On the 22nd of March 1984, Channel 4 broke new ground when they covered horse racing for the first time, the card coming from Doncaster. In October 1985, they took over from ITV as the Saturday broadcaster, firstly alongside the BBC, then as the sole terrestrial coverage of racing. 2017 sees the end of an era, for 32 years from Graham Goode to Simon Holt, Brough Scott to Nick Luck, Channel 4 flew the flag. ITV were announced as the new home of racing at the start of 2016 and at jumping’s ‘home’ of racing, Cheltenham, on New Year’s Day, they will begin anew.
The Channel 4 Days
In the late 80’s and into the 90’s, Channel 4 were regarded almost as a family. To paraphrase the biggest criticism in recent years, it used to be like going down to the pub and having a chat with your mates but turned into a school classroom “pay attention now, today we are studying Haydock.” The jovial nature of John Francome and Derek Thompson were sorely missed in recent years as Channel 4 tried to go ‘upmarket.’ The BBC had always been successful with Julian Wilson, Richard Lindley and the dulcet tones of Sir Peter O’Sullivan producing a more straight-laced, factual look at the action. When Channel 4 tried however, the viewing figures dropped away alarmingly. From 4.1 million watching the Derby on BBC in 2006 to just 1.47 watching Golden Horn triumph for Frankie Dettori and John Gosden in 2015, the last call bell was being rung.
Welcome to ITV
ITV take over at a time where further change is needed and in Matt Chapman and Oli Bell they arguably have the ‘face’ of both Attheraces and Racing UK to go to war with. AP McCoy and Mick Fitzgerald come across from Channel 4 to give a jockeys perspective on the racing while Alice Plunkett and Rishi Persad will continue in reporting roles. The biggest change in the team comes in the lead presenter roll with Ed Chamberlain moving to ITV after 16 years on Sky Sports. Having worked for Ladbrokes in his youth, his enthusiasm for racing is long standing and while it may be seen as a risk for some, his Premier League presenting experience has potential to introduce new fans to the sport. Frankie Dettori will add to the coverage along with Luke Harvey and Jason Weaver, teaming up away from their usual Friday night slot on Attheraces. An intriguing change will be the addition of Lucy Verasamy who will be reporting on the weather. The changes in going are a key aspect to any day of betting and it will be fascinating to see how this addition is received.
The main change will be the lack of meetings on the main channel. From 91 days racing on Channel 4, ITV will cover just 40 on their flagship with another 60 scheduled for ITV4. The Tingle Creek at Sandown, Welsh National at Chepstow and the Festival Trials meeting at Cheltenham are among those who will lose their spot on terrestrial coverage. From the first meeting on ITV on New Year’s Day, there will be no more racing on the main ITV channel until the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival.
It will be interesting to see how ITV get on, the way the team gels and any innovations they bring in, such as the drones they were trialling at the last Cheltenham meeting. There is an opportunity to really expand the audience of racing plus a chance to relight fires under those who have drifted away from the Channel 4 coverage in recent years. 2017 is an open book on terrestrial racing coverage, ITV have a chance to write their own history and at Cheltenham they have the first page open and ready.
We will have our ITV Racing Tips up in the same way as they were on Channel 4. Previews of each race looking at the possible participants at the five day declaration stage before a full set of previews and tips the evening before.