Sunday, 1 June 2014
Happy 10th Birthday to Racing UK ….. Hopefully they will give much greater recognition to owners over the next ten years
Do you remember Rishi Persad’s opening remarks on the launch of Racing UK, back on 29th May 2004? I thought not. It was an interesting time for televised racing, because the first version of At The Races (ATR) had collapsed with the termination of their £307m, ten-year media rights contract, launched in 2001 with BskyB, Channel 4, Arena Leisure and 49 of Britain’s racecourses. ATR adopted the thuggish negotiating tactics (subsequently adopted by Arena Racing Company (ARC) and which have always been the default behaviour of bookmakers) of then threatening the racecourses that if they didn’t pay back the media money they had already received, they would be sued.
With hindsight, these threatening tactics jolted the key racecourses into a collaborative venture which must be regarded as one of the most successful in the racing industry’s history. Strong leadership from people such as David James (then Chairman of RHT Racehorse Holdings Trust – forerunner of Jockey Club Racecourses) and Simon Bazalgette (who became Racing UK’s Executive Chairman) led to the launch of RUK as a dedicated racing channel headed by Andrew Franklin (founder of the channel’s production partner, Highflyer). Despite a lot of early concerns, most of the top racecourses signed up, with Goodwood, Newbury, York and Cheltenham leading the way. It really was an excellent move, particularly with all profits being ploughed back into the sport. Racing UK’s parent company – Racecourse Media Group – delivered over £65m to racecourses in 2013, and the channel has at least 50,000 current subscribers.
Since then, we have seen BBC pull out of racing altogether and Channel 4 adopt a rather sterile approach to broadcasting with an unfortunate abandonment of some key personalities such as John Francome and Alastair Down, while ATR quite frankly irritates with its endless adverts for bookmakers and payday lenders while chopping and changing between the low-grade fare of all-weather and the lesser tracks.
Hats off to Racing UK on its birthday. Now for a challenge! Why is it that owners receive so little recognition from broadcasters? How often have you watched a magnificent performance, only to hear and see the horse referred to as “XYZ trainer’s horse”? No mention whatsoever of the owner. Equally, how often are you irritated by a microphone being thrust into the face of a jockey who has only just pulled up his horse and not yet had time to provide any debrief to the owner who is paying the bills? Indeed, the normal broadcaster behaviour is either to ignore the owner completely, or just push them away in the scramble to interview the trainer and jockey. I believe there should be a step change in behaviour in this area, with owners receiving much higher profile and proper recognition of their contribution to the sport.
I’m not arguing for that from an egomaniacal perspective – although on the one or two occasions I have been interviewed, I have enjoyed it – but I think it would really help the racing industry’s cause for both the racing fan and the broader public to understand the centrality of the owner as the number one stakeholder in the sport. Every year, owners are spending £0.5bn on their horses and almost £0.75bn if breeding and bloodstock are taken into account. Very few people understand that. Equally, I’m confident that there are many human interest stories and personalities across the owner community that should be nurtured as a way of bringing more excitement and variety into the rather formulaic TV broadcasts.
So, Racing UK – with your excellent interviewing and commentary team, could you please build more owner coverage into your programmes? Mention them more frequently in connection with their horses; include more background interviews with owners when you visit yards; seek out the human interest stories that bring the highs, lows, excitements and disappointments of owning to life; build a recorded bank of case studies relevant to the key races and weave them into your programming. Hopefully this will also engender more enthusiasm for new owners to enter the sport, and you can also illustrate innovation in horse partnership …. maybe by covering how Owners for Owners operates?!?