ITV racing commentator, Richard Hoiles, was a busy man last night.
The eve of the Aintree Grand National is always the high point of his preparatory work for the calling of the world’s greatest steeplechase.
The focus of his studies was on “the majority of the background stuff, preparing colour sheets, identifying stories and highlighting characteristics, such as headgear, white faces, etc”.
Today’s renewal will be his 20th time calling the famous event.
Despite such a wealth of experience, his race-day routine is that of a man unwilling to be complacent.
“I try and walk every track I work at, before racing. I am an early-arriver — I will get to Aintree about 9.30, as I like the gradual build-up.” His itinerary also includes the analysis of previous races.
“As I get older, they seem to stick more easily in my mind, especially if I have actually physically seen the colours in a race. I also like to be aware of the likely main editorial point of each winner, such as the Scottish angle with One for Arthur, last year.”
As the 2018 contenders cross the famous Melling Road and head towards the first flight, the watching public will be awaiting confirmation of their selection’s safe arrival at the back of each obstacle, thereafter.
Hoiles’s only assistance will be his director and producer, who can communicate with him via an earpiece.
A qualified accountant, Hoiles might never have found himself behind the mic, were it not for a fascination with racing instigated by a trip to Plumpton with his father. “The noise and scale of it was so different to the TV, and from then on I threw myself into learning all I could and visiting as many different tracks as possible.”
With the security of a qualification, he explored more ‘offbeat’ career opportunities and answered an advert from SIS in the Sporting Life.
He explained: “SIS were on the lookout for a new style of commentator and I called the Welsh National in my first year, when Martin Pipe saddled the first four home.”
Now a master of his craft, his maiden attempt at calling the National was challenging.
“For the first time, there was a third caller (me) positioned away from the other two in the stands at the Canal Turn.
“It was complete chaos and the position was ditched for the rerun. It has become easier, with commentary boxes out in the country getting us far closer to the action. With everyone now having colours and access to better pictures, the expectation levels are, much higher, however, when, in the past, you could get away with much more, if you sounded confident.”
For Hoiles, the heightened expectations are not nerve-racking, but his passion “to do the race justice” keeps him on edge.
In 19 years of calling the National, he has witnessed a share of thrills and spills, yet one stands out. Working in tandem with John Hunt, for the 2003 showpiece, Hoiles was situated right by the third obstacle. It was there that everything “just fell into our laps”.
“There was a melee right in front of me at the ditch, second time around, which I could see far clearer than the other callers, who were on the inside of the track. If we both did the National for 50 years, we could never produce a commentary like that again.”
Maybe, just maybe, this year’s renewal will be just as dramatic — in which case, we are in for a treat.
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