Just don't mention the touchscreen
Will Hayler reviews the first day of a new era for Channel 4 Racing.
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Not bad. Not bad at all. Those hoping for a car crash start to Channel 4's revamped racing coverage were left disappointed as something vaguely phoenix-like rose from the flames of Cheltenham's abandoned card on New Year's Day.
It wasn't all good and it hopefully isn't too late for the new production team to have a re-think over some of the graphics. The reproduction of jockeys' silks is not some sort of outdated anachronism waiting to be swept aside by the new broom - it's an essential point of reference for anyone hoping to follow a race. Nor was the text always entirely readable. A little bit of font tweaking might help.
Having made great play in recent weeks about being 'on the spot', it was also a surprising decision not to send anyone to Musselburgh for the four races covered from the track. There was well over 24 hours between the abandonment of Cheltenham and the start of racing - surely time enough to send a broadcast truck up the M6 to bring a bit of Scottish colour into the programme.
But on to the positives, and there were many. The Isabel Tompsett interview was genuinely touching without being sickly, and a valuable reminder both as to the important work of one of its principal charities and also how quickly we can forget those injured in pursuit of glory.
Getting Nicky Henderson to open his doors was an obvious coup in the circumstances, and the pledge to introduce the viewer to the stable staff who know the horses better than anyone was clearly maintained. Indeed, the articulacy of conditional rider Jerry McGrath, as he talked about Simonsig, was a reminder that we are always only one interview away from finding a racing broadcaster of the future.
The talking heads were often interesting, largely informative and at times entertaining. Sam Twiston-Davies revealed that the best piece of advice he had ever received - dispensed to him by Aidan Coleman after a defeat on Baby Run - was that "at the end of the day, it's just horses running round a field". I must try and remember that the next time my Placepot goes down in the last. Again.
However, while being cosy with the jockeys might produce some decent television, it mustn't come at the expense of valid analysis and criticism - it's a delicate balance, but manageable.
The reduced emphasis upon betting as part of the programme is clearly an editorial decision, but not one that will necessarily sit comfortably with the bookmakers whose (nearly-but-not-quite-funny) advertisements played a prominent part in the programme.
By all means, open up the appeal of the programme, but let's not forget that many viewers are tuning in because they've had a bet, or want to have one. It isn't good enough to only start looking at a list of runners and riders two minutes before the off-time, if 30 seconds of that valuable preview time is going to be eaten into by an advert.
'New Beginnings' was the name of the poem read by Clare Balding at the start of the show. And this was a fair attempt, with the definite promise of better to come judged by the 'helmet-cam' promotional slot at the end of the programme.
Best not talk about the touchscreen table though. They're going to need a super-size skip at Channel 4 headquarters unless someone can figure it out soon.