ITV Racing's Ed Chamberlin reflects on the Derby at Epsom and reacts to criticisms of the coverage, while looking ahead to a bumper day's action on Saturday.
I’m really looking forward to returning to Haydock on Saturday.
It’s always a good day out and I enjoy a bit of craic with Liverpool fans on my trips there. I imagine they’ll be there in big numbers today and still on Cloud Nine.
The best thing about this afternoon’s coverage is we continue to break new ground on ITV Racing with three live races from Beverley. It’s a really well run course by Sally Iggulden and her team and the two juvenile contests can serve up significant Royal Ascot pointers. Attraction won the Hilary Needler in 2003 before she went to Berkshire and followed up in the Queen Mary.
It may be June but we look set to have heavy ground at Haydock Park, which will make life hard for punters. It will be proper “Willie Mullins” ground. I bang on all winter about how deep his gallop is at home and True Self will relish the conditions in the Pinnacle Stakes at 2.25. She looks the day’s good thing.
After a near-miss with Dee Ex Bee in the Investec Derby last year I was delighted to put one over my esteemed editor plus PR guru Michael Shinners by tipping Anthony Van Dyck.
Anyone who tuned in to the Sporting Life Podcast will know I was more forthright in my dislike of Mike Vince’s tie than I was confident over my Derby selection so I consider it one of my more fortunate winners.
However, on a serious note, I’m nothing like as downcast as some about the quality of his performance.
As they climbed to the top of Tattenham Corner I’d almost ripped up my betting ticket with Seamie Heffernan rowing along and then in the straight he was stuck behind a wall of horses.
His jockey made the inspired decision to switch to the rail and it was a Derby-winning move. I think Anthony Van Dyck is capable of even better and back on a flat track I can see him bolting up in a Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby. As always we should wait until the autumn to evaluate the quality of the Epsom Classic but I’m confident that by then the winner will have proved himself well above average.
Sir Dragonet is clearly going to be saved for an autumn campaign after three quick races and he could still scale the heights. He will need soft ground to do so and the Arc could be his race.
Jason Weaver hit the bar with his winter ante-post selections of Madhmoon and Japan. The latter endured a rushed preparation and there seemed to be minimal confidence behind him at Epsom. His big days are still to come – including potentially the William Hill St Leger.
Some will say this Ballydoyle domination of the Flat scene is boring but I disagree – we should all be hailing the phenomenal sporting achievement that it is.
I agree with Johnny Murtagh, that the horse to take out of the entire Investec Derby Festival is Pink Dogwood. I’ve never known the O’Brien team to be confident over a filly as they were here and the looks of disbelief on their faces following her defeat to Anapurna told the story.
A lot has been said about ITV’s coverage of the Derby. As any member of our team will tell you I’m the fiercest critic of the show but left Epsom on a high with a feeling we’d really nailed a good one for one of the biggest days of the year.
As I’ve often said on these pages I read absolutely everything that’s said about us and had my customary stop at Fleet Services to catch up on social media reaction. I was quite taken aback by some of the things that were said.
The contrasting views sum up the challenge we face: one minute my sister rang to say her favourite part of the show was the interview with Mary Berry, I then read others querying why she was on a racing show.
Two people stopped me on Andover High Street on Tuesday to say they watched the Derby for the first time and had no idea racing could be so entertaining, then you read others say we didn’t show enough horses.
Racing fans queried our use of Chris Hughes but one tweeter said she only knew it was Derby Day due to Chris’ Instagram stories. Some loved our jargon buster on the breeding industry while Charlie Brooks, who I respect and like enormously, wrote in the Telegraph “Great Derby, shame about the coverage”.
All because we do not use sectional timings and analyse its data. This is data that is not yet immediately available to us. I’m not sure how many of our 1.75 million viewers would be interested in sectional timings but when it does get the funding it needs, is robust and available real-time and on a regular basis, it is definitely something we should consider.
Likewise, we will listen to all the input and feedback we have had this week. The only thing I can absolutely guarantee is we can’t please everyone.
ITV got the contract to show British racing on a promise that we would work to increase and broaden the sport’s appeal. That’s exactly what we’ve done consistently for two years and this year again we are bucking every television trend with a 19 per cent increase on the 2018 viewing numbers.
Yet one average figure for the Derby, on the hottest day of the year and competing on a Saturday with some world-class sport on offer elsewhere, bizarrely seemed to open the floodgates.
I’ve actually really enjoyed engaging with as many people as possible and I’m fully aware that criticism comes with this job, one I love and I’m passionate about.
I was probably wrong to say in the Racing Post that some of the critics make me tear my hair out - especially from someone who has already once lost every hair on his body during chemotherapy - but when you and the team put your heart and soul in to a show, it’s hard not to react in the immediate aftermath.
Two criticisms that I found particularly hard to take were:
1. ITV didn’t give the Derby the standing it deserved
I can assure you we threw the kitchen sink at it on Saturday. At the start of the year the show’s director Paul McNamara pointed out that the Derby creeps up on us very quickly and we must give it real prominence this year. Hence the idea to market it as racing’s “greatest show”.
We got Frankie Dettori to play the role of Hugh Jackman. This promo was used across the main channel during all the channel’s big shows such as Britain’s Got Talent.
2. The fashion segments were a waste of time
Well the fashion segments weren’t fashion segments. The features with Mark Hayes and Charlotte Hawkins consisted of interviews with Mary Berry, Ruth and Eamon Holmes plus showing people behind the scenes in Epsom’s picnic areas, which for one I’d never seen before.
Their brief was to bring the fun and colour of Epsom to people’s living rooms which accounted for just nine-and-a-half minutes of television during a three-and-a-half hour show.
I also keep being told why does racing need to show this colour when a football programme rarely does?
Well I’ve presented both and they are chalk and cheese. Football is 90 minutes of non-stop action – with three minutes of analysis at half-time, while flat racing is one minute of action followed by 30 minutes to entertain what is a very broad church.
Most important is that the Derby remains a very special event which we, on ITV, are determined to give the stature it deserves, while we continue to make sure we increase racing’s audience across the board.