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Monday Musing: Channel Hopping and Interrupted Airwaves

No Bank Holiday this week? Then I’d better crack on, writes Tony Stafford. There has been an unreal feel to the past fortnight, but everyone should be getting back to work, unless they travel on London Underground, that is, where I understand there’s a strike today; or Southern Railway, where there usually is.

One good friend, Prince Pippy, called yesterday for his tri-monthly catch-up and our chat touched on those travel difficulties which often prevent his sister’s managing to reach London from Brighton. Of more concern to him was the damaging stand-off between the Arena Racing Company (ARC) and several major bookmaking chains over the broadcasting of pictures from the 15 tracks they control – those of the original Arena Leisure group and Northern Racing tracks formerly owned by the late Sir Stanley Clarke.

William Hill, whose yearly results are due this morning when the City are anticipating the green shoots of recovery <nice cliché, Ed>, and Paddy Power are in the “in” corner, having agreed, along with a sizeable number of independents, to pay ARC for their pictures. Ladbrokes and Coral, their merged main rivals for supremacy, and Betfred, staunchly refuse to join them.

I didn’t plan to visit a betting shop later today, and if I did it would almost certainly be to a William Hill outlet as they have almost a monopoly around here. And, more critically, it’s possible to park for free nearby – a rarity in the London Borough of Hackney.

I’ve had a bit of an Internet look at the William Hill situation, whereby it appears they have been attempting to find a suitable successor to James Henderson, their last Chief Executive, who resigned last year apparently because of the “digital decline of its online verticals”. If, like me, you are still mystified, look it up on the net.

But to return to Pippy, as he suggested, Ladbrokes and their allies in this dispute will be unable to show action from any of the three fixtures from Doncaster, Lingfield and Wolverhampton, all ARC tracks. I first got wind of this last week, when another pal, Roger, called from Yarmouth asking if I was watching the racing at home.

I was, and then he said: “are they near the start?” “Where are you?” I replied. “In Ladbrokes, but there’s no pictures, can you give me a commentary?” Apparently someone had had a decent bet and was shocked that he couldn’t see what was happening. Needless to say, the horse lost. They always do when you can’t see it. And when you can.

According to Charlie Brooks, writing in the Daily Telegraph, Ladbrokes intend relaying an in-house commentary, without pictures, from an employee watching in an office at their HQ. There are also plans for the firm to offer their shop punters an app (getting the hang of this techno talk!) enabling them to get the pictures on their mobile phones.

As usual it’s all about price, as with the always-contentious Betting Levy which Sports Minister Tracey Crouch has recommended should be based at ten per cent of gross profits from both retail and online bookmakers in the Levy replacement scheme to be implemented by April 1.

The Sports Minister, born in Ashford, Kent, and an old girl of Folkestone School for Girls and the University of Hull, might sometimes rue the fact that her local course, Folkestone, also under the ARC banner, remains frustratingly closed. Could she not intervene?

The chat is mostly about televising of racing in these early days of 2017. The much-heralded hand-over of terrestrial free broadcasting of racing from Channel Four to ITV has brought varying degrees of approval, presumably on the grounds of previously-held opinions on the broadcasters that have found their way onto the “new” team.

I did switch over during Saturday’s racing from Sandown a couple of times, but remain more attuned to Racing UK. The one thing I found grating was the repeated screaming of Luke Harvey that Finian’s Oscar was “a champion” after his 32 Red Tolworth Novice Hurdle win, when runner-up Capitaine was brought to a complete standstill by a mistake at a crucial part of the race. The fact Capitaine recovered to take second, five lengths behind the admittedly easy winner, up the run-in makes Luke’s insistence somewhat questionable.

Harvey has history. On Attheraces he portrays himself basically as a buffoon. His tipping skills are negligible as is the blatantly off-the-cuff manner in which he has historically arrived at them on his two-man show with Jason Weaver. To his new audience, though, he is presented as an expert. Time will tell. One of the many critiques of the new team I’ve seen reckoned that, in their initial broadcast, four people seemed to be talking at the same time. That’s Luke.

It was with some surprise that I discovered that what goes for terrestrial television may not be what it seems. One pensioner – she must be old, she’s my age! – down in Cornwall is in an area which cannot receive ITV4, on which subsidiary channel most if not all the new team’s output will be restricted until the Cheltenham Festival.

Even though ITV4 is on Freeview, it is unavailable in certain outposts of the country, including where that particular pensioner lives. She’s a big fan of racing. If there’s a Ladbrokes anywhere near, she can go there today and listen to the commentaries, but she won’t see too much! <Or she could get the internet or use her phone, Ed>

It appears ITV is unlikely to get any better in recognising Jack Quinlan’s talents in the saddle than the other broadcasting outlets. After he rode an exemplary race to win on the Amy Murphy-trained Mercian Prince, coming late and strong up the final hill in a competitive handicap chase, trainer and her father Paul, the owner-breeder, along with the horse, got all the plaudits. Naturally he didn’t get a mention at all in the Racing Post the following day – what’s new?

We’ve had no action with the Raymond Tooth horses since well before Christmas, but the home-bred juveniles are now all but one – hang on a bit longer Mick Channon, he’s been gelded – with their intended trainers.

It was planned to have a runner at Wolverhampton on Friday, but Mick Quinn decided against running Circuit – hope he enjoyed Liverpool’s gallant draw with Plymouth yesterday. In the event, it was slightly irritating in that Camaradorie, the horse which finished third at 100-1 and should have won the race with any luck in running, was a place behind Circuit when Ray’s filly made her debut at Chelmsford.

Mick has one of the two-year-olds, a daughter of Mayson and the Dubawi mare Grass Green, but he was especially happy to take renewed charge of six-times-placed Stanhope, who returned from Shropshire having dropped two stones, but has rather more than that to shed after his grass-gorging break. The trainer and owner will be disappointed if he doesn’t get that first win on the board pretty soon.

 

 

 

 

 

Monday Musing: New Beginnings

You can take a horse to water, the saying goes, but you can’t make him drink, writes Tony Stafford. You can put racing back on ITV for the first time in 32 years, but if Racing UK and Attheraces start showing races before the new team’s 1 p.m. New Year’s Day opening time, you can’t make us switch over.

So my appreciation of the first offering from the totally “new” team of Ed Chamberlain, Luke Harvey and Sir A P McCoy can only be derived from other people’s appraisals. To think I missed both Luke and Matt Chapman! Now I’ll have to wait until the Festival to see them on ITV proper, as they’ll be on ITV4, while the main channel is apparently showing some compelling 32-year-old movies.

I was, though, able to see the arrival onto the Cheltenham scene of new trainer Samuel (as the racecard says) Drinkwater, at 26 the same age as his better known sporting namesake, Danny, the driving force behind Leicester City’s unlikely Premier League title in 2015-16.

Sam Drinkwater started out as a teenage amateur attached to the Nigel Twiston-Davies yard at a time when both Sam and Willy were at a similar stage in life. In eight seasons’ riding he managed 14 wins from 166 rides under Rules, of which 14 unsuccessful efforts for Nige were presented to him at a time when the trainer averaged around 600 runners per season. Hard to get in there!

He operated mainly in points and hunter chases and in the latter sphere collected three of his wins at Cheltenham, all for Fergal O’Brien. Bradley, 16-1, Dammam 14-1 and the 2-1 favourite Creevytennant were the Prestbury Park triumphant triumvirate from very limited rides for the O’Brien stable.

Sam’s been training pointers for a couple of years now and one of them, the now 15-year-old Working Title gave him an initial success when strolling home at Sedgefield on Boxing Day, having been backed from 20-1 overnight to 5’s, ridden by the trainer’s brother Joe, 20.

Joe Drinkwater had won nine points on the one-time Nicky Henderson horse – rated 142 as a young hurdler – between December 2013 and last March and now was in the plate as he took full advantage of the purely guess-mark of 99, which will no doubt be upgraded tomorrow.

Working Title won pretty much all his pointing starts, apart that is when the trainer stepped in twice, and more publicly and dramatically less successfully when Victoria Pendleton failed to get round on her two acquaintances with the old boy.

Victoria, of course, is another of the new ITV team, and I think she should be made aware that there will be plenty of people trying to get her to buy another “great prospect” or two for between the flags as she maintains her horsey obsession.

But Sam Drinkwater will always be remembered in that his first Cheltenham training success came with a 50-1 shot, recently recruited from the Twiston-Davies stable. He was multiple winner Tour Des Champs, who stayed on bravely to beat Doctor Harper and Tom Scudamore by a short head in the long-distance handicap chase.

Luck seems to stick with the same people and the signs are that young Sam is going to be a chosen one. But for the fact that his licence had not come through when entries for the Coral Welsh Grand National were made, his gelding would no doubt have been admiring Native River from behind as he soared to victory. Thus this target was selected instead.

There are 50-1 chances and then Sam Drinkwater 50-1’s. The local Gloucestershire Live issue of December 30 featured an article saying that while the family celebrated the trainer’s first winner, they were looking forward to Cheltenham and the stable debut of Tour Des Champs.

Sam is quoted as saying that: “Tour Des Champs is a big, stuffy horse, but he’s done twice as much work as our winner”. He goes on to say he trains in a yard with access to 1,000 acres with woods and lakes to keep the horses happy. He has 11 inmates with room for nine more. It won’t take him long to fill them up if he carries on like this.

Raymond Mould’s widow Caroline wanted to sell on a couple of her Twiston-Davies horses, but her daughter Katy suggested offering him to Sam rather than sell him at a sale. Seems like a great idea all round.

When you look in the BHA site, Sam Drinkwater’s only horse with an official rating is Tour Des Champs, the Working Title entry just missing the December 20 deadline. We’ll all be looking closely at anything else he runs, starting with Working Title again at Hereford on Wednesday. He would be carrying 12st5lb, including a 7lb penalty, but the trainer has until the morning to see whether to wait for the new mark.

Willy Twiston-Davies has, unlike his elder brother, been confining his talents to the Flat over the past five seasons, clocking up 189 wins, but the unequal task of keeping his weight down seems to have been lost. Before switching to the Flat aged 18, he’d ridden only eight jumps winners, including once on Tour des Champs.

Yesterday his recent return to jumping brought its first win, with Cogry from whom his previous regular rider, and Willie’s best friend, Ryan Hatch suffered a serious leg injury when falling in a chase over the course last month. Twiston-Davies senior sent him back over hurdles for a confidence boost, which will also have provided Willy with optimism for the immediate future.

With brother Sam fully occupied in his role as Paul Nicholls’ number one, Willy could well have a good few weeks until Hatch comes back.

Another with an optimistic slant on life after a New Year double was Lizzie Kelly, who said afterwards that the stable had been in a miserable phase, with them expecting the horses to run moderately when they did go to the track. So let’s hope for better luck for the very talented Lizzie and the Williams/Kelly family in 2017.

That wish goes out for all trainers, jockeys and owners, although as we know for most it’s an uphill battle. I just had to break off from this for a while for a call from a trainer friend, who can often come up with a witticism.

He was relating why he prefers not to use a particular jockey, whom he says he’s so laid back it’s as though he couldn’t care less. “Don’t get me wrong, he’s a lovely lad, but he just never follows instructions. He often comes back and says, ‘You know what, he’d have run much better if I’d have done what you told me!’”

 

 

3 x 5 Things from 2016

5 Things from 2016 (x3)

The world outside racing – you know, the real one – has become discombobulated in 2016 and our sport finds itself in the unusual position of appearing sane by comparison, writes Tony Keenan. With post-truthers everywhere, racing has actually been a relative bastion of sense over the past twelve months and on the whole it’s been a pretty good year.

5 Things I liked in 2016

  1. Aidan O’Brien’s Season

That O’Brien is the best flat trainer around is hardly a revelation but even by his exacting standards 2016 was a spectacular campaign. His horses got unusually hot early and stayed that way for most the year. Not everything went right, notably with his three-year-old colts like US Army Ranger and Air Force Blue, but as has often been the case in the past he adapted, campaigning fillies like Minding and Found in the races the colts would otherwise have run in. The Arc 1-2-3 was an immense achievement, even in a down year for the race, and such is the depth in his yard, 2017 promises more of the same.

  1. The Mouse Morris Narrative

In general I prefer facts and analysis to narrative when watching racing but it was impossible not to get caught up in the story of Mouse Morris in the spring of 2016. Morris is the chain-smoking son of a former IOC president, colourful enough in racing terms, and was visited with tragedy when his son was killed by carbon monoxide poisoning in the summer of 2015. No sporting achievement will ever heal that hurt but that didn’t lessen the joy provided by a Grand National double at Fairyhouse and Aintree with Rogue Angel and Rule The World, the latter’s first chase win over the big fences giving credence to the National being a lottery race. The parade of the winner through the streets of Mullingar brought back memories of a simpler time, even if the owner is a billionaire, and this was one time when the story was more important than the bet.

  1. Attention on Jockey Mental Health

Starting the conversation is one of those trite phrases about mental health but it doesn’t make it any less true; no more than any person with a mental health problem, each jockey brings their own content to their condition, but many of their issues stem from the arduous life they have chosen. Wasting, serious injury, success and failure, alcohol and drug abuse are all common themes and this is a multi-layered problem. Kieren Fallon and Graham Lee, amongst others, have spoken about their struggles this past year and it all helps to bring it out in the open but with the demise of Garret Gomez earlier this month we were reminded of just how serious the problem actually is.

  1. Andy Slattery

Small trainers doing well have long been a feature of the Irish scene but these days it’s more evident on the flat than over jumps and Slattery was the standout ‘punching-above-his-weight’ handler this term; having never sent out more than seven winners in a season before this year, he had 18 in 2016. Central to this annus mirabilis was Creggs Pipes, a Galway Mile and listed race winner that started the year racing off 77, while the likes of Sors and Planchart showed him in a good light too. Slattery was excellent in his analysis of his runners in the media and while it’s unlikely he will reach these peaks again, his campaign should be enjoyed for what it was.

  1. Peak-Aftertiming from Weld and Heffernan

After-timing might be the bane of punters but there is something hilarious about the shameless hindsight shown by jockeys and trainers after they have a winner when interviewers could barely get a whimper from them beforehand. Dermot Weld is obviously the best exponent of the practice in Ireland, his ‘he/she did what we thought he/she would do’ a cult catchphrase at this stage, and it looked like he would carry all before him after the exploits for Harzand and Fascinating Rock in the first half of the season. His loss of the Galway trainers’ title was a cruel blow for fans of after-timing and his season rather went south after the summer but Seamie Heffernan soon stepped into the breach, riding plenty of big winners in the absence of Ryan Moore. Heffernan’s after-timing is different to Weld’s self-satisfied smugness but no less enjoyable; he pours scorn on the very thought that defeat for one of his rides could be countenanced in post-victory interviews.

 

5 Thinks I didn’t like in 2016

  1. HRI Fiasco

By the sounds of the excellent reporting from Johnny Ward in the Irish Independent, some of the dealing going on behind the scenes in Horse Racing Ireland would make the dodgiest of trainers wince. We’ve had a CEO getting an extra term in office that is prohibited by legislation, that self-same CEO writing the advertisement for his own job, no interview process to find if there were any other suitable candidates along with a world of behind-the-scenes lobbying. What a mess.

  1. Jockey Blogs

Only the churlish would resent jockeys for trying to earn a few extra quid (god knows, some of them need it) but I wish they could avoid writing blogs, or at least have blogs ghosted for them. Not only are the vast majority of them bland and written in such a way as to be as inoffensive as possible but the ones that are published on bookmaker websites are an ethical swamp. The sport is incestuous enough without adding moral grey areas where the bookies are ringing up riders for insights on the rides they will later lay bets on.

  1. Mullins and the Media

Speaking of useless columns, the Willie Mullins Saturday piece in the Racing Post reigns supreme. I’ve heard some journalists praise Mullins for his availability for comment but the value of what he is actually saying is questionable; we have seen again and again a lack of clarity around where his horses might run and at times punters being actively misled, such as with Vautour’s target at the most recent Cheltenham Festival. By and large, most trainers can give a reasonable idea of where their horses are running a few days in advance; if they meet a setback in the interim, so be it. Mullins backers could point to his having so many horses but other trainers have big strings too and there is no reason why punters should have to wait until declaration stage to find out what he is running; this, after all, is the trainer with the most high profile column in the industry paper. As we’ve seen in the past few days, there is another way; Colin Tizzard and his owners were able to give their King George running plans at the five-day stage whereas no one could even get Mullins to say whether or not he had entered horses in the re-opened Christmas Hurdle.

  1. Camera Angles

AtTheRaces provide excellent coverage of Irish racing but it is disappointing that between themselves, Horse Racing Ireland and the various Irish tracks that the camera angles at most of these venues haven’t changed much if at all since the coverage started. There are a number of courses like Down Royal, Punchestown and Leopardstown where the viewer is treated to shots of the horses’ rear-ends heading away from the stands and it is high-time some money was spent on improving these angles.

  1. Stewards not asking questions

I’ll cover the new non-trier rules in the final section but one constant negative with racing in Ireland is the lack of questioning for jockeys and trainers after a race. Perhaps this is apathy, perhaps laziness but whatever the reason, more use should be made of this aspect of the steward’s role. None of this is to suggest that horses are being stopped wholesale; there are many cases where horses have run poorly that have utterly valid explanations. As a punter, there is nothing as frustrating as reading or listening to a trainer interview after a win where he mentions an obvious reason for a horse’s below-par effort on its last outing that was never noted down in the initial report by the stewards on the day.

 

5 Things for 2017

  1. Mullins V. Elliott

When Gigginstown initially announced they were moving their horses from Willie Mullins, Paddy Power reacted by installing Elliott as favourite to win the Irish trainers’ championship, a move that soon corrected back to Mullins being a hard market leader. That price shift doesn’t look as silly now with Mullins trading at 4/6 while Elliott is 11/10. This is a very real competition and a clash of methodologies; whereas Mullins is more about quality, Elliott is a numbers guys as befits someone that learned his trade under Martin Pipe. The stats here are fascinating. As of December 21st, Elliott had run 223 individual horses while Mullins had run 120 but a better context is Mullin’s numbers over the last three seasons which are 191, 177 and 195 respectively. Irish jump racing has never seen a stable as big numerically as Elliott’s and he could even break 300 individual runners in the season. I can this one see-sawing all the way to Punchestown so get the popcorn ready.

  1. Sectional Times in Ireland

I’ve never understood the dismissiveness from some people for sectional times; even if you don’t value them, more information for punters is never a bad thing and your preferred information type (horse weights, for example) might be the next thing that is brought in. The Irish Field reported on November 26th that sectional times are going to be brought in on Irish racing on January 1st and it won’t just be sectional times; the system will have full GPS coverage with distance covered and speeds attained too. The cynic in me remains sceptical that they will miraculously appear after the turn of the year but apparently all the courses have been surveyed so you never know.

  1. ITV Racing

Another new arrival for New Year’s Day, and one that is certain to happen, is ITV Racing and it’s something to look forward to even allowing that much of their coverage prior to Cheltenham will be off the main channel. Perhaps I’m buying into the hype a little but Ed Chamberlin’s passion for the sport is infectious and the channel has extensively promoted their coverage through a number of their most popular non-sporting programmes. It’s certainly a good start as is the use of a specialist weather forecaster and I’m fascinated to see what road the coverage takes. The news that TV3 will be providing coverage of roughly 50 ITV Racing days was fantastic for Irish viewers as some of them were about to be without coverage with ITV4 not being available in all homes.

  1. New Non-Trier Rules

The Turf Club had some high-profile non-trier cases that were overturned in 2016 which has led them to change their rules on the subject, bringing in a grading system for the severity of offence. As ever, the initial reaction to these beefed-up rules from trainers and jockeys was scepticism and I can hardly remember a case in Ireland that wasn’t appealed; accepting your guilt just isn’t an option. There’s part of me that thinks you just have to trust the authorities to get it right and not constantly be challenging them but when you read about events in the HRI above one wonders about their ability to do so. Proving a non-trier is as difficult as it ever was so these rules will be tough to enforce.

  1. The Curragh Races On

One of the stranger decisions this year was for the Curragh to race on in 2017 while the track is being redeveloped with temporary structures in use. It smacks a little of greed and one wonders how the racing surface will take having so many races in a short space of time; for all its problems, the actual surface at the Curragh has always been brilliant but a more condensed programme could take its toll. Other tracks will benefit from some of the fixtures being transferred, notably Naas, and while meetings like the Lincoln are hardly the best-attended, it’s a great lift for these courses.

- Tony Keenan

Tony Keenan: Some Views on Garnering Viewers

My first memory of watching racing on TV is the 1991 Grand National. My father had backed the eventual runner-up, Garrison Savannah, but my puritan eight-year-old self was horrified at the thought of losing hard-earned money on horses jumping over things, writes Tony Keenan. My mother’s background as a banker and consequent financial rectitude played its part in that but dad was at pains to point out after his bet had finished second that he had backed him ‘each-way, the only way.’

I have no real recollection of racing on TV in years afterwards until the 2002 2,000 Guineas. For me, that will always be Hawk Wing’s Guineas regardless of who won, and the post-race discussion about whether or not he had been beaten on merit was fascinating. The complexity of pace, draw and race position - and their respective roles in the outcome - piqued my interest and when I found out you could bet on whose version of the race you believed I was hooked. So I followed Hawk Wing through that summer from the non-staying second in the Derby to the underwhelming Eclipse win to his defeat by Grandera at Leopardstown, a meeting I define as my first proper trip to the races and a losing one at that; I had not learned that ‘each-way was the only way’ though a starting price of 8/11 likely precluded against that bet in any case.

That initial race, covered at the time by Channel 4, was the start of something that is now an obsession. In the years since I’ve been down every rabbit hole of racing analysis imaginable, from trends to trainer patterns to pace to replays to sectional times. I’m just the sort of fan sports should aim for, committed to the game and willing to spend money and time, studying form, listening to podcasts, betting on horses and paying into racecourses. But that sort of consuming passion had to start somewhere and engaging the interest of embryonic fans is one of the many challenges that ITV Racing will face as the station starts its run as racing’s terrestrial broadcaster in 2017.

Racing can be an insecure tribe, constantly questioning its position in the broader sporting world, and this naval-gazing attitude has predictably emerged in the months leading into ITV’s return to covering the sport. We are comprised of so many different interests from owners to trainers to jockeys to breeders to punters and all have their own concerns about how the sport should be covered; just as everyone has an opinion on teachers, because everyone went to school, so too does everyone have a view on racing coverage as everyone watches it. I naturally tend towards the punters’ point-of-view who make up the majority of the TV audience but are often seen as a necessary evil by other parties.

No matter what our agenda may be, it is important to remember that there is a more general audience out there beyond the racing bubble that has, at best, only a passing interest in the sport. They need to be recognised to some degree. There is part of me that would love ITV to simply cater to the racing nerd audience and the people I speak to about horses would likely support that view wholeheartedly; whether it would serve the broader health of the sport is another matter. Striking the balance between this general audience and the more hardened racing fan is another major challenge faced for those stations covering racing.

There are difficulties arising from the inherent nature of the sport itself. In contrast to something like football, racing tends to be made up of frenetic bursts of action that last a matter of minutes interspersed with longer periods of analysis and chat; this is the case for terrestrial stations at least that rarely cover more than two meetings on a given broadcast and thankfully prevents it from becoming mere betting shop fodder with one race blending into the next over a period of hours.

Then there are more the more generic challenges that any sports coverage faces in the current media climate. We are in an age where we can watch sport live via devices other than television and we are told that viewing figures may not be trustworthy as so many people are watching through other channels than the traditional coverage. Points like that are fair but genuine fans will, in the main, still want to want to watch the coverage live if at all possible; it is impossible to miss the result in the social media age and in any case watching a sporting event on your phone is a deeply unsatisfactory experience with streams tending to be herky-jerky and unreliable. Mainstream coverage remains important and, as James Willoughby pointed in an excellent article on the Thoroughbred Daily News website, deserves to be treated with seriousness.

It is hoped that ITV will bring this sort of seriousness to their coverage. Their position as a legacy station, the button on the remote that people reach for out of habit, should provide a boost in viewing figures above what the less mainstream Channel 4 could manage. The hiring of Ed Chamberlin as host was a significant acquisition and gives the sport a broader appeal; that the presenter has a background in the bookmaking industry and odds-compiling is even better. But there are areas that I hope will be addressed by the station, chief among them being the excessive reliance on ex-pros on the broadcast team.

The initial list of ITV presenters comprises a hefty dose of insiders; looking at their press release, we have Tony McCoy, Francesca Cumani, Mick Fitzgerald, Hayley Turner, Jason Weaver, Luke Harvey and Frankie Dettori. Regardless of one’s opinions on the merits or otherwise of the individuals on that list, it’s hard to get away from the belief that such people bring a certain tone to the coverage. While I acknowledge the need for some insiders, the concern is that too many of them leave the general audience ‘on the outside’ which in turn leads to them changing the channel. While station chiefs will argue that these people bring insight to the coverage it comes at a cost and that is excessive deference and a tendency to close ranks when one of their number are challenged; no one likes criticising their friends after all, even when they are clearly in the wrong.

There are many other voices out there in the racing world that could be used to bring fresh angles. One such is the official handicapper, Phil Smith, who has his share of critics but has proved to be brilliant TV on his occasional ‘Ask the Handicapper’ slot with Matt Chapman. There is something fascinating about a man who believes he is never wrong and Smith has never been afraid to voice strong opinions which Chapman excels in drawing from him; as an aside, Chapman should prove a fine addition to the ITV team.

Smith’s area of expertise is of course ratings and I wonder if they could be incorporated more into the broadcast; the modern sports fan loves nothing more than some numbers that help build informed content. All too often broadcasters fall into the trap of recency bias and get excited about the winner of a race that has just happened without placing it in its proper context. If we had a handicapper, official or otherwise, putting a number on that horse in the minutes after the race, provisional though it would have to be, would it not add to the quality of analysis? Not only would we be able to understand where the horse fits in with its peers but also, in the case of championship races, where it falls in the pantheon. There are plenty who bemoan the pointlessness of comparing horses across generations but one of racing’s great selling points is the depth of its history and this should be embraced.

All this brings me inevitably onto the role of data. There is much good work being done with the use of data to analyse racing, blowing many of the myths about the sport up in the process, but the problem in putting this onto the TV is presentation. Data like sectional times needs to be presented in a palatable way that the audience can understand and not sound like an Open University tutorial. Punters make up the bulk of the viewership and they want to know how the numbers can help them to back winners. In general, I think you need outsiders rather than racing insiders to cover this part of the broadcast; the insiders are often sceptical of the numbers, entrenched as they are in the traditional approaches of the sport. Furthermore, these outsiders seem more willing to criticise the participants in the sport, something that in the main is sorely lacking. This is not to say there should be criticism for criticism’s sake but I would love nothing more than a well-argued case that a jockey gave a horse a poor ride backed up by a sensible sectional timing-based argument or the critique of a trainer’s handling of a horse that is based in fact.

Finally, there is the most basic aspect of any sports broadcast: the live pictures of the events themselves. ITV Racing should not suffer from having the terrible angles that AtTheRaces present from some of the Irish tracks - like Punchestown, Leopardstown and Down Royal - where all too often we are given prolonged shots of the backsides of horses running away from the stands. Arty close-ups are a complete no-no and as far a possible the audience needs to see the whole field, preferably in high definition. Some punter, somewhere, has had a bet on a horse in that race, even the 999/1 rag on Betfair, and he wants to see his horse and understand what is happening.

- Tony Keenan

Follow Tony on Twitter at @racingtrends