If you’re not digital, it could not be more different with Racing TV

Secret Cargo and Brian Hayes (nearest) on the way to winning the Introducing Racing TV Handicap Hurdle at Tramore yesterday. Picture: Healy Racing

One race, one game, one day can only ever add to the information bank. It is never definitive. 

It being a debut accentuates this truth and the world is full of examples of a first outing offering absolutely no evidence of the splendour that is to come.

There is no point repeating the lament about the reduced availability of Irish racing now that it is behind an additional paywall. 

While the decision to install an extra hurdle to accessibility and confine coverage to an already-decreasing hardcore baffled the majority of those involved and interested in it, it is done. 

We are now in the era of Racing TV.

Of course the negativity surrounding the decision was never a reflection of the erstwhile Racing UK. 

Its treatment of racing has always been excellent, professional and knowledgeable, and it was obvious that the vital elements of At The Races’ game-changing coverage would be incorporated.

So whatever the consequences long-term will be for Irish racing of the switch, for now, it is only right to give Racing TV a fair shake and judge it from a production standpoint. 

In truth, a lot of it is the same. Gary O’Brien and Kevin O’Ryan transferred from At The Races and need no introduction. 

Neither does Donn McClean nor Irish Examiner columnist Ruby Walsh. The latter duo possess considerable television experience with the RUK and RTÉ. 

With this quartet, you have expertise to burn, along with incisive analysis, interpretation and interviewing.

The fresh blood was provided by Kate Harrington. Her selection was left-field, insomuch as it wasn’t flagged but you can see the logic. 

She is a key cog in one of the most successful training operations in the country as assistant to her mother Jessica, and she still rides successfully.

She was entitled to be nervous, given her lack of experience in front of the camera, but is an articulate communicator and impressed prior to racing with her references to relevant form from races she was involved in, and noting important details such as horses using equipment (tongue tie, blinkers etc) for the first time, or more significantly, horses that responded well to additional equipment previously when applied.

Ireland was prominent initially. Walsh was in the south east and provided his thoughts on the day. 

O’Brien and Harrington in Tramore, O’Ryan and McClean at Fairyhouse were very good but once the action got under way, we didn’t see them or hear from them for the rest of the afternoon.

We knew that the in-depth analysis and debrief we were accustomed to would not be available with a packed programme of six meetings to cover. 

Still, it was fairly stark when it hit you between the eyes.

The David Flynn Building Contractors Maiden Hurdle at 12pm was the landmark contest, the first to be covered under the new arrangement. 

There was no pre-race discussion, no look at the main contenders.

Instead Tom Stanley and Dave Nevison chatted in the studio about some of the day’s stories, and then Cheltenham.

Suddenly, with no trumpets, no bells, no whistles, we got pictures from Tramore, the first race of a new era taking place. And they’re off. 

In contrast, the opener at Prestbury Park was previewed in depth, each horse discussed with footage of them in the parade ring, and an interview with trainer Fergal O’Brien.

It did little to assuage fears of Irish racing being the poor relation and was inexplicable given the available resources, and the fact that it was D Day. 

The split screen being deployed when an English race started during an Irish one, but not always when it was the other way around, was noticeable too.

Digital viewers could have exclusive access to the teams based at Tramore and Fairyhouse on RTV Extra, but that doesn’t cut it if the TV is how you do it – and given the age profile of so many racing supporters, this is the case for many.

Watching on the television channel from the time the first race started, you would not have known that they had people on the ground.

The good news for the TV-only patrons though is that there is a full replay of the Irish coverage later in the evening, and a weekly Irish magazine show as well and these will include the reaction. 

Seasoned punters will tune into those and in truth, on early showing, this is what RTV is about.

Wall-to-wall racing, with no pre-race discussion, interview packages or visits to yards, will not attract new viewers to the sport. Only existing enthusiasts will ever sign up for that.

The pictures are in HD, which is nice if you’re into that. 

It would be effective with close-up, slow-motion action jumping a fence, illustrating the majesty of the horse but you don’t have time for that.

One real positive, though it is hard to know if this is by virtue of the frenetic nature of covering six meetings or policy, is that we weren’t bombarded by betting odds.

 

It is a significant positive of racing coverage in America that they barely refer to the betting at all, focusing on the human and equine narratives, selling the sport to a wider audience.

Those of us that like a bet do not rely on the television coverage to keep us updated. Thus the odds should only be required in TV coverage if they become part of the story or something significant is unfolding. 

We don’t need to go down to the ring every two minutes.

What RTV did provide was a graphic that never left the screen until a race got under way, so all the bases were covered. 

That applied only to English racing. There wasn’t enough of a preamble to the Irish races.

One other significant positive was not having to switch channels to watch the racing at Cheltenham in particular. 

That is something to look forward to down the line.

There were no new gadgets, the TV angles would not be expected to be any different as the footage providers are the same. 

But if you’re not digital, it could not be more different.

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