Mike Cattermole reflects on the key action from the Dublin Racing Festival and the forthcoming switch of Irish media rights to Racing UK.
AN UNNECESSARY MESS
This is one hot topic and, as emotions continue to run high, I have to disclose that I do work for At The Races.
Also, stand by for plenty of acronyms.
So, the Association of Irish Racecourses (AIR) met on Tuesday to ratify the new deal with the Racecourse Media Group (RMG) to show Irish racing on Racing UK from January 1, next year.
However, this was a given as AIR do not own the media rights to their product since they were sold in 2016, in their entirety, to Satellite Information Services (SIS). SIS agreed to pay Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) and AIR £39m a year in return for their LBO, broadcast, streaming and international rights.
Brian Kavanagh, the chief executive of HRI, must have walked away from that breakthrough deal a happy man as he had almost doubled the payment coming in.
Crucially though, he would also have known that his racecourses would no longer have any protection or control as to where the pictures would be shown. From that point, SIS became the decision maker. Although many might have assumed they would stick with ATR, there were no guarantees.
Indeed, the news that Irish racing would no longer be shown on ATR came as a shock to most, me included, although I suppose the writing was on the wall when RMG entered into an agreement with SIS about the international rights distribution which RUK and ATR had shared with the successful GBI project.
That was the first sign of a crack in the set-up of British and Irish racing and it has now become a full-blown rupture with the latest development. Lines have been seriously drawn and I can’t help but feel sorry about this, as surely “Racing PLC” is ultimately better served as one entity. There is no unified product to offer to the market place any more.
There seems no doubt that ATR and Irish racing had complemented each other well. Plenty of great coverage and lots of marketing support made for a pleasing alliance.
Now there is a sense of dismay from some big names in Ireland – JP McManus and Michael O’Leary have both expressed concerns - that their racing will not be available to as many viewers from next year, given that RUK has only a 50,000 subscription base.
There is also no verifiable audience data out there. During afternoons, however, including Irish fixtures, ATR regularly delivers an audience reach of up to 300,000, increasing to over 1.5 million on a monthly basis.
However, concerns from race fans that RUK will increase its subs appear unfounded – they say they won’t – and nor will they create an additional channel to fit it all in. RUK will, however, change its name later in the year. That is an obvious and now necessary step. Exciting times for RUK.
RUK already has beautiful, crisp HD pictures but it is well known that ATR is soon going to replicate that (and not before time) by morphing into Sky Sports Racing in the near future, as a result of the broadcasting behemoth acquiring a majority share in the channel last year.
I understand that the vibes at ATR remain extremely positive and it is very much full steam ahead for the new channel, which will have access to 14 million homes and the invaluable broadcast innovation and cross-platform promotion that only Sky can offer. Exciting times for them too, then.
This would have been playing on the minds of those in charge of Ireland’s racecourses at that “fait accompli” meeting on Tuesday. Or would they have been satisfied that they had indeed got the best deal? Time will tell.
Overall, though, and trying to get some objectivity out of all this, I can’t help feeling that the issue of media rights and their distribution is one sorry, and rather unnecessary, mess.
EDWULF STEALS THE DUBLIN SHOW
The Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown may not have worked out as some might have hoped, with so many of the fancied runners blowing out, but it produced one of the best racing stories for years.
Who would have thought that Edwulf, who almost lost his life at Cheltenham last March when he pulled up so very distressed in the closing stages of the NH Chase, would ever race again, let alone win - and win at the highest level?
It tells you a huge amount about this horse’s constitution. None of the vets could believe that a horse who had stayed down for so long and who was exhibiting serious neurological problems (he was fitting) would survive. What a tribute to his will to live and also to the team of vets that treated him. I bet they will never forget Edwulf.
What was perhaps overlooked was the brilliant ride he was given by Derek O’Connor on Sunday. Held up at the back, Edwulf was lobbing along for most of the race looking very comfortable indeed and had plenty left in the tank for that dramatic thrusting finish.
Whether Killultagh Vic would have hung on is impossible to say but it was not a good time to fall with the Gold Cup just over a month away. He has had just three chase starts and remains highly promising (so lightly raced) but the tumble may have been down to inexperience. If he were to head to the Festival, the Ryanair might suit him better this time round.
Edwulf has to come into the Gold Cup picture – imagine the reaction if he were to win that! – but Our Duke’s promise of running away with the Irish National last April has not been built on yet after a bad blunder two out put paid to his chance here. His interrupted season is likely to catch up with him next month.
SAMCRO, THE RELUCTANT STAR
The way that his connections try and play Samcro down emphasizes even more just how highly they think of him.
His win in the Deloitte was brilliant and is surely the first of many Grade Ones. He is outstanding. I had however expected Sharjah to at least get him to break sweat but he was a huge disappointment.
The one horse that did impress me behind Samcro in the Deloitte was Sharjah’s stablemate, Duc Des Genievres, who stuck to his task all the way to the line to take clear second place.
Now the Deloitte was not a particularly strongly-run race – almost two seconds slower than the Spring Juvenile Hurdle – and the French-bred grey lost his position approaching the second last.
I loved the way he then came back through the field up the home straight and he clearly has loads of ability. Interestingly, he was beaten four lengths by Next Sensation on his Irish debut at Naas over two and a half miles.
I reckon a strongly-run two-miler like the Sky Bet Supreme could be made for him. He is just 10/1 with the sponsors (NRNB) but there is plenty of 20/1 (without the concession) available.
Apart from the good time, the Spring Juvenile Hurdle had a really solid look to it with two obviously good horses in Mr Adjudicator and Farclas pulling clear of the rest.
It might be hard to believe that, given the race’s record as a trial for JCB Triumph Hurdle (it produced the winners in 2013, 14 and 16) that these two are not generally among the first three in the betting for that race.