Robin Oakley

The turf | 19 January 2017

Horse-racing’s survival depends on the success of the channel’s coverage of the sport

You had to feel for ITV’s new racing team on their opening day at Cheltenham. It was cold, wet and utterly miserable but they opted not to take refuge in a warm studio but to stay close to the action under their brollies, putting a brave face on things. During what I nowadays look back on as my misspent youth as BBC political editor, I once did the same. As I began a live interview for the Nine O’Clock News from an outside balcony at a Labour party conference, bursting to reveal some exclusive information, the heavens opened. I was drenched within 30 seconds but continued, only for the newscaster to cut me off after just one question with a brisk ‘Thank you, Robin Oakley in Brighton.’ Furious, I called the programme editor: ‘What the hell were you doing? This is a big story. I needed much more time.’ The reply was simple: ‘Absolutely no point, Robin. Even in the studio we were all watching nothing but the line of wet creeping down your shirt and the rivulets running off the end of your nose. No viewer will have been listening to a word you said.’ Broadcasting gremlins you learn to cope with, but none of us can do anything about the weather.

ITV’s front man Ed Chamberlin, the former Sky TV football presenter, and team members Sir Anthony McCoy, Luke Harvey and Mick Fitzgerald coped well with the extra strain provided by the elements. So did Ian Bartlett the following week, commentating on the runners in a Wincanton fog: do the weather gods have something against ITV as racing’s new broadcasting partner? Although I suppose the brolly huddle may have helped to underline the team spirit intended to characterise the ITV coverage.

They are going to need camaraderie because there are three main problems in covering racing.

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