The betting ring is an important part of television coverage
PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
By David Ashforth 6:00PM 19 JUL 2016
THE Racing Post’s Monday Jury were asked how racing should be covered on TV.
Richard Wilmot, Ladbrokes’ odds compiler, responded “betting should be front and centre,” presumably leaving the racing bit to occupy the back stalls. It reminded me of former William Hill chief executive Ralph Topping’s insistence that, first and foremost, horseracing is a betting product.
That is how bookmakers view all sports, as betting products. It is, after all, bookmakers’ raison d’etre. For them, the question is simply how best to exploit the potential of sport as a betting medium and maximise profits. The result can be seen in the way the off-course betting industry presents and promotes sport to its customers, whether in betting shops, online, on television, at racecourses or in advertisements.
In many ways today’s shops are a big improvement on the past, offering a more comfortable, smoke-free environment, with every race televised and professional service. They are also a prime example of horseracing presented as a betting product, with a relentless focus on betting opportunities. Today’s shops are brighter and slicker but seem soulless.
It is gambling without pause for breath or space for thought, literally one thing after another. The bank of television screens presents a barrage of betting opportunities, with virtual racing continuing to be offered even when there is a full programme of live racing. Information not directly promoting betting, such as the latest race result, is given lower priority.
Then there are the gaming machines, almost 35,000 of them, accounting for 56 per cent of betting shops’ gross gambling yield. As their yield has risen, over the counter business has fallen.
Betting is an integral part of the racing experience, very important to many racegoers, punters and television viewers and essential to the sport’s proper funding. That is undeniable and inescapable and must be taken fully into account in the sport’s dealings with the betting industry and when considering, for instance, the content of television programmes. Nevertheless, horseracing, first and foremost, is an exciting live sport.
Horseracing’s stars are the horses, jockeys, trainers, owners, stable staff and others involved in a live sporting event staged at racecourses that have themselves been a major force in moving the sport forward.
Television coverage is a balancing act. It is essential to cover betting because it is of significant interest to many viewers – an important attraction of the sport. The real question for ITV is how much prominence should betting be given and what form should the coverage of it take?
For my taste there is too much focus on betting. I would like to see more on the sport’s stories and characters – and it is a sport rich in both. Not just the obvious and high profile but the hidden away gems, equine and human, that add so much to horseracing’s appeal.
Readers will know the remarkable tale of Russian émigré Dr Misha Voikhansky, who tries again on Natalia at Leicester (5.40) over a more suitable seven furlongs. That is the sort of story I would like to see on television.