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?

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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.






The Cheltenham Festival Experience

Many will have been to the Cheltenham Festival before, and have their own individual routines in place, prior to arriving at the racecourse on the Tuesday morning.

I’ve been revisiting the Cotswolds in March for many years, and my opening day habits have evolved over time, thanks to experiences both exceptional and ordinary.

Mrs K and I drive into Cheltenham and park in the town centre. Many will head straight for the course, but I love to sample the atmosphere of Cheltenham; the pubs, the streets, the bookies and that wonderful walk through Pittville Park towards the greatest racecourse on earth.

There are numerous side streets with free parking. I tend to head into town on the A40 and swing a right near the town centre. Look for signs pointing toward the Cheltenham Cricket Club and you can’t go far wrong. Once parked it’s a short walk to the High Street and the first stop at the Old Restoration. Comfy seats and a cracking bacon butty are just what is needed whilst scanning through for last minute tips.

After a swift pint we head for another wonderful watering hole; Tailors on Cambray Place. Just off the High Street, it’s an elegant pub full of racing folk from all walks of life. Chances are that many of the tables will be reserved, as their breakfasts are particularly desirable. But time there is not wasted. Just grab a half and soak in the atmosphere, as like-minded folk argue over the likely winner of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. Has to be Altior, surely.

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For lovers of real ales, ‘Wild Beer’ at Jessops House is directly opposite, and is well worth a visit. The place only opened in late 2015 and caters for Beer Snobs. I love it, and would highly recommend it. You must head up to the top floor for a particularly relaxing pint on comfy sofas. ‘It’s all about the ambience’.

With a few crafty halves in the tank it’s time to put those life changing bets on. Head back toward the High Street, take a left and then a right into Winchcombe Street. Ladbrokes and William Hill are perfectly placed to catch racegoers as they head north towards the racecourse. Leaving the bookies, safe in the knowledge that you will never have to work again, continue up Winchcombe with Pittville Park in the distance.

There’s just time for one last stop; a little more studying will not go amiss, at the wonderfully named The Feathered Fish, before joining the masses on their pilgrimage to jump racing’s Shangri La.

For those heading to the Festival for the first time, I can only say how incredibly jealous I am. You must explore every part of the course. Stand at the top end of the track, beyond the winning post, looking over Prestbury Park to Cleeve Hill. Head to the parade ring, a truly stunning amphitheatre from which to behold equines great and good. And be sure to visit the Guinness Village. If ever there was a place to sample the true meaning of a Festival, this is surely it.

There’s nothing quite like The Festival. Get to Cheltenham early to ensure you ‘wring out’ every last drop of the incredible experience. Taste it, feel it, cheer it, live it and love it. No four days deliver more.

Punters set to rue “related contingency” clause

Hill's - Dawn Approach doubles an error

Hill's - Dawn Approach doubles an error

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Ladbrokes Walsgrave, Coventry, shop

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Wolverhampton - deserted at twilight

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Hill’s new shoots in Ol Maisor

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Should have gone to…….

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