There has been a lot written about the racing coverage on Channel 4 over the winter, particularly with regard to falling viewing figures.
The first day of the Grand National meeting’s coverage, for example, was down a staggering 20% on last year. We are all very aware of the disastrous consequences for the sport if it fails to renew its contract for 2017.
For me it has nothing to do with the excellent presenters and analysts, and much more to do with the presentation itself.
Graham Cunningham is a first- class analyst, but he, like Jim McGrath, is a product of the Timeform organisation [a publishing company that provided information to fans, bettors and involved in the racing industry].
How is there a need for two cut from the same cloth without a John Francome type as balance?
Jim suffers because he is no longer Francome’s straight man, mostly because he looks as though he enjoys it less without him.
Mick Fitzgerald is brilliant when it comes to National Hunt racing, but his analysis of Flat racing and riding, while improved, is lacking.
The urbane Nick Luck is popular, but so was his predecessor Mike Cattermole, and for the same reason.
Tanya Stevenson is very knowledgeable on all things betting, but she too was a foil, for John McCririck.
Lastly, I think that the programme suffers because of Clare Balding, not because she is there, but because her appearances are limited to “high days and holidays” — she is not there enough.
So what would I do? First I would employ Matt Chapman. For those of you who don’t know him, Matt is a loud, opinionated, controversial, entertaining yet very knowledgeable presenter on the At The Races channel.
He is a champion of the punter, and like McCririck has a view on everything but his views are objective and well thought out.
He would bring colour (some of it from a sunbed), but most of all humour, to the show — Francome crossed with McCririck, if you like.
Secondly, I would recruit Jason Weaver from the same channel. He is a former Classic-winning Flat jockey, who once rode 200 winners in a season.
He would bounce off Chapman, because they are used to each other, and is already an accurate analyst.
Trials and Tribulations
The Derby and Oaks trials told us plenty. Australia looks a worthy favourite after his fine third in the 2000 Guineas. He is bred to get every yard of 1½ miles and word has it that Aidan O’Brien’s publicised opinion of the horse isn’t just hype.
Apparently this horse is the real deal. His work is exceptional and given that he is a well-balanced, neat individual, it is going to take something special to beat him on 7 June.
True Story was disappointing in the Dante — given Kieren Fallon’s high opinion of him — but jockeys’ opinions can be dangerous to follow.
This was the case in October 1990, when a 26-year-old K Fallon rode work on Trainglot at Ripon seven days before the Cesarewitch Handicap, for which he was favourite.
Word got back to the bookmakers that he hadn’t sparkled and they pushed his price out significantly. Just a week later the horse had the race won fully two furlongs out.
The value this time could be Orchestra at 20-1. He looked very green in the Chester Vase but still won, and could have the services of Ryan Moore, whose riding this spring has been exceptional even by his own standards.
Equally the Oaks market is a one-horse gig. Taghrooda, who was impressive in the Pretty Polly, is a very short price. Ihtimal was a good third in the 1000 Guineas, but I suspect a reproduction of that won’t be good enough.
Madame Chiang won a strongly run Musidora from off the pace, but her connections’ reaction doesn’t suggest that she is fancied. The Cheshire Oaks winner Anipa was running in an all-weather handicap in February, and, like our own Honor Bound who won the Lingfield Oaks trial, isn’t even entered.
Tarfasha was impressive in Ireland’s trial — the Blue Wind Stakes — and I suspect that she has been underestimated.
This article was first published in the current issue of Horse & Hound magazine 22 May 2014