Some may say the viewed public response to TVN’s closure is little more than a sycophantic racing community pouring out crocodile tears.
I am not a regular viewer of TVN but have seen enough of it over the last decade to have some idea of its product and have made a particular point of watching recordings of the last few weeks so my comments will not be as ill-informed as they usually are.
Before I continue, I just want to declare that I have no association, financial or otherwise, with the racing industry, other than collecting the cash off ordinary gamblers and giving some of it back too.
With most individuals mentioned I have no present or past close personal relationships. If I knew them it was because of my relationship with the industry. I don’t dance to anyone’s tune.
So what would cause the destruction of the Australian Racing Industry’s public face, television broadcaster, TVN?
Maybe TVN’s dedicated talent was the problem?
The real difference with TVN and other racing broadcasters was supposedly offering industry professionals as presenters to provide a broad depth of racing, breeding, opinion, and knowledge.
For me, you could tell that these presenters have been around the industry side-of-racing all their working lives and probably well before then. That box was ticked.
Some had a ‘working’ heritage in the game but overall, it would be hard to argue against the view that they are doing TVN because of their love for the industry.
No fly-by-night’ers here, using it as a training ground before moving into other employment arenas.
No doubt, TVN presenters are racing people to the core. I’m sure most wake-up of a morning looking forward to going to work or as much as anybody does when doing a job you enjoy.
The question left hanging: are the presenters any good? Do they actually make any difference?
At times, some presenters have momentarily annoyed the living be-jesus out of me, but I’ve always realised one person’s poison is another’s medicine.
At this time, I would like to apologise to those who have overheard me offering a colourful and loud corrections to what at times has been offered on TVN. Yes, yes, yes … I know they can’t hear me. Probably, why I’m thinking of investing in one of those Samsung ‘they are listening to you’ smart TVs.
Why should the recreational supporters of racing care?
There are alternatives, for instance, SkyRacing also offers quality presenters and extremely knowledgeable experts like Tony Brassel. If anyone disagrees with my observation of Tony then they should express their views, in person, and in vitriolic fullness to his brother Steve. I’m sure you will probably get his standard reply.
But essentially, SkyRacing’s stuff, for me, is not as engaging as the TVN product, basically because as a self-anointed, knowledgeable player, I suggest that TABCorp’s channel is probably telling me nothing I didn’t already know/observed.
As a racing person, I don’t care about greyhounds and harness racing.
I’ll give you an example of the difference.
Mark Shean, who I’ve always liked as a race-caller has many other racing strings to his bow. If there is a better barrier-trial judge, I haven’t met them and I know a few good ones. I am continually surprised that a Hong Kong-team didn’t snap Mark up a long time ago. If that ever happened, it certainly would be public race-broadcasting’s loss.
Former jockeys Dean Pettit and Sam Hyland have come to the fore as paddock-parade judges over the last couple of years.
Sam seems to have a similar personality to the famed HK pop-personality and former champion jump-jockey, Mark Johnson. Accompanying Sam’s easy laugh is an educated, knowledgeable eye.
Dean Pettit also has a very likeable TV presentation. He doesn’t talk nonsense and his opinion has my respect along with most other viewers. These two shouldn’t be lost to the day-to-day racing viewer. What they do is very good … giving a professional, educated opinion.
I’ve always wondered what happened to Caroline Searcy? She showed that there was a place for the knowledgeable racing woman in racing broadcasts. Thankfully, Francesca Cumani has taken that perception to a much wider audience via Channel Seven but for me there was very little difference between these two quality presenters.
Like any broadcaster, TVN had its pros and cons. Let’s have a quick look at some PROs that registered with me.
In recent years, they have begun to produce some very high quality programs. TVN’s Racing-Review is excellent as is their Get On program. Their race-track (pre-race) programs have pretty much no peer in the world. Another article may be written on TVN’s programs in another article as to what they had and what they lacked. But generally, it’s a big tick.
Continuing the good points; TVN was first to publicise a race market-percentage and explain its relevancy to betting and particularly Bruce Clark, Shane Templeton and Richard Callander should take a bow as they were the first to publicly expose the corporate gouging in race markets.
It is hard to keep trained journos quiet when they see an injustice, especially when it involves their hip-pocket.
So every time you look at a betting board that correctly displays the totalled market percentage, you have TVN’s persistence to thank. Some might think this a little thing but it was and still is extremely important, probably why others have followed TVN’s lead.
Racing industry interviews and personal contacts reveal the soul of the game. Richard Callander needs to be congratulated for his dogged button-holing of industry principals over the years.
In the early years it was tough going but his lead was quickly followed by his TVN colleagues. Other public media took an interest at Cup-time but before TVN showed how, at least on television, it hardly had a presence. Radio has always been good.
TVN’s interviews showed racing’s soul. The public saw for the first time, the guarded expectation of trainers and jockeys before a race and equally, the joy or disappointment after a race with more than often, a reasonable explanation of the performance.
Sometimes the disappointment of a poor performance was visible so at least a supporting punter didn’t feel along in their angst.
These interviews also hurried the careers for some of racing’s current high-profile professionals. Callander used to have to chase interviews in the early days, nearly having to beg for a conversation. Not so much these days.
The racing industry broadcaster, for the first time introduced stewards, handicappers, track managers and other industry workers to the racing public.
The benchmarks set by TVN have been adopted or modified by other racing broadcasters with the goal of engaging public understanding and perception.
So how could such a relevant racing industry element fail so badly?
Let’s take a look at some cons around TVN.
Bad public press wrongly offering erroneous notions of rampart industry corruption and vicious cruelty usually stung general public awareness.
An example of bad press is the whip usage controversy. I believe jockeys are now policing the negative whip aspect of race riding themselves supported by a tough stand by the stewards. To most racing people the standards are reasonably good but as riders gain confidence in their own skill it will improve again.
It is magnificent to see elite riders combine a judicious use of the whip with strong hands and heels riding. I ‘rate’ a rider on his ability to ride hands-and-heels and have no time for the ‘flogger’. This viewpoint is very prevalent for most racing people.
But something that is mentioned little is, if injudicious whip-riding is as cruel as fools suggest … do you think these young 450kg animals, that could hospitalise you with a glancing blow would let the same jockeys mount them time and again, race after race? Do you doubt the veracity of that statement? Ask a rider what a horse does when deciding to be contrary?
One of three things will probably occur – the rider will have to prepare for tender genitals because a ride can become very rough, very quickly; or they may need to put on a babies-bib and get ready to eat dirt; or prepare to become a statue because the horse won’t be going anywhere if it doesn’t want to.
To be plain about domesticated horses, racehorses … they are not dogs and won’t act like them. They have their own sense of being, unique character and reality perception. And like any creature they fear brutality so brutalising a young animal is counter-productive.
The foundation of a sound training regime for any horse-sport is built on animal confidence and racehorse confidence has no relation to cruelty of any kind. Please don’t suggest the racing industry operates on the same criteria as a rodeo ring. It doesn’t.
Without TVN, who publicly defends the industry and its supporters from spurious attacks? Who defines our racing sport as being separate from casino games?
TABcorp and SkyRacing won’t, it is not in their interests.
Who fights for the industry against the casino-games in the public-eye?
Race clubs are sponsored by corporate bookmakers. You can’t deny a race club an income stream from relevant advertisers because you may oppose those advertisers other gambling practices.
Who declares horse racing is a sport if its participants don’t? Who defends this truth?
Racing is and has always been a sport.
In any race there are three battles raging: horse against horse; rider against rider; and trainer against trainer, staged in a contest at 60kph over varying distances, where skill and intellect of all three participants are on display individually and as a union.
And for those few seconds, players and punters alike really enjoy the race, before being dragged back to reality usually only a few seconds after the finish post.
Many would suggest that racehorse punting is also a contest. Punting as opposed to gambling, can be accurately described as a battle between the opinions of players willing to support their understanding of the contest with hard-earned cash.
The bookmaker only acts as the grafting broker, not any different to a stock-market broker. Bookies plan to get paid no matter what the binary result is. A binary result is the investor either wins or loses and bookmakers smiling faces do not really count.
So why has the racing industry’s jewel been lost? As described above, much of the on-air stuff was good. Everything can be improved and TVN evolved over its decade of broadcasting. Some presentation aspects could be improved, as could additional programming be added but finite resources are an issue for us all.
Maybe the collapse was more to do with management? Maybe it was more to do with interfering stakeholders? Were there too many self-interested cooks?
Maybe it was to do with the lack of mid-term and long-term forecasting? Is there a preponderance of old thinking and warped logic not giving way to a brave new world? Maybe TVN was never a real focus for their stakeholders who treated it more like a racecourse kiosk selling overpriced food.
A singularly strange situation as the whole racing industry revolves around what happens in the future.
Racing stakeholders, here is something to consider. The racing public (the industry cash-cow) has got very little idea as to what really happened … yes, they have seen Racing.com and race-replays in form-guides and blogs and listened to the BS propaganda and how the future is going to smell of pine-scented air-freshener.
So stakeholders, I’ll share a more concise base opinion.
For too long you have assumed you knew what was best, employing advertising and marketing gurus. Too many poor deals have been signed. Too many racecourses are empty. A timeless sport turned into a slot-machine or booze-fest.
A free market wouldn’t tolerate a Board of Directors saying: “I know we should be doing better but there is too much competition.”
Perhaps stakeholders hand it over to people who have the best interests of the country’s fourth largest people employer at heart. Let that sink in for a while. What Racing NSW and Racing Victorira do affects the lives of millions of people. And there is work to be done.
If there were an independent national board, just maybe, with a bit of luck, they will know what they are doing.
Maybe they’ll have realistic long-term plans and goals for the well-being of the whole industry Australia-wide, and most importantly. understand the brave new world we are entering.
More in a couple of days as we say goodbye to one of the last public bastions of the racing industry, TVN.