wrap’ comments Matt and agreed with a lot. On the channel 4 points I tend to think we have an overkill of presenters, post race interviewers etc. I would rather have a lot more discussion between the experts about the chances of horses BEFORE the race than a lot of POST race discussions about how the winner won, who was unlucky etc….it is just a personal choice but I do feel that Jim McGrath sits on the fence too much, Graham G doesn’t offer a lot. In fact I might be alone in this, but I happen to think the best ‘tipster’ is Tanya S…she comes up with a few off the cuff views on certain races that are good. I would use her more. The only thing I do wish Channel 4 would do is screen ALL the races from Cheltenham too as they did at ASCOT…..It is the best NH Festival, so why not?

    Shaun

  6. Paul Williamson says:

    Hi, Matt, Five fantastic days racing at Royal Ascot, and again i agree with a lot of your comments i thought on the whole Channel 4’s coverage was very good and very watchable as usual, but maybe with just a few tweeks here and there ie ( the comments i made a few weeks ago here) i was also surprised by Gok Wan as i have normally minimal interest in that side, it’s the racing i like. regards Paul

  7. john cutts says:

    Leading Light looked beaten to me, (through no fault of the jockey), just before turning for home, so I thought Joseph O’Brien did really well to get an admitteedly willing horse home like that. It was interesting what his dad said about the horse getting outpaced over 2 miles and also interesting that he is going to drop it back in trip to a mile and a half.

  8. Brian says:

    Your missing the point Matt which is that a lot of horses ridden by O’Brien move off a straight line particularly when he uses his whip. It seems to me that he does not have the strength in his legs or body to keep his mounts on a reasonable line at the busness end of a race.The idiosyncrasies of horses is a separate story.As regards my personal dislike for him well this is a bit silly of you Matt as I imagine Joseph is a very nice fellow but unfortunately as a punter I have to call it as I see it.One of the problems with Channel 4 is the fact they hand out sycophantic paens to all the known faces whilst failing to give us a balance on bad strategies and ill judged rides.Unlike you Matt I believe we need more forthright views to connect with the ordinary punter and at least give them the feeling that they exist somewhere out there in the ether !

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      All fair enough, Brian, and yes of course I meant JOB was obviously not to your punting tastes, rather than any personal vendetta!

      Re the sycophancy, I feel that’s endemic within the sport, which is ‘clubby’ perhaps more than any other in terms of media vs player relations. Not sure how that changes. For instance, you’ve a .ie email, so I’m guessing you’ve watched RTE coverage of racing. Is it materially different from C4? Will any pundit there put their head above the media parapet and aim an arrow or two at the players? I’d doubt it, but happy to be proved wrong on that.

      Matt

  9. Jez Atkinson says:

    Hi Matt,
    I thought the C4 coverage was pretty good, a decent balance. Your observations, world cup, weatther, other viewing streams are bound to make a huge impact on figures. I do think the team needs some adjustment and I’ve no doubt that they will be made. Why they got rid of Francome I will never understand. Flat or jumps, his oplnions were always thoughtful and relevant. The only comment on the other posts on here that I would back up is the complete inability of Jim Mcgrath to commit himself. How he ever finds the confidence to back a horse,never mind a winner is beyond me. Overall however I thought it was a great week’s racing and coverage. Let’s be grateful to C4. After all, we could have and still could.lose the lot from mainstream tv. Just look at all the other sports that have gone from non satellite viewers.

  10. chas says:

    good writing matt placepot on wed only paid £86 which i think was terrible as 5th race had 20 /1 12/1 16 /1 16/1 how did the tote (f done )take out of it for himself

  11. Brian says:

    Hi Matt,we do indeed have the same problem here in Ireland on all aspects of racing especially the stewards who hammer small trainers but turn a blind eye to the big boys schooling “nice prospects” Ted Walsh speaks a lot of common sense but obviously can’t say a lot about races Ruby is involved in. Pre-race analysis should include the obvious like deliberately running over the wrong distance and going,making the running on hold up horses and visa versa,significant jockey bookings,trainer track stats, dosage etc..Having someone like yourself and others who forensically analyse a race as guests would help punters to adopt a more universal view of a race.In this case if one loses they can at least feel they gave the race its due attention and not be agitated by the post-race commentators as to why such and such a horse was the likely winner.

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      Definitely agree with more analysis pre-race, Brian. As for someone like me being part of the analysis team, that’s kind of you to say, and I hope they do find someone like that. It wouldn’t be hard to pull that data together and be able to visualize it. After all, that’s what the Race Analysis Reports have been doing for a year and more now…

      Matt

  12. Stuart says:

    Time for C4 racing to bite the bullet and call for Chappers! Admittedly, he’s not everyone’s cup of tea and they got rid of the biggest “personalities” when the new breed C4 racing team took over but for his sheer enthusiasm for the game it’s a major no-brainer for me.
    Also, in my opinion, they should find a more permanent place for the excellent Tom Lee in the betting ring. Tanya knows her stuff alright but she has a tendency to mix-up her words and it makes her difficult to listen to. I wouldn’t mind her doing a bit of form analysis and tipping as mentioned above and maybe if she were allowed to speak a little more off the cuff and sounding a little less rehearsed it may help her a little bit.
    All in all, I thought they made a decent fist of it at Ascot but maybe someone should introduce Cunningham to a slightly larger size of waistcoat in future!

  13. tonyb65 says:

    Thanks for your effort with the profiling Matt. I did the placepot on the Tuesday and Wednesday and got 5 races out of six, blowing on the 5th race both times. Thursday I felt was too tricky so I did a placeport for one of the other meetings that I won. I managed to get Fridays Ascot PP and again Saturday was too tricky for me.
    I use several sources to work out my Placepots but your cards and your profiling was a great help although I did miss not having one for the Saturday.
    Regarding Chanel 4 I have no strong opinions but I prefer the progamme to be about racing and not side issues. In any event I tend to listen to Timeform radio and just use the tv to watch the races.
    Again thanks for your efforts Matt.
    Rgds
    Tony

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      You’re welcome, Tony, and thanks for taking time to say so.

      It was a tricky meeting, though not nearly as tricky as it usually is. Alas, there are normally a few more bigger priced winners and, as my game is trying to find the bigger priced ones, it can be a quieter time when they’re simply not there!

      Best,
      Matt

Comments are closed.