On this site we’re focused on the racing you can watch live on your TV each Saturday. Racing on TV is currently shown on ITV4 and normally covers seven races (although sometimes additional races are added).
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About ITV Racing
The news that ITV Racing would become the home of British racing on terrestrial television was a huge story in the world of horse racing in 2016. Viewer numbers had fallen for even the most prestigious race meetings after the BBC stopped broadcasting horse racing in 2012 and ITV were tasked with improving things in that regard.
Spearheaded by Ed Chamberlain, ITV Racing decided early on that they would try to provide top class coverage for all of their racing, not just the biggest meetings. In-depth analysis of all races covered keep knowledgeable racing fans happy whilst new features such as the Social Stable try to welcome new fans to the sport. The British Horseracing Authority and other stakeholders in the sport are clearly happy with their impact as their contract was extended in 2020 but what exactly do you get with ITV Racing?
What Races Are Shown?
ITV Racing covers British horse racing all through the year. They are there for Flat meetings in the height of summer and for National Hunt meetings in the depths of winter through to the biggest festivals in spring. Whatever the type of racing being covered, their remit is to produce a show that can be enjoyed by both hardened racegoers and more casual fans.
Of course, racing meetings vary considerably in size, scope and quality but in general there are two types ITV Racing show. The first is their weekly Saturday show, the second are shows covering the biggest meetings such as the Cheltenham Festival, Royal Ascot or the Grand National meeting.
Saturday racing is the bread and butter of ITV Racing’s coverage and, of course, a big focus of this site too. The British Horseracing Authority and other organisers tend to ensure that the pick of the week’s racing is held on a Saturday and the ITV Racing cameras will be wherever the biggest races are.
The exact format of the Saturday show depends on the day’s cards. Ed Chamberlain and the other main presenters will head to whichever is considered to be the biggest meeting, where four or five races are previewed, shown live and dissected by the pundits. More often than not, the main meeting is also home to the feature race of the day and much of the show will be based around that individual contest.
Although the presenters are only in one place, ITV Racing show the most prestigious contests of the day from one, or sometimes two, other racecourses. The two or three races shown live from the other tracks get similarly in-depth coverage including looking through the form and talking to jockeys, trainers and owners. All of the live ITV races are also discussed in the Opening Show, which is presented by Oli Bell and features pundits working on the main show.
Big Race Meetings
ITV Racing’s biggest cut through with the general public and therefore best viewing figures comes, unsurprisingly, during the biggest meetings. Whereas most Saturday racing is shown live on ITV4, major meetings are moved to the main channel and given extra coverage, befitting of events that even casual and occasional racing fans watch.
ITV have a contract to show the opening five or six races at meetings such as the Cheltenham Festival or Royal Ascot but that number always includes the day’s main races and they ensure that all of them are covered in detail.
The calibre of the pundits is always high class with Tony McCoy and Ruby Walsh drafted in for jumps racing for example. Variety and colour are added to the programme courtesy of live segments from the betting ring with Matt Chapman and a look at the fashion of racegoers with Mark Heyes and Charlotte Hawkins.
Sometimes the end of a big meeting falls on a Saturday. On these occasions the coverage is based at that meeting but ITV Racing will also cover the day’s other big races. Another similarity between big meetings and Saturday racing is the Opening Show which is always broadcast on ITV4 at around 9.30am.
Presenters And Pundits
It takes a large team to put on a show like ITV Racing. The majority of that group operates behind the camera, working hard to prepare the show but it’s the on-screen talent that keep the viewers coming back and ITV Racing have invested heavily in a varied and expert set of presenters as detailed below.
When Ed Chamberlain announced that he was leaving Sky Sports, where he fronted much of their live football coverage, to become the new face of ITV Racing, few sports fans could understand the move. Here was one of the most respected broadcasters on Sky leaving behind the Monday Night Football studio with Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher to stand in a wet field in Cheltenham in January. Those fans were unaware of Chamberlain’s love of horse racing though and anybody who has watched ITV Racing since he became their anchor has to admit that he made the right decision.
Chamberlain is now the main man at ITV Racing. His duties include introducing the programme, linking between interviews, races and other bits of the show, and chairing the debate between the assorted pundits he is working with. The Somerset born (in 1974) host is hugely passionate and enthusiastic and whilst some thought he may be a little too much his personality has brought a more modern feel to racing coverage.
Francesca Cumani is deeply rooted in the sport of horseracing. She lives in Newmarket, her father is the legendary trainer Luca Cumani and she has been presenting the sport in Britain and Australia for years.
Cumani’s role is a varied one at ITV Racing. At times she is Chamberlain’s sidekick as a presenter whilst at others she turns her expert eye towards horses in the pre-parade ring, giving viewers the key information as well as insight into how horses look and are behaving. Cumani also weighs in on racecourse fashion, which ITV Racing make sure to cover at the biggest meetings.
John McCririck became a national star thanks to his colourful approach to covering pre-race betting for Channel 4. Something of a Marmite figure, there are no doubt many who still miss his unique style. That was not something that anyone could hope to copy and so ITV Racing set out to do things their own way. Of course they still needed somebody who could shine in the hustle and bustle of the betting ring on course and grab the attention and they found their man in Matt Chapman.
Chapman is a highly experienced racing journalist and broadcaster with a great knowledge of the sport but it is his loud voice and even louder suits that most racing fans know him for. As well as reporting on the latest market moves (often alongside his partner in crime, Brian Gleeson), Chapman also interviews winning jockeys before they dismount and features on the Opening Show.
Oli Bell is a key member of the ITV Racing team. Like many of his colleagues, he plays a varied role which is somewhere between presenter, analyst and interviewer. In his presenting guise, Bell has two main jobs. The first is in the Opening Show where he chairs proceedings and gets stuck into the debate himself alongside his fellow presenters and an illustrious selection of former jockeys. He is also the face of the Social Stable, where he interacts with fans at the course and viewers who are following along on social media alongside Chris Hughes.
As an interviewer, Bell will often catch up with jockeys and trainers as they turn up at the racecourse but he is most often seen with a long microphone ask he congratulates and gets the latest insight from winning jockeys.
Sally Ann Grassick
Sally Ann Grassick was born into racing. Her family has a farm in Ireland where they breed and train horses so the sport has always been in her blood. A freelance journalist and broadcaster, Grassick can be seen on ITV Racing for British meetings but also on other channels where she covers Irish and French racing. She is also a regular on the Opening Show where she heads out with her film crew to welcome trainers, horses and their grooms as they arrive at major meetings.
The Former Jockeys
ITV Racing see a key part of their job as winning over new fans to the sport. They do a very good job in explaining key elements of the sport and jargon but they also want to provide as much expert insight as possible. To that end, they use a lot of former jockeys who have carved out successful careers in television after hanging up the saddle.
Luke Harvey and Mick Fitzgerald are two of ITV’s key men in this regard. Both are able to use their intimate knowledge of racing to give viewers real insight into the ground conditions, the specific challenges posed by hurdles or fences and to the mentality of a jockey ahead of a big race. Harvey and Fitzgerald also know most current jockeys, something they use to grab short, sharp interviews immediately before and after races.
Alice Plunkett is another retired jockey who shares her vast knowledge of the sport with the ITV Racing viewers. Like the other former jockeys that she works with on ITV, Plunkett works as a broadcaster for other TV companies and has plenty of great contacts in the sport but uniquely she is the only female jockey to have ridden at both the Badminton Horse Trials and the Grand National course.
Other former jockeys used by ITV Racing tend to play a more traditional pundit’s role, sticking close to Chamberlain and analysing the races. Tony McCoy and Ruby Walsh, two of the greatest jumps jockeys of all time, are the main men in this regard with both having a keen eye for the form as well as being able to talk at length about what it means to succeed on racing’s biggest stages. Given both only retired recently, they remain very close to the sport and are able to offer a real insider’s view of proceedings.
When Did ITV Racing Take Over From Channel 4?
Terrestrial TV coverage of British horse racing was provided by Channel 4 for years. Channel 4 started with midweek racing back in March of 1984 (a meeting at Doncaster was their first). Around 18 months later in October of 1985, Channel 4 began showing the pick of the week’s racing on a Saturday.
Many racing fans grew up watching the sport on Channel 4 and had no idea about ITV’s horse racing pedigree. Racing fans of a certain age, however, vividly remember tuning in to World of Sport with its legendary presenters such as Eamonn Andrews, Fred Dineage and Steve Rider introducing coverage of horse racing and were therefore less surprised than others when the news broke in late 2016 that racing was returning to ITV.
The team at ITV Racing knew that they had a big job on their hands replacing Channel 4 Racing. Channel 4 had their ups and downs and eventually lost their rights as the racing authorities grew increasingly concerned about viewing numbers for the biggest meetings. However, there can be no denying they had a place in the heart of many racing fans, nor that many of their presenters had become household names, especially the late John McCririck.
ITV’s bow was also marred in controversy as a quirk in the change of contracts meant that Channel 4 Racing’s last broadcast came on 27 December 2016 but ITV’s coverage could not begin until 1 January 2017. As fate would have it, 31 December was a Saturday so for the first time in decades, Saturday’s racing was not shown on terrestrial television. That rocky start had nothing to do with the presenters or production staff though and the reviews for that first ITV Racing were broadly positive as the new era began.
They have certainly gone from strength to strength since then, developing the show nicely and adding some interesting features along the way. Their coverage is fresher and more modern and despite potential issues with advertising revenue due to changing government legislation, hopefully here to stay.