ITV rev­o­lu­tion un­der or­ders to put rac­ing in the spot­light

Chan­nel has promised to draw in a big­ger au­di­ence when it takes over sport’s cov­er­age from to­day

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - SPORT -

Anew dawn for horse rac­ing: cov­er­age has moved from Chan­nel 4 to ITV, and the ac­tion be­gins to­day at 1pm, live from Chel­tenham. Host Ed Cham­ber­lin, late of Sky Sports foot­ball, and com­men­ta­tor Richard Hoiles spoke to The Sun­day Tele­graph as the chan­nel be­gins its mis­sion to make good on prom­ises to the Bri­tish Horserac­ing Au­thor­ity: ITV has vowed to get more peo­ple watch­ing and so ex­pand the sport’s reach.

The price for the TV rights is said to be £30 mil­lion over four years and, with view­ing fig­ures of late be­ing less Gold Cup and more sell­ing plate at Lingfield on a wet Tues­day, the BHA is in bad need of bums on so­fas. Will ITV be the Mes­siah, though, or a very naughty boy?

The think­ing be­hind the chan­nel switch is sim­ple. Even in this age of multi-chan­nels, tablets, mo­biles, i-This, i-That and watch­ing Lat­vian divi­sion two foot­ball on a HD toaster while up a moun­tain, a large num­ber of Brits re­main more likely to watch some­thing if it is on ITV than on Chan­nel 4. We are not a so­phis­ti­cated peo­ple, but we know what we like. It would be pre­ma­ture to say that rac­ing has gone main­stream, but ITV gives the sport at least a chance to do that.

This is a big op­por­tu­nity, but it is also a chal­lenge. Sports fans can be a con­ser­va­tive bunch, and rac­ing fans do not want their view­ing ex­pe­ri­ence dumbed down. There is rea­son for op­ti­mism that the right bal­ance can be struck, not least due to Cham­ber­lin, who is an un­flap­pable front man with a gen­uine depth of knowl­edge.

“I am in­cred­i­bly ex­cited, be­cause this is my dream job,” he said. “I have dreamed of do­ing this since I was a kid, when I used to watch ITV Rac­ing with my grand­fa­ther. I lived near Win­can­ton and it was ITV that got me into rac­ing. Later, I was on the BHB grad­u­ate scheme, and I wanted to do race­course man­age­ment, but I went to work for Lad­brokes in­stead.”

Younger read­ers may not re­call, but this is in fact the sec­ond com­ing of rac­ing to ITV: Cham­ber­lin is re­fer­ring to the ‘ITV Seven’ rac­ing era in which the gee-gees were cov­ered as part of ITV’s Dicky Davies sport flag­ship World Of Sport. That ran un­til 1984, when Chan­nel 4 took the reins.

“My favourite horses were those huge chasers that Cap­tain Forster used to have, big strap­ping chasers like Martha’s Son and Dublin Flyer,” said Cham­ber­lin.

Hoiles, who talks as pas­sion­ately and ex­cit­edly as a man who makes a liv­ing call­ing out the hurly-burly of live rac­ing ought to, cuts in. “I loved those horses, too,” he said. “I wrote a let­ter as a teenager to Cap­tain Forster about how much I loved Peg­well Bay and he sent me one of the horse’s plates. It hangs above my door. Well it could have been any horse’s, he might have just nicked it. But I have prov­i­dence!”

If Cham­ber­lin has taken the long way round to his first love, hav­ing been a bookie and a pre­sen­ter of the ac­claimed Mon­day Night Foot­ball on Sky, then Hoiles ra­di­ates the en­thu­si­asm for his work of a man who dodged a bul­let with his first ca­reer: he used to be an ac­coun­tant.

“I an­swered an ad­vert out of the old Sport­ing Life to be a com­men­ta­tor. I had never done it be­fore, I didn’t know you had to send in a demo tape. My re­jec­tion let­ter back crossed with my demo tape. For­tu­nately, they gave me a chance. That was in 1992 and I have grad­u­ally been pro­gress­ing through rac­ing’s com­men­tary ranks.”

This spring, he will be­come the fourth man to call the fin­ish of the Grand Na­tional on ter­res­trial TV, af­ter Sir Peter O’Sull­e­van, Jim McGrath and Si­mon Holt. Holt is one of those from Chan­nel 4 who has not made it into the hand­i­cap, with Nick Luck, Gra­ham Cun­ning­ham, and bet­ting ex­pert Tanya Stevenson among the C4 team who have not been signed up. How­ever, there are plenty of fa­mil­iar faces, and ITV has also ported over the idea of an early mag­a­zine/pre­view pro­gramme: The Open­ing Show.

To go with the en­thu­si­asm and broad­cast­ing ex­pe­ri­ence of Cham­ber­lin and Hoiles is a bat­tery of heavy­weights, in­clud­ing Sir Tony McCoy and Mick Fitzger­ald, as well as Vic­to­ria Pendle­ton, who con­tin­ues her horse-rac­ing jour­ney of dis­cov­ery with fea­tures about her bur­geon­ing ca­reer as a jockey. Cham­ber­lin knows that there is a line to walk for the new cov­er­age. “It’s the na­ture of ITV on a

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