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Talking Horses: Timeform speak out on the need to speak out in racing

The Guardian

Chasers & Hurdlers Review, by Tony Paley

John McCririck cut a sad and forlorn figure on the ITV This Morning sofa last week, talking about life after his dismissal by Channel 4 Racing. The betting ring presenter famously took ‘the suits’ who sacked him to a tribunal claiming age discrimination but lost the case.

Patently McCririck had become an anachronism. His time was up – but the new breed of racing presenters are failing to match the advances taken in other sports, according to Timeform. In their new Chasers & Hurdlers annual, out this week, the respected ratings organisation highlight pundits such as Gary Neville and Michael Vaughan from the “brave new world of outspoken sports broadcasting” and find racing coverage wanting in comparison.

“Such outspokenness hasn’t extended to the TV coverage of horse racing when the name-calling still tends to be reserved for anyone who dares to criticise any of the participants,” state Timeform, who add that “after the the switch [of terrestrial TV racing] from Channel 4 to ITV, little has changed”.

“Any experienced race-reader watching the [Cheltenham Festival] Pertemps Final would have concluded Glenloe could be viewed as an unlucky loser,” state Timeform, who point out neither of the former jockey pundits, Tony McCoy and Luke Harvey, discussed the possibility until an interjection by McCririck’s successor as TV betting reporter, Matt Chapman.

“Every punter watching that race will have said, ‘If Barry Geraghty didn’t sit like he did, he would have won, had he kicked for home earlier’,” claimed Chapman. His suggestion was dismissed as “absolute drivel” by Harvey before McCoy stated: “Barry Geraghty has had a lot more winners than the clown that just asked the question.”

While acknowledging that extreme comments in racing “could have direct consequences on people’s livelihoods (unlike in football and cricket) with, for example, jockeys losing out on rides and trainers on horses”, Timeform suggest “some middle ground could be found where constructive criticism or considered analysis of tactics can be made without great offence being taken on every occasion”.

Many punters would agree. Timeform also believe the majority of backers would support their renewed plea for 48-hour declarations for all jumps racing, stating: “The British Horseracing Authority‘s decision to introduce 48-hour declarations for the four days of the Cheltenham Festival was a victory for popular opinion and was long overdue.”

Timeform expresses concern about the decline in the fortunes of the most famous in the racing calendar, the Grand National. “The official attendance for the last three Nationals are among the lowest in this century,” Timeform says. “Taken together, the size of the audience and the crowd figures probably reflect a gentle slide in the Grand National’s popularity as the wider public begins to recognise that the National’s unique character has been diluted by the changes made to the course – the modifications have made the Grand National more defensible in a changing society, but the race no longer produces quite the same number of thrilling and dramatic moments as it used to.”

The latest edition of ‘Chasers & Hurdlers’ for the first time in the volume’s history has Irish-trained horses as the subject of the majority of the extended essays and that is another, among many other, subjects covered in the 1,024 pages covering over 8,500 individual horses.

Timeform’s Chasers & Hurdlers 2017/18 is published by Portway Press at £75.

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