Pat Keane: Racing TV criticism unjustified

So, Conor O’Neill, general manager of Punchestown racecourse, admitted to being ‘very disappointed’ the John Durkan Memorial Chase (run at Punchestown last Sunday) was broadcast on a split screen with no commentary in the early stages.

Pat Keane: Racing TV criticism unjustified

So, Conor O’Neill, general manager of Punchestown racecourse, admitted to being ‘very disappointed’ the John Durkan Memorial Chase (run at Punchestown last Sunday) was broadcast on a split screen with no commentary in the early stages.

Well, seriously Mr O’Neill are you surprised, considering that Irish racing, inexplicably, decided to leave the real home of our game, the now Sky Sports Racing, to join a channel that was already chockful of high-class British racing?

This was pointed out by numerous observers. What happened on Racing TV last Sunday was entirely predictable and yet the Irish authorities ploughed on regardless.

My understanding of how all of this came to pass was that the Horse Racing Ireland media rights committee had the task of negotiating the deal on behalf of the Association of Irish Racecourses.

Now in fairness to O’Neill he was reasonably balanced in his arguments in the Post, until it suddenly dawned on you who was actually doing the talking.

The Racing Post told us that together with being the general manager at Punchestown, O’Neill, wait for this, is also the chairman of HRI’s media rights committee, as well as being chairman of the Association of Irish Racecourses. I mean you couldn’t make it up!

In any case the deal with Racing TV is long done and dusted and runs until December 31, 2023.

Continuing to yearn for the past is just a waste of time, you’ve made your bed, now lie in it!

In this column, on February 23 to be precise, I was highly critical of Racing TV, following its coverage of the Red Mills meeting at Gowran Park the previous Saturday.

This is what they did with the last three races.

For the third last they joined the contest heading to the fourth from home.

For the next they sent us to Gowran as the field jumped the third fence. The fact the particular heat was off three minutes late was the only reason we saw as much as we did.

And then came the killer blow, the bumper. Racing TV simply ignored the race and afterwards didn’t as much as offer an explanation or an apology.

They were rounded on from every quarter, which was only to be expected.

But I’ll tell you what, they learned a valuable lesson and there has never even been a hint since then of a repeat of such behaviour.

I see as much Racing TV as anyone else in this country, probably a lot more than most, and believe the current criticism of the channel, largely orchestrated by the Racing Post, is completely unjustified.

The critics have essentially offered glib comments and soundbites they feel will meet with public approval, without making the slightest effort to examine exactly what went on last Sunday.

There were four meetings in Britain and Ireland, Huntingdon, Kelso, Punchestown and Cork, all on RTV, leaving Sky Sports Racing with basically nothing.

When one channel has that many meetings it doesn’t take a whole lot to put its planned schedule under severe pressure.

The afternoon began badly when a horse refused to line up for the 12.15 at Kelso and the race was off seven minutes late.

It ran into the 12.20 at Punchestown and the split screen was utilised.

The 12.45 at Kelso, however, was only two minutes late starting and, to their credit, they raced for the rest of the day quite close to the official off times.

Now there were a number of unavoidable split screens through the day, but of course the real trouble started with Davy Russell’s illness prior to the third at Punchestown.

That third race, the 1.20, finally started over eleven minutes behind time and ran into the 1.30 from Huntingdon.

The Punchestown race was still off before Huntingdon and RTV displayed no bias whatsoever and we were treated to a full Irish commentary.

And then came the big one at Punchestown, the John Durkan. It was such an important renewal that, apparently, a mere 1,784 were on site to view the Grade 1.

But we digress and let’s just look at how subsequent events unfolded.

Maybe there were further extenuating circumstances, besides the Russell illness, but what we can say for sure is there seemed to be no great move on to get the race away down at the start.

The field messed around for what shaped like an eternity and when they were eventually ordered to make a line spent half the day walking in.

In the meantime, they were getting organised for the Grade 2 Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon, due off at 2.00.

Huntingdon was away at 2.01 and they were going to the second fence when Punchestown started.

Punchestown was off eleven and a half minutes behind time and got exactly what it deserved.

If Punchestown had left the gate before Huntingdon you suspect ir would have been afforded a full commentary.

But Huntingdon was first away and what was RTV supposed to do, switch to Punchestown to satisfy the Irish sense of entitlement?

RTV did exactly the right thing, split the screen to show both races, and gave us the Punchestown commentary after the third last, when the Peterborough Chase was over.

And here are the facts for Punchestown for the rest of the day. The 2.20 was twelve minutes late and the 2.50 and the 3.20 were nine and a half minutes behind time.

They obviously ran into other races and the spilt screen had to be used.

Trainer, Noel Meade, was wheeled out by the Racing Post on Tuesday to join in the kicking of Racing TV, while jockey, Keith Donoghue, was a willing participant on his weekly blog.

Meade said: “Racing TV has been a disaster and there’s no other way to put it. You can butter it up and slice it whichever way you like, but the whole idea is a disaster. If you say anything else, you’re not telling the truth."

He also accused Racing TV of ‘abandoning’ the John Durkan.

This is some of what Donoghue opined: “Irish racing is playing second fiddle to racing in the UK. If there is a clash between a race at even one of our big meetings, and any sort of race in the UK, our race is treated like a lesser event."

Now riddle me this, how much of RTV do these men actually see.

They have huge jobs, Meade trying to remain relevant at the top table of National Hunt racing and Donoghue as an integral cog in the Gordon Elliott machine.

Quite frankly what both said was downright nonsense.

There has been little or no downplaying, no disrespecting, of Irish racing by RTV, basically not since that dark day at Gowran Park back in February.

A combination of HRI, AIR and SIS ceded our product to them and that will be the situation for the next four years.

Last Sunday RTV was a victim of circumstances, none of it their own making, and, in my opinion, coped admirably.

To say anything else is typical Irish bullshit.

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