Hello and welcome to Social Discourse, a sort of weekly digest looking back over the past seven days in racing from various different angles. I'll be looking at stories big and small, and will bring you the very best of what's occurring on Racing Twitter as we head towards the Spring. This is something of an experiment for now, so let's see where it might go.
I'm William Kedjanyi and, if you're unfamiliar with me (it's quite common), I've written and spoken about racing for the past five years, alongside many other sports.
Of course, if you've any thoughts on what you'd like to see included, do leave a comment below, or send me a tweet. I'm at @KeejayOV2. Right, let's get cracking...
[N.B. All of the images below, when clicked upon, will open up the content for viewing, be it a video or article snippet - enjoy!]
The Big Thing: My Kingdom, My Kingdom, My Kingdom For Some Staff
Staff? Any staff? Hello? Can anyone here ride a horse? Ideally everyday, starting at 6am? No? Erm OK.
There is a staffing crisis in British Racing and everybody is talking about it. ITV’s Opening Show led with a big debate on an issue which has been talked about for at least 18 months and been around for longer.
Trainer @FellowesRacing has his say on the Stable Staff shortage
We'll be discussing the subject on this weekend's Opening Show from 9:30am on @ITV4
— ITV Racing (@itvracing) January 3, 2019
Trainer Dan Skelton also believes there is a major issue right now...
— Racing Post (@RacingPost) January 6, 2019
Others - including Evan Williams - see it as a wider 'rural economy' issue:
— Racing Post (@RacingPost) January 7, 2019
Regardless of who is right or wrong, racing clearly has a challenge to recruit and retain enthusiastic and skilled stable staff.
New Year, New TV
A new year heralds a new era for racing on TV: On New Year’s Day, At The Races became Sky Sports Racing, with coverage from Southwell and Fakenham, while Irish racing was broadcast for the first time on Racing TV, the new name for Racing UK.
The Reaction? As with everything in racing on social media, it was mixed, but we are just four days into the New Year and all good TV, especially live TV, needs time to bed in.
The Bigger Picture: This is a matter of patience. The Sky Sports Racing Team is a strong one – most of it having migrated from At The Races – and Racing TV has made some top hires. Sky Sports Racing will be on Now TV and Sky Go from the 8th January, but there is no sign that it will be available to Virgin Customers in HD, a big blow for those who have waited so long for the change. Also, what happens to the unfilled 11pm to 2am slot when the channel joins Sky Sports News remains to be seen, though all bar the night owls will be tucked up by then.
As well as the live coverage, Racing TV had a follow-on show after the racing with post-race interviews, and are continuing with their race review slots for subsequent analysis. Sky Sports Racing used time between races to explain track configurations and other elements of racing, and that would be a very good idea for a standalone programme. The incorporation of drone footage to show how courses, in this case Plumpton, ride is a welcome addition, as are the super slow motion images at the finishing line.
— At The Races (@AtTheRaces) January 6, 2019
The verdict? It’s early days, but the Irish TV viewers appear to have been shortchanged so far. On the first day of Racing TV, Fairyhouse and Tramore were joined by four British meetings, which meant that split screens were used for the majority of the action whilst the start of some contests were missed completely. With forty races shown on RTV on New Year's Day, at an average of one (jumps!) race every six minutes, there wasn’t much time, so one can sympathise with production teams and presenters. But perhaps not so much with programme controllers who appear not to have made an extra channel, or a channel solely for Irish racing. There’s still time for a late New Year’s Resolution there…
A side issue which emerged was that full race replays for Irish racing before the new year are not currently available – although RMG's director of PR and responsible for Racing TV, Seb Vance, told the Racing Post on Wednesday: "Full race replays will be free to view in the very near future.”
Time will tell...
Come Back, Please
More TV chat: what has happened to The Sunday Forum? And will On The Line return? Whilst Luck On Sunday is an excellent offering that we are fortunate to have on the podcast scene now, The Sunday Forum - ATR's magazine programme - was very much its equal and gave viewers two different perspectives, including one that was cheaper (i.e. free) than the alternative. It is to be hoped that it returns to Sky Sports Racing, with a show like On The Line surely a fan favourite again.
— Tony Paley (@tonypaley) January 6, 2019
Sunday is often described as a day of rest but that was not the case yesterday on either side of the Irish sea.
Plumpton held one of its best ever novice chases – and some might say the best ever – as French champion four-year-old, Master Dino, took on Pertemps second Glenloe, former Grade 2 winning hurdler Slate House, and the 148-rated Knocknanuss in the 2m3½f Follow At The Races On Twitter Novices' Chase.
It promised to be a great tussle and delivered against expectations, as Knocknanuss made it a strong test. He must have had Daryl Jacob thinking on the now five-year-old French raider, but Guillaume Macaire’s charge adapted well to English racing and was electric at the last before stretching away for a convincing win by seven lengths.
He should improve for the experience of English racing and ought to be more at home around a more testing track like Sandown, where he heads next for the Scilly Isles Chase. The tweet machine was suitably impressed;
— At The Races (@AtTheRaces) January 6, 2019
Speaking to Sky Sports Racing’s Hayley Moore, Guillaume Macaire was delighted with how his star had adapted: “I’m very pleased, because it was a test today – he doesn’t speak English, only French! He’s learning, but it’s the first time for him.”
Meanwhile, in Ireland on one of the first feature Irish racing days for Racing TV, Battleoverdoyen maintained his unbeaten record in the Lawlor’s of Naas Novice Hurdle, with a hard fought victory that saw him cut into general second favouritism for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at around 6/1.
Never far from the front, he jumped the second last impressively and, when asked, found plenty to repel the closing pack without ever being in any real danger.
A fine performance from the unbeaten Battleoverdoyen to follow in the hoofprints of the likes of Rule The World in the Lawlor's of Naas Novice Hurdle
— Racing TV (@RacingTV) January 6, 2019
He’s a chaser in the making, Gordon Elliott told Racing TV afterwards: “I’ll have to talk with Michael and Eddie [O’Leary], but I don’t see why he couldn’t go to Cheltenham this year. It will be hurdling this year, and chasing straightaway next year.
Absolutely love Battleoverdoyen,still as big and raw as anything
— Michael Looby (@michaellooby2) January 6, 2019
“He’s only a baby, and we don’t want to kill him , but he’ll have all the entries, including at the Dublin Racing Festival (at Leopardstown)", Elliott continued.
Worth noting: The form of the race suffered some letdowns as neither Punchestown Champion Bumper winner, Tornado Flyer, nor the heavily-backed Come To Me ran their races.
Ch-Ch-Ch-Chasers Making Changes
It’s not lost on many connections that one of the leading lights of jump racing in recent times – Big Buck's – was switched from an abortive novice chase campaign back to hurdles before dominating the staying division for years to come, and with an open looking stayers’ hurdle division this season, that blueprint is providing encouragement to some connections to do likewise.
Following his second ponderous round of jumping over fences, this time in the Dipper Novices’ Chase, and despite the assistance of equine jumping expert Yogi Breisner, Tom George announced that Black Op, his Grade 1-winning novice hurdler last season, will revert to the small obstacles, with the Cleeve Hurdle towards the end of the month as the target. Sound familiar?
Please see the news page on our website for an update on BLACK OP (IRE) who will be reverting back to hurdles https://t.co/XtxYDy2PaS 🏇
— Tom George (@TomGeorgeRacing) January 4, 2019
George was quoted on his website on Friday: “Yogi, who has had a couple of sessions with him recently, would like to have him for a spell over the summer months to do some extensive schooling before a decision is made regarding his chasing career.”
Think Ahead: Black Op retains his novice status over fences - even if he is eight now - and with just nine races under rules there’s still time for a switch back in the future.
Since George's announcement, we’ve had another notable switcheroo as Kilbricken Storm, last season’s Albert Bartlett winner at the Cheltenham Festival, is now set to go for the Stayers' Hurdle after disappointing in the John Francome Novice Chase at Newbury.
Owner Power has played its part here, with Tizzard quoted as saying: "The owners are not very keen to continue over fences, and they are quite keen to have a go at the Stayers’ Hurdle. When we bought him his point-to-point form was only moderate, but he was a very good hurdler last season."
If a news story has caught your eye this week, do drop me a line on twitter (@KeejayOV2) - I'll include the pick of them in next week's round up. Thanks for looking in!