Buratino is trained by Mark Johnston and is running in the Hackwood Stakes at Newbury, a race that is being shown live on Channel 4 on Saturday. Johnston suggested this week that when ITV take over coverage of British racing in January there should be no betting content. That is a ridiculous idea and who would be interested in how Illuminate runs in the same race if they could not back the horse at 10/1? Racing and betting are intrinsically linked and funding is a key issue between both parties.
ITV will show the major races on their main channel but some meetings will be covered by ITV4. The production values will remain of the highest standard across both channels. ITV4 do a great job with the Tour de France and have shown French Open tennis in the past. Viewing figures for the big occasions have dipped on Channel 4 so the sport is anticipating better ratings on the mainstream channel. However, if there is no betting content viewers will desert the coverage in droves.
Racing had to get the best deal for the sport just as the R and A had to secure the highest and most attractive rights deal for live TV coverage of the Open Championship. Bookmakers believe in-play turnover will be affected by the Open not being shown on the BBC but Sky Sports. There were many concessions before the tournament began as firms tried to get money in their satchels in the belief that live betting on the biggest golf tournament of the year will be affected by the channel on which it is being shown.
Johnston was wrong about betting and televising of horse racing but he had every right to start the debate. However, the vast majority of racing viewers have had a bet and want to know the latest odds and starting prices after each televised race. There is a compromise whereby betting news appears almost in the background but visible while more stories about the horses and people involved with them are presented in an interesting and engaging way.
It might be an unpalatable truth but with out betting racing would be become a much smaller sport. The British Horseracing Authority are setting up relationships with bookmakers to ensure they contribute to the sport from bets taken offshore. The major retail operators are stalling on becoming authorised betting partners which means their sponsorship money is not welcome. The betting industry can take their marketing spend elsewhere but racing will not be able to find another partner that promotes the sport and provides valuable funding.
It would be ironic if Johnston won one of the major televised races of the weekend after his controversial comments. If Buratino wins there might be some interest in his stable lad or lass and what the trainer had for breakfast but there will be many more times interest in the horse’s SP and the prices the other horses in the payout places. Viewing figures would really plummet if betting was a taboo subject on its biggest media platform. Bookmaker sponsorship would possibly disappear and that would affect funding and prize money and the sport would spiral downwards and become more akin to show jumping than a major betting sport.
Buratino was one of the best two-year-olds last season but the horse’s form has dipped over the first half of the current season. The horse won the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot, beating Air Force Blue in the process. Buratino has not won in three races this season and has been disappointing. The Johnston horse will have to produce a career best to win the Newbury race and if he does the post-race interview with Johnston on Channel 4 will be interesting. Few horses have better form in the context of winning the race.
Illuminate is shorter in the betting than Buratino but has something to prove on two-year-old form. On best ratings Buratino has two pounds in hand but The Tin Man in theory has the form to beat both horses. However, on official ratings there is little to choose between the three horses. On juvenile form Buratino can win this race and set up a tricky interview for Johnston.