ITV Racing got the Royal Ascot balance right
Mike Deasy enjoys a marathon stint in front the of the box for five days of Royal Ascot
Well, that was different. Or, to be more accurate, the same but different.
The same insomuch that Royal Ascot delivered sport at its best, with Frankie Dettori stealing the headlines and Stradivarius adding more supporters to his fan club.
And Hayley Turner, who hadn’t been to the first place berth in the winner’s enclosure since the resumption of racing, taking the Sandringham for the second year running, again at 33/1 and again for Charlie Fellowes.
There were also some one-offs. The bang-in-form Hollie Doyle emulated Turner 24-hours later when she won on the 33/1 shot Scarlet Dragon for Alan King, who had three Royal winners. Two female winning jockeys in one Royal Ascot, a one-off for 2020 but hopefully not the last.
Then, after Dettori had been crowned the meeting’s top jockey, Kevin Stott rode a Kevin Ryan trained double. First on Hello Youmzain, who was the “senior partner” of the horse and rider pairing, in the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes, and had Stott in tears.
Move on to the Wokingham and Hey Jonesy obliged. Stott’s tears were under control, but the jubilation was bursting.
There was also the shock of the meeting when the Clive Cox trained and Adam Kirby ridden Nando Parra became Royal Ascot’s longest-priced winner at 150/1 (interestingly 117/1 on the Tote) in the Group 2 Coventry Stakes.
Something different was Sir Michael Stoute’s haul of four placed runners. He’d got off to a good start with racing’s resumption and his name was dotted throughout Number Cruncher’s Royal Ascot 10-year stat features, but two seconds and two thirds was below the expectations of many.
And, of course, Royal Ascot was behind closed doors. Curiously, when the horses were parading and when the races were being run, it was easy to forget that the number of people at Ascot remained at three-figures.
It meant that television had, in many ways, a captive audience. And ITV, in particular, stepped up to the plate.
With an on-course team of seven, plus Ollie Bell in his London pad, Chamberlin and co certainly put in the hours.
And all the effort and hard work paid off. It is impossible, when you have an audience comprising those who carry the form book in their head, to those whose main interest is the fashions, to please everyone. But they got a difficult balancing act just about right.
There was banter without it entering private joke territory, with Jason Weaver joshing Francesca Cumani’s fashion creations – she did look like she was promoting British Gas with one hat (pictured). It could have also been mentioned how she oftern repeated the last words of the person speaking before her. And, Ollie Bell’s lack of a haircut, was noted.
There was also irritation shown by Chamberlain and commentator Richard Hoiles (pictured) when Thursday’s Sandringham Stakes inexplicably went off 10 minutes late, risking it being run after the programme had gone off air, and certainly ruling out a post-race interview with sometime ITV team member Hayley Turner.
Given that it was the meeting’s biggest betting heat, the frustration was justified.
Professionalism went out of the window when Franke Dettori shouted a remark towards the ITV socially-distanced paddock trio, as he was led in on Fanny Logan. His words were not picked up, but there were audible stifled giggles before Jason Weaver eventually managed a degree of composure.
He also maintained his composure for William Buick’s ride on Pinatubo, but he levelled some heartfelt criticism at the jockey which, if nothing else, would have helped some aggrieved but possibly not experienced punters understand what could and possibly should have been.
Mick Fitzgerald was out in the pre-parade ring to look at the horses but, despite saying more than once how privileged he was to have such a vantage point, did seem a bit cut-off.
Luke Harvey was down at the start with the odd observation that you’d wished you’d been privy to before placing a bet. He did try on one of the stall-handler’s helmets after which I wondered if its owner could still wear it. He also picked up a plate which went flying in the air early in one race. It was suggested that his pointer would now be wearing it.
Ollie Bell was self-isolating from the rest of the crew in his flat, but his links with owners was a pleasing aspect of the coverage. Clearly, they had the cash to be able to buy and keep a racehorse in training, but not all were born with silver spoons in their mouths.
I think the casual viewer would have enjoyed seeing this human side, and might well have been cheering on their horses accordingly.
As I say, it was a difficult balancing act for ITV, a fact acknowledged by Chamberlin when he mentioned the reaction to a feature on making scotch eggs. Its inclusion was a tad spurious, the excuse being that the day’s ITV theme was the best of British.
Some people thought it wasn’t on long enough and others felt it shouldn’t have been on at all. Chamberlain seemed quite pleased that it had split opinions.
Matt Chapman did the betting, but without the bookies’ boards it wasn’t quite clear where and how the prices were being sourced. There was one observer who had an online bet at 16/1, constantly saw price on screen at 18/1, but had the bet returned at the SP of 16/1.
And Chapman did mention the change in the Tote place rules and the negative response it had generated in some quarters, which these scribblings have echoed.
Chapman’s main function was to do the post-race interviews with trainers and jockeys – the latter demonstrating marked contrasts between the winning riders’ comfort zones.
There was never any difficulty in getting the ebullient Dettori to talk but with Ryan Moore it was a different story. Moore doesn’t do ebullience but, if you listen to his words rather than watch the tooth-extraction process it seems to resemble, there’s a lot you find out about the horse and its abilities.
Chapman’s interviews were also on Sky Sports Racing; hence his mic was in Royal Ascot livery. Sky had the first race each day to themselves.
There is no doubt they have expertise in spades, but somehow the coverage never sparkled. The intention of switching channels during the afternoon rarely materialised, as once ITV were on air that was where the enjoyment seemed to permeate.
I love racing but I don’t take it as seriously as some, so ITV were the ideal home for me.
Apart from the late starting Sandringham Stakes, the rest of the meeting went off without any apparent hitches. And, something which has been a feature of racing in Britain since its resumption, is the excellent work by the stalls handlers.
With only two handlers permitted per horse when entering the gates, there have been few problems and the starting procedures at Ascot in particular, a track which has a reputation for some tawdry timekeeping (Sandringham again) have been impressive.
Can RTE add a third race?
Racing in Ireland is now benefitting from RTE’s early-evening weekend programme which is covering a couple of races. It’s a great showcase for the sport and the mix of action and magazine style content is something to be appreciated.
But it would be so much more appealing if three races could be squeezed into the programme. Maybe it’s for contractual reasons that RTE only show only, yet it would be so much more satisfactory if a third contest was broadcast. The programme would feel more substantial and maybe it could give the Irish Tote the oppportunity to create an accumulator bet.
We shouldn’t be greedy but, in this case, more is better.
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