It’s not what it was – nope, it’s better
“It’s not what it was” is an oft-heard comment about the bet365 Gold Cup run at Sandown on what is now the last day of the jump season.
Indeed, many of those making the comment will also refer to the race as ‘The Whitbread’, a sponsor’s name long gone but its use perhaps understandable, as there have since been a number of different backers.
But things have changed, and in many ways for the better.
Once the Whitbread was a stand-out race, the centrepiece of a mixed card which included a classic trail. As such, it wasn’t difficult for it to command both the best horses and greatest attention. Except there were people at the Surrey track who were more interested in the Flat races, and others who lost interest once the Whitbread had been run.
The Queen Mother might have been one of those who thought about setting off for home once the winner of the 3m5f chase was also making the homeward journey. And there are other places now to which leading chasers can now more readily journey, not least Punchestown.
So if the race was going a bit flat and had lost its familiar Whitbread brand name, Sandown needed to respond. And what they have done is to create a day worthy of being the finale of the jumps season. Flat races now take place on the Friday and Saturday’s card is jumps only.
It starts with presentations to the season’s champions, and then rolls out a well structured day’s jump racing where the 3m5f Gold Cup is at the heart of the meeting but with other very attractive races over hurdles and fences also on offer.
And for that innovation, the jumping gods looked down favourably on Sandown on Saturday and provided us with a splendid winner of the bet365 Gold Cup with an emphatic performance by Talkischeap, a record-breaking victory by Altior and Bryony Frost returning from injury to win on one of her “best friends”, Black Corton.
We’ve still got a showpiece 3m5f handicap but now we’ve also got a top-notch day of jump racing to support it and demonstrate that there’s life after Cheltenham and Aintree.
It’s not what it was – I think it is better.
Patience being tested over ITV contract
RMG, the enterprise which manages the media and data rights and contracts of 37 racecourses, was full of praise for ITV’s racing coverage in its recently published report for 2018.
Its chief executive Richard Fitzgerald said: “The audiences that ITV provide to racing create an important shop window for the sport and ITV values the importance of having racing as part of its sports portfolio.
“We are confident that racing and ITV will continue to work harder than ever to expand racing’s shop window and engage with new audience’s and innovate production and storytelling”,
ITV Racing was no doubt pleased with the praise but also probably frustrated that an extension of its four-year contract to 2024 has not yet been forthcoming.
The problem is that RMG represent all the Jockey Club racecourses plus the likes of Goodwood, Newbury and York. But that still leaves the Arena Racing Company tracks who it is thought are dragging their heels over free-to-air TV rights.
Arc have their pay-per-view deal with Sky Sports Racing who would like to extend the number of racecourses they cover and even take on the free-to-view rights.
Should Arc consider this a viable option they should remember that 7m households do not have access to Sky, let alone Sky Sports Racing.
Meanwhile, ITV and RMG are keen to progress with an extended contract, and they might even sign on the dotted line without Arc. That would mean two major fixtures, the Welsh Grand National and Doncaster’s St Leger, would be in limbo but it might be the brinkmanship that’s required
♦ Last year’s Brigadier Gerard evening fixture at Sandown was covered by ITV Racing on ITV4 – so far there doesn’t seem to be any sign of it on their upcoming schedule for May 2019.
Lads, lads, lads, and EVERYBODY
A degree of cynicism greeted last week’s call from CVC boss Kenny Alexander, the head man at Ladbroke Coral, for a total ban on betting and gaming advertising on TV, apart from horse racing. It’s a plea that goes well beyond the upcoming voluntary ad ban during whistle-to-whistle sports broadcasting before the watershed.
Industry estimates suggest that Ladbroke Coral spend only about one-quarter of their marketing spend on TV, some way short of what’s forked out by some of their rivals. Hence the cynicism.
However, Alexander, as head of a public company with shareholder interests uppermost, is well aware that the betting industry made a complete rick of its defence of betting shop FOBTs and their £100 maximum stakes.
Failure to respond to criticism with a voluntary reduction in the stakes resulted in a severe government crackdown which hit Ladbroke Coral hard. They don’t want the same thing happening with online gaming, seen to be driven by TV promotion, so getting their retaliation in first is no bad thing.
Others might like to seriously consider the call and be seen as an industry to be taking sensible steps towards promoting responsible gaming. Otherwise, they could face a crackdown just as damaging as the slashing of FOBT stakes.