Ruby Walsh: A race every 25 minutes a sure bet to keep TV audience happy

Some are great spectator sports: Rugby, soccer, and the GAA spring to mind. You can sit in a full stadium, soak in the atmosphere, and the action is right in front of you.
Ruby Walsh: A race every 25 minutes a sure bet to keep TV audience happy
Scarlet Dragon and Hollie Doyle (white/red seams) wins the Duke of Edinburgh Stakes at Royal Ascot yesterday. Picture: Healy Racing
Scarlet Dragon and Hollie Doyle (white/red seams) wins the Duke of Edinburgh Stakes at Royal Ascot yesterday. Picture: Healy Racing

Some are great spectator sports: Rugby, soccer, and the GAA spring to mind. You can sit in a full stadium, soak in the atmosphere, and the action is right in front of you.

These sports can also be enjoyed from home, where you have the added extra of replays and analysis, but only some sense of the crowd atmosphere and none of the ‘I was there, when …’

Others, like golf, can be great social occasions, but, as regards viewing, you see very little of the action and probably do a lot of walking in the hope of being at the right place at the right time. Watched on TV, they are far quicker and more entertaining.

Last weekend’s action from the Charles Schwab Challenge proved how exciting and pressurised golf can be, even when played at what was basically an empty venue in Texas. Golf didn’t need a crowd to create tension and, whilst Ascot has been a very different experience this week, the action on the track, just like the Curragh last weekend, didn’t require the crowds to bring about tension, brilliance, or drama.

Ryan Moore going toe to toe with Frankie Dettori in just the second race, on Circus Maximus and Terebellum, set up wonderful action for the week.

Golf has a luxury for live televised sport, which horse racing does not have: Constant live action. Producers working on television programmes for golf can jump from shot to shot, until all bar the last two players are left on the course.

The requirement to fill time falls on producers, as you wait for players to walk to take their next shots. That is not exactly a big issue, but it’s the constant live action that entertains you, and this is where horse racing falls down slightly.

If you are an avid fan and wish to watch via either of racing’s pay-per-view channels, you might say the action comes at you too quickly, or even clashes with itself at times, all of which I have written about, and suggested ideas for, in the past.

But my point here is totally different. Royal Ascot stood out this week. Without doubt, it was head and shoulders above all the other racing that was on. It is high-end and was broadcast live every day to a terrestrial audience here and in the UK, and globally behind pay walls. But it should also have had its own timeframe.

For terrestrial purposes, to entertain and keep people watching, Royal Ascot should have raced every 25 minutes: Preview, race, reaction, review, adverts, and start again. Some might say it is not doable. I disagree.

Jockeys could have weighed out for all their rides in advance of the first race, and one set of stewards could have adjudicated on the odd races and another on the even. The horses in the second race could have been saddled and been in the pre-parade ring as the first race started and followed suit through the day.

The starters and stall handlers could have moved from one start to the next, and so on. One whole hour would have been taken off most people’s working day and, crucially, 45 minutes that needed to be filled could have been taken out of the terrestrial television schedule: Action, action, action.

ITV were the host broadcaster and used incredible imagination to fill a show that would have normally been so easy to do. But racing should have helped itself more. The graph in viewing figures on terrestrial television usually drops between races and spikes close to race times, but with races at 35-minute intervals rather than 40 at this year’s meeting, that graph is more level.

One and a half million people watched Stradivarius in the Gold Cup and 1.8m watched the delayed Sandringham Handicap at the end show, maybe because it was off so close to The Chase!

Last night, RTÉ showed its first new live fixture, from Gowran, and today Naas will be on the channel. Maybe the one-hour shows are a bit tight for some people, but the quality races are on display, so hopefully it will be entertaining. The Guineas weekend figures were good and hopefully these shows will entertain, too.

Casual viewers will only watch the quality stuff: Ascot had an undeniable amount of it, I just wish it had come at us a bit quicker. In normal times, the usual routine works, but these are not normal times and maybe tighter times will hook more people on the action and all this sport has to offer right now: The racing.

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