Tag Archives: Horse Racing

Where are the young horse racing fans?

Horseracing continues to struggle to attract new fans despite being the second most popular spectator sport in the UK.

According to Deloitte, six million racegoers attended meetings in 2017, whilst more than half of the top 10 annual events throughout the year were either racing or equestrian-based.

Royal Ascot was the best-attended event of the horseracing calendar, with 294,000 people flooding through the gates over the five-day festival.

Although the industry will be buoyed by the figures published, there is still a fear within it that the sport is on the decline, particularly with an ageing demographic.

Last year, racing entered into a £40m deal with ITV to become the sport’s only terrestrial TV channel, and although viewing figures from their first year have been hit and miss, it has been the epitome of racing’s intentions to engage with a wider audience.


Speaking to Elephant Sport, ITV Racing’s lead commentator Richard Hoiles said: “It’s important that we make sure the sport is open and accessible to everyone, and that it doesn’t seem mysterious.

“As a production team, it’s our role to make sure we explain racing terminology, but without coming across as patronising to our more seasoned followers.”

‘We need to show people that racing does have wonderful people involved in it and that it’s a brilliant sport with wonderful colour’
– Oli Bell

Throughout their first year, ITV’s racing coverage has been well-received, but like other sports racing faces a battle to engage with younger audiences.

ITV have proved to be the forward-thinkers in racing coverage over the past 12 months with presenters such as Oli Bell fronting frequent Facebook live videos.

ITV Racing also launched their own Instagram account last month, providing behind the scenes footage of their weekend coverage as well as displaying the colour that comes with a day at the races.

“Racing needs to connect with a younger audience,” said Bell. “There’s a lot of ways in which young people access information, including video content and the way in which they communicate with one another via social media.”

The presenter of ITV Racing’s ‘The Opening Show’ continued: “A lot of people do attend racing which is great, but to keep them more consistently involved, racing needs to be across all forms of technology and to be up to date with the current trends.”

Racing attendances have been pleasing in 2017, but taking statistics at face value can be misleading, and it is often argued that a large percentage of spectators who attend meetings are not necessarily fans of the sport.

Throughout the summer months The Jockey Club include live entertainment following the final race on the card of a meeting and acts already booked in 2018 include the likes of Craig David and Paloma Faith.

Bell admitted that tracks do need to do more to encourage the fans who attend a day at the races primarily for the music.

He said: “I think something more could be done to improve the crossover. An example could be that if spectators arrive in time for the first race and place a bet on the first couple of races that they’re then entitled to a free pint

“We need to show people that racing does have wonderful people involved in it and that it’s a brilliant sport with wonderful colour.”

Racings welfare struggles

The British Horseracing Authority’s head handicapper Phil Smith last week revealed the weights for the 2018 Grand National, meaning the countdown to the biggest spectacle of the racing calendar had well and truly begun.

A large proportion of the public will no doubt be clamouring into betting shops up and down the country to place their once-a-year annual bets come race day, and the world’s most prestigious steeple chase provides a platform for the sport to reach out and introduce racing to potential new fans.

‘We’re not slapdash about welfare, we do care and we don’t race horses for them to get hurt and everyone to shrug their shoulders and move on, everyone cares very much’
– Richard Hoiles

However, despite the sport’s soaring attendances throughout the major meetings and festivals of last year, ITV saw a 17% decline in television viewings for the 2017 Grand National compared to that of the previous year.

This has led some to believe that there has been a shift in the public’s perception of the sport with organisations such as Animal Aid suggesting that racing along with the Grand National itself should be banned.

Following the introduction of the 2006 Animal Welfare Act, the BHA has worked closely with the RSPCA regarding the rules and regulations of the sport.

Section 9 of the Act places ‘a duty of care on people to meet the welfare needs of their animals, including the need to be protected from pain and suffering’ – a law which has to be followed by trainers and jockeys alike.

Worth following

“Welfare issues such as the whip debate continues to haunt racing,” admits Hoiles who was ITV’s lead commentator for the 2017 Grand National.

“The whip in layman’s terms is an instrument that inflicts pain. However, in horse racing, the action of the whip acts as a trigger so that the horse knows it is time to go through with his effort.”

Hoiles continued: “It is also extremely unfortunate that when horses break their legs they often get put down.

“This is due to their bone structure and the fact they can’t be suspended upright without putting weight on for any considerable length of time, except for very clean fractures where they can be set right.

“But there’s a lot of care that goes into that, we’re not slapdash about welfare, we do care and we don’t race horses for them to get hurt and everyone to shrug their shoulders and move on, everyone cares very much.

“But it’s those welfare issues, the care and treatment provided before, during and after that racing needs to go on the front foot with to convince people that it is a sport worth following.”

Bell helps ITV to ring the racing changes

British Champions Day at Ascot provided a suitably enthralling climax to the 2017 flat campaign.

It also marked the climax of ITV’s first full season of a four-year £40m deal to cover horse racing in the UK, having taken over from predecessor Channel 4.

Oli Bell on Derby Day

Almost a year since his move from Racing UK, I caught up with Oli Bell, who hosts racing’s iconic weekly programme The Opening Show for ITV.

He fondly recalled receiving confirmation he had got the job whilst en-route to the United States to cover the Breeders’ Cup meeting.

“I was over the moon, it was a relief to get the call. For them to take a punt on someone from a non-terrestrial TV background to front their new morning show was incredibly flattering. It meant that flight to America involved a fair bit of drinking!”

It’s fair to say his appointment as The Opening Show’s presenter initially raised a few eyebrows.

However, the Bell family is well known among racing aficionados thanks to Oli’s uncle Michael, a successful Newmarket-based trainer, and father Rupert, a sports broadcaster.


The more I spoke to Oli, the more evident it became that family has played a pivotal role in his life.

Pictured left to right: Oli with uncle Michael and father Rupert

He openly spoke about the separation of his parents, and how that had an impact on his racing interests.

“My parents split up when I was of a young age, and my mother’s side of the family who I stayed with didn’t have much of an interest.

“But I felt a connection with the sport and often when we visited my grandparents or uncle who had a real interest in it. I made sure that I kept in touch and followed the racing closely.

“That passion grew as I got to understand it more, so I guess it feels as though it’s something which has always been in my blood.”

The nature of the tightly-knit Bell family became apparent when I made my first call to Oli, who picked up the phone and answered: “Hi Ben, can I call you back in 10 minutes? My dad is on the other line.”

‘Horseracing is a sport, in my opinion and my experience, which is very welcoming. As long as you are passionate, knowledgeable and willing to work hard you can often find an entry point into the industry’

It was fitting really, as Rupert helped him greatly throughout the early stages of his career, whilst Michael has trained over 1,400 winners, including stable star Big Orange, who claimed this year’s Ascot Gold Cup.

“It was a question of how I would get a job into the industry, and with that I was lucky as my dad was working as a reporter in radio.

“When I was looking for work experience at the age of about 15 or 16, I was fortunate enough to work at some sporting and racing events with him, so I built up a few contacts and from there I left school and got a job making tea at Racing UK.

“I didn’t go to university, I just wanted to crack straight on. I’ve been very fortunate to have had an entry into racing.

“Horseracing is a sport, in my opinion and in my experience, which is very welcoming. As long as you are passionate, knowledgeable and willing to work hard you can often find an entry point into the industry.


Oli’s first full season of working on ITV’s flat racing output has been largely successful. The overall coverage has received widespread praise from fans and journalists alike, whilst Oli has looked at home in his new role.

‘If someone asked me if I wanted to present something else, then I would – I would want to challenge myself to see if I could present something outside of racing’

However, it’s been his handling of post-race interviews which has seen him thrive, allowing himself the freedom to fully display his ability to think on his feet as a presenter.

Speaking of his future, and what his dream role would be, he said: “I genuinely have my dream job at the moment.

“I get to go to racing every week, I get to do the podcast, so for me growing up, if someone said that I would be doing it for a living I would have absolutely bitten their hand off.

Oli looking at home in front of the ITV cameras on a chilly day

“I’m not one that goes that’s my aim that’s my goal, that’s what I want to present and I won’t be happy until I get there.

“I’m so happy and content with my lot that I don’t really have dreams like that anymore.

“But if someone asked me if I wanted to present something else then I would – I would want to challenge myself to see if I could present something outside of racing.”

He also fancies one day being a contender on Strictly Come Dancing.

“That would be the dream!” he enthuses. “I’ve actually told quite a lot of people recently, so put that in and let’s start the campaign!”

Oli is on Twitter at @olibellracing. You can listen to his podcast by following @OnlyBallsHorses. For more on ITV Racing, click here.


Being AP

Review – Being AP

“The thing is about records is that they always get broken. I want to make it as hard as possible for those who are going to break them.”

These are the words of a jockey who has saddled 4,358 winners and has been jumps champion for 20 consecutive years.

A stubborn, obsessive and perhaps a selfish character, though not the most thrilling of personalities, there is no doubt at that Tony McCoy, better known as AP, is a born winner.

When director Anthony Wonke started making his BBC documentary ‘Being AP’, he was expected to follow McCoy through another record-breaking campaign as the Northern Irishman aimed to complete his dream of 300 winners in one season.

However, in what ended up being the final season of his career in 2015, it is soon clear that it is not possible. With McCoy then at the age of 40, injuries are taking their toll and a realisation that the end is near.


We see a man who regards retirement as ‘the end of your life’ facing up to that very prospect, and musing on the demands of being devoted to racing at the very highest level.

“McCoy fears retirement more than anything else, more than the most serious of injury and perhaps even death”

“You can win the biggest horse races in the country and then the next race race you can be in the back of an ambulance. So you can go from a very huge high, to a very sad low very quickly,” AP reflects, as he reels off the list of injuries he has amassed over his career, from dislocated shoulders to broken ribs.

“I am not the one that is being weak, it is a part of the body that is weak. I wanted to bang my shoulder off the wall to punish it,” says McCoy, admitting he  deliberately ignored his injuries as a way of trying to overcome them.

Having seen her husband amass all these wounds, McCoy’s remarkably tolerant wife Chanelle is clearly keen to see her husband consider retirement and end his career in one piece.

Her role in this film is particularly interesting, not one you imagine that was originally planned, but adds another dimension.


“Why on earth would any year be a good year to call it a day?” McCoy responds to his wife as they have a sincere yet awkward talk over dinner about his future.

His stubbornness is clear – McCoy fears retirement more than anything else, more than the most serious of injury and perhaps even death.

It is an eye-opening scene. The effect of such determination and obsession on family life, is at times obvious, but never more than here.

Whilst Chanelle worries about her husband, he continues to act oblivious to any danger, growing frustrated and awkward when questioned on life after riding.

It is an interesting insight on how dedication can affect others around you.


McCoy’s reluctant decision to retire comes in the film’s most interesting and insightful scene, as his riding manager Dave Roberts is called to a surprise meeting with AP and his wife.

“Ironically, moving away from the ever-present danger of racing into the safer world of retirement, takes McCoy out his comfort zone”

As the three talk about moments from his career and his attitude to riding, his wife describing AP’s attitude towards trying to ignore the reality of life: “You were so stubborn, I’m not listening to my collarbone, so what if it is shattered, my lung is punctured, my ribs are broken, I will continue riding.”

AP is still seemingly unsatisfied and unable to get over any failures, even just before he reveals his plan to retire after riding 200 winners for the season.

“That really mentally messed with my head. Broke my heart that did, to think that I was actually going to ride 300 winners, and then, I’m not going to ride 300 winners. The thought of it make me want to cry.”


Despite saying he was “relieved”, there is clearly still frustration and sadness when talking to his commercial manager about possibilities after his career.

The look on his face after the suggestion that he could be the face of a peanut butter campaign is not that of someone who is looking forward to life after racing.

The film itself is not perfect. Running at 96 minutes, there are parts which feel unnecessary and over-produced, trying too hard to create drama which at times comes off as unnatural, though perhaps this is down to McCoy’s personality.

As such a driven winner, he is someone who struggles to look back on his life, when all he wants to do is think about the next triumph.

The director got lucky with his subject here, though. A film which was meant to simply be about winning is in fact, an incredible though sometimes painful insight of the realisation that the natural-born winner will not be able to win for much longer.

Ironically, moving away from the ever-present danger of racing into the safer world of retirement, takes McCoy out his comfort zone which makes everything a bit more interesting.