ON Wednesday last week, this publication ran a column about ITV’s coverage of Royal Ascot and its impact on planning at Tellytrack, writes DAVID ALLAN.

In the week after Ascot, this correspondent received many comments from South Africa about the quality of the ITV coverage as shown on DSTV Channel 211 – some quick remarks in passing, but truly impressed, others more analytical but no less enthusiastic.

We were at Ascot for two of the days and briefly part of another, thus had a couple of full days of ITV coverage at home, continuing to enjoy the energetic, youthful and mostly polished, hi-tech  broadcasting. To those who (in UK) complain about this or that comment or remark, I say “Well you go and do it then”.

Francesca Cumani, when walking with a cameraperson around the Parade Ring alongside each runner is offering an opportunity by summarising, making points, often positive but not always. She is imparting a professional view which you can take or leave and which, above all, is interesting for the TV viewer to hear and see.

Ms Cumani, daughter of Sarah (Fittocks Stud) and recently retired elite level Newmarket trainer Luca Cumani, has an estimable pedigree plus the unarguably natural personality suited to good broadcasting. She actually started in that field in Australia where she was said in January of this year to be that country’s highest paid sports presenter – I guess on a per day basis when working, but even so.

What comes across overall is camaraderie: not only amongst the presenters who support each other and take the mickey in equal measure, but also as between that group and racing’s professionals at large. They pay special attention to the person leading up the winners and quite right too, as well as giving the horses’ principals enough space to work and enjoy as they should.

Their banter is limited because their raison d’être is to inform and entertain people who know less about what is going on, but their effervescence surfaces at the success of others – especially the other day when Hayley Turner, who had been part of the then new ITV broadcast team before returning to the saddle, won the Sandringham Stakes on Thanks Be to become the first female Royal Meeting winning rider since Gay Kelleway 32 years ago. (There are plenty of very good female riders nowadays such as Josephine Gordon, Hollie Doyle and Georgia Cox. Their numbers will multiply again, but Hayley T on the flat is on a level with Katie Walsh and Nina Carberry over jumps, now themselves succeeded by a brilliant generation).

Having a group of ex-jockeys in post-race analysis does sometimes result in excessive praise for a ride, but that does no harm, and the trade-off is a great deal of insight into race riding issues. Jason Weaver is someone to whom I listen closely, not only because he is a very nice person who speaks and thinks well, but also because his Guineas win on Mister Baileys, Ascot Gold Cup and other exploits on Double Trigger and his one-on-one competition with Michael Roberts in early Shergar Cup history are clear in the memory.

It would be great to see more Channel 211 coverage of British racing because the team is exactly the same people, albeit not in the same concentration, when spread around the country’s meetings.

In the Turf Talk piece last week, Tellytrack CEO Ms Colleen Goodman made some remarks that gladdened the heart including “….these beautiful animals…” and “…..new ways of …making things interesting for our viewers”.

Such comments are the antithesis of some presenters describing a lovely horse as “the eight” or – surely the laziest, most dismissive way to ignore the characteristics of a horse – “it”. In applauding those presenters who do say “he” or “she”, I respectfully suggest that such appellations should be the company rule. I don’t think you heard one of ITV’s team say “it” or “the ten”.

Don’t get me wrong, some of the studio presenters on UK cable/satellite channels picked up the “number instead of a name” habit from showing USA racing in the evenings. Some of their good on-course presenters might be interchangeable with ITV personnel but are working to a different editorial formula.

The shorthand use of numbers is a product of betting ruling the roost. Those who saw the ITV coverage will know that there is a colourful, detailed but brief feature on the betting ring in the run-up to each race. But that’s about it other than audio-cutting-in occasionally before the off which is covered by continuing discussion of the runners rather than a commentary on each of them being loaded. Luke Harvey whispering into his mike to avoid distracting the horses milling around at the start adds much.

Presenters round the outside table will chat about their fancies in an informal manner as part of debating the form and the conditions. No more part of debating the form and the conditions. No more seriously than – say – a couple of cricket presenters discussing the day’s World Cup One Dayer in extraordinary detail then, with a bit of a laugh, predicting which team might win.

Viewers can make up their own minds.

The Tellytrack formula of solemnly choosing a horse to finish 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th is more or less the opposite of the ITV brigade analysing the situation. Tellytrack analyses runners just the same – perhaps more thoroughly in terms of covering the whole field – but adds that layer of presenters-as-formal-tipsters.

Once editorially requiring that function (for punters) from presenters, some of whom are steeped in racing and the horse, plus describing the state of the pools, it will in South Africa take up more time than it would elsewhere because of the various “exotic” bets that require multiple entries, that on the whole are not so familiar elsewhere.

Back to Ms Goodman and the Turf Talk piece. The thrust of it was that High Definition was the “glue” that made ITV’s Ascot coverage so great. Undoubtedly HD enhances any live broadcast. Equally undoubtedly, the SA pictures shown in overseas bookies in the early mornings before local racing do compare badly.

However, there are those of us – with a love of the horse as a basis – who picked up on horse racing as children watching winter jumping on black and white TV. Both BBC and ITV showed a lot of racing.

On ITV, John Rickman would doff his trilby to the viewers while this particular young viewer compiled a card index of every grey steeplechaser. Picture quality and the weather were grim but the greys stood out.

There is a lot else to discuss if planning “…..new ways of …making things interesting for our viewers”. If that will is there, the ambition to become more nationally appreciated as a sport via DSTV and eventually terrestrial sports programming is translatable into a broader appeal.

-From Turf Talk Newsletter.

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