Later this March we get to see one of the biggest gambles of recent sport on TV contracts start to play out. When ITV lost rights to live Champions League games to BT Sport a couple of years back, it left them with a big hole in the pocket of the sports department. In what seems to have been a surprise decision they decided to use some of that money to become the new home of Horse Racing on terrestrial TV in the UK.
Channel Four had broadcast Horse Raving for over thirty years since 1985. They had taken sole possession of the TV rights from the BBC and had fudged the move by losing the charm that had seen the channel do so well. Gone were the likes of John McCririck and Derek Thompson (who was awesome, even as only a casual Horse Racing watcher, if I was awake early enough to catch The Morning Line I’d thoroughly enjoy his presenting style) and in came Clare Balding. It became a bit too slick for me and lost that appeal. Nothing against Balding who is an excellent lead presenter and was brilliant at the Olympics, I just didn’t enjoy her on Channel Four.
This leads me to the big move that ITV made, they managed to attract Ed Chamberlain from Sky Sports to anchor their coverage and what a masterstroke that was. Ed is the type of presenter who knows his role. It is to take a step back and allow the ‘experts’ to inform the audience and let them show off their insights. The way he took over Monday Night Football from Richard Keys and allowed Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher to make it into by far and away the most insightful and informative football review show on British TV showed that he is a genuine master of his craft.
Many casual Horse Racing fans won’t have seen him since his departure from Sky Sports and they’ll see for the first time at either the Cheltenham Festival or the Grand National in April. Both of these events are when people like me suddenly think it is time to tune in and watch a bit.
I have a good mate of mine coming up to visit in March and he’s already asked me if he can secure the TV for the Cheltenham Gold Cup on the Friday afternoon. He has real interest in the nags and when he comes to stay I often wake up and find he’s already been out to the shop to get a newspaper and is studying the form. He isn’t like me where I’d just go on what someone on TV said would be a good tip, he follows about a billion tipsters on twitter (ok a billion is probably a slight exaggeration) but this is a guy who takes it all very seriously.
For most of us though it is all about one race. They say Australia stands still for the Melbourne Cup and whilst the country may not stand still for the Grand National any more, it is still by far the biggest betting day of the year and the one time where those with zero interest in the horses will tune in and watch.
It is for days like this that Ed Chamberlain left Sky and became the lead presenter of horse racing at ITV. I still wouldn’t be shocked if ITV gets back some live football coverage he front it (or indeed is the lead for the World Cup in Russia) but for now it is all Horse Racing all the time.
For those that need more information on Grand National Day then where have you been? It is the one time you approach the grumpy coder in the corner of the office to ask if he wants to be part of your office pool. It is the one time most of us even remember horse racing exists as a sport. It is the one time a year where the sport might lead the news bulletins and for Ed Chamberlain fans it might just be the first time you’ve seen him since he left Sky Sports last year.
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