The year belongs to ITV Racing
Mike Deasy on ITV Racing delivering the goods in a horrible year, John Gosden playing the blame game, Nick Rust leaving the BHA with credit, and the Sky falling in on Post advertising
We’ve not only seen the last racing on ITV for this year, but also for their initial four-year contract.
There have been a few bumps along the way, but it’s four years where racing has undeniably benefited from the ITV coverage. Most importantly, viewing figures have increased not only for the major meetings (1.4m watched on Boxing Day), but also for the lesser events.
It’s hard to think now that there was opposition to ITV being awarded the rights to free-to-air coverage, not least because of the number of days when racing would be on ITV4. Yet, it didn’t take long for ITV4 viewing figures to match those that Channel 4 achieved.
A memorably bad day for the start of the contract at Cheltenham, where the weather was foul, did not augur well, but a year or so into the four-year term and the coverage was winning awards.
Doubts about the renewal of the contract, which always seemed to be on the verge of being signed, rumbled on and got alarmingly worrisome this year. But events eventually led to pen to paper at a time when ITV were going beyond the call of duty as the country endured lockdowns and racecourses played out to empty stands.
From the technically challenging at-home presentation to extra races and extra meetings, not least adding a number of top Irish fixtures to the schedule, ITV not only kept racing fans entertained but added to the sport’s following as other live sporting events were few and far between.
If 2020 has been a terrible year, ITV Racing and its team has lifted some of the gloom and we’re lucky to have them for another three years at least.
Gosden plays the blame game
The year did not end on a high for John Gosden. The Gosden trained Royal Line was stripped of his third-place finish in the 2019 Group 2 British Champions Long Distance Cup after the anti-inflammatory Triamcinolone Acetonide [TCA] was found in a pre-race sample.
TCA is a synthetic corticosteroid commonly used in equine practice and can be administered to horses in training, but it cannot be present in their system on raceday.
After its administration, a mandatory 14-day stand-down period must be observed, but the BHA warns that the withdrawal period may be longer than the minimum stand-down period as prescribed by the rules.
Gosden, who was fined £1,500, said: “we’re not talking about anything underhand or anything where we’ve tried to be smart arses and cheat the rules” adding that he felt “exceptionally let down by this process” having worked to a 14-day withdrawal period for TCA for many years.
He went on to say: “The BHA does not provide detection time for intra-articular corticosteroid because it recognises the difficulty in establishing reliable ones.
“It abdicates almost all responsibility in this matter, leaving vets at the coalface with the lingering feeling that they are in effect conducting clinical trials for the regulator and suffering the consequences along with their clients of any adverse analytical finding.”
Gosden went on to say: “I’m very conservative with my use of any medication”, adding “I feel exceptionally let down by this process.”
I can’t remember there being many disqualifications because traces of TCA have been found so I assume that, when it’s used, trainers not only observe the mandatory 14-day stand-down period, but are also conservative in allowing there horses back on course.
Maybe Gosden is trying to put the blame in the wrong place.
Rust leaves with credit
As 2020 comes to an end, so too has Nick Rust’s tenure as chief executive of the British Horseracing Authority.
He stepped into the post having left the betting industry, and suspicions were immediately raised that the sport’s top administrator had an agenda that wasn’t in step with a number of stakeholders.
The trouble with those stakeholders was that they were driven by self-interest despite saying what they wanted was for the good of the sport.
That means you are going to rub some people up the wrong way, and that was the case in a number of instances, especially as some individuals are precious and conservative in their outlook. And there are some people in prominent positions, representing stakeholder groups, who, facing similar issues of self-interest, were not only shackled but also not up to the job.
Self-interest was also evident with some ginger groups sniping from the side-lines.
Throughout his stewardship, Rust made a very decent fist of herding cats, not least this year when the snipers have been overly active albeit that some had a propensity to shoot themselves in the foot.
Not all has been good. Aspects of disciplinary processes left a lot to be desired. But dealing with the effects of Covid-19 and tackling some odorous practices at bloodstock sales are in the plus column.
So, Rust did the best he could, and his best prevailed in many and very difficult circumstances.
For most of the time, his critics got it wrong.
Sky falls in on Post advertising
The Christmas Eve edition of the Racing Post was missing advertisements from Ladbrokes/Coral. The front-page ad, alternated between the two brands, was a filler, and other positions were filled by ads for rival bookmakers. Among them were Sky Bet who had two adds on the Box Day racecard pages.
Was this a one-off, or had Ladbrokes/Corals ended their relationship with the Post?
The answer was clear on Boxing Day. Ladbroke and Coral ads were back in place but Sky Bet, who advertised daily in the paper, were absent. And there was a tell-tale sign that this was goodbye.
The Post offers an advertising contract where, as well as daily ads in the paper, bookmakers are included in the price grids alongside the Pricewise tips, and in the sports betting pages. Additionally, bookmaker representatives are included in the Monday and Saturday Jury rota and big event previews.
But Sky Bet are no longer present. So, the number of contract advertisers is down from 11 to 10. That’s still an improvement when, after the banking crisis, there were only seven such advertisers.
But it’s something the Post could have done without, and there aren’t many bookmakers these days with the capacity to fill the void.
What it says about Sky Bet is unclear.