ITV kicked off the extended, main channel Royal Ascot 2022 coverage with Ed Chamberlin announcing “after a difficult few weeks for the sport, lots of battling, and arguments, infighting, hopefully the next five days are going to put a smile back on people’s faces.”
And for a week in June, it all did look bright and cheerful with the best of international thoroughbreds amid all the colour. Indeed it was a nice escape from all else happening around the world this week.
ITV went with a 4-3-4 combination. Oli Bell and Richi Persad joining fashion spotters Charlotte Hawkins and Matt Heyes in the back line, Brian Gleeson, Sally Ann Grassick and Chris Hughes on foot around track and up front they had Ed Chamberlin, Johnny Murtagh, Hayley Turner and Jason Weaver on the parade ring spots. Ruby Walsh added analysis from his ‘booth’.
By the end of Tuesday on Sky Sports Racing there’s another apology. “I feel like I let myself down, I let the viewers down….” This one is tongue in cheek – it’s not more Oisin, it’s time guru Jamie Lynch apologising for not focusing on how well Dubawi does as a sire of Royal meeting winners. Indeed two on Tuesday, another on Wednesday and Thursday and two for his son New Bay, it was worth noting.
Wesley Ward’s rider Irad Ortiz won’t be going to any pantomimes over here. Safe to say if anyone shouts ‘He’s behind you’, Irad might not look this time after he was caught looking the wrong way when the gates opened in the King’s Stand and Golden Pal missed the kick. The sectional timings from Ascot set a standard - they are available quickly and are excellent. Golden Pal’s second furlong was the fastest of the race.
The sky-cam used by ITV gives a great view around all the areas and they picked up how unlucky Maljoom was in the St James’s Palace. Johnny Murtagh had been particularly astute pre-race in describing how it might pan out. “The perfect position on the round track is third, fourth or fifth down the inside and you get the luck in the straight.” It was how it proved.
Pat Dobbs didn’t look behind him on Lusail. If he did, he would have seen his biggest challenger Coroebus right there and could have made it difficult for William Buick to get a run on his inner. But he stayed straight, the favourite got through.
Buick commented on it “when Pat Dobbs went on and didn’t go to the fence, it was a very natural place for me to go.” Maljoom looked like he was in a photo for first flashing by the line but ended up fourth. William Haggas showed sympathy for an obviously upset Cieren Fallon.
A subdued Oisin Murpy joined the Sky Sports Racing main presenting team on Tuesday but Wednesday had Uttoxeter and commercial breaks eating into the coverage. so there was much less time for discussion. Often you switched from one channel’s commercials into the others.
You rarely get the emotion of a Cheltenham winner at a big flat meeting like Ascot but you got a bit of it on Sky Sports Racing on Wednesday after the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes with Kevin Blake being involved in the Joseph O’Brien team preparing State Of Rest.
After all the praise we heaped on the Aussies on Tuesday, it turns out they’re not all that welcoming. Blake recalled: “What they put him through, the constitution he has. They shot a load of radioactive gunk into him for a full body scan, they sedated him three times in a week.” Poor State Of Rest didn’t get the Nature Strip green carpet treatment.
There’s an interesting chat between Johnny Murtagh and Ruby Walsh on how the care of jockeys has improved in the last 15 or so years. “I’d be a 10-length a better jockey if I was riding now,” Murtagh maintains, with all the increased education, awareness and advice on diet.
Most racing fans – (should I say male fans?) grumble when Chamberlin says “let’s take a breather and get some ‘Lifestyle’ with Matt and Charlotte…” Some non-alcoholic cocktails anyone? There’s alsio an annoying use of the term pro-cush to describe the whip now on ITV.
You don’t get many features or betting angles or post-race analysis with this coverage. You may have to suffer “daytime TV royalty” appearing with Richard and Judy and Hollie Willoughby, but then that’s the nature of this event.
The meeting is sold as somewhere very desirable to be. Madeley said: “We hardly ever go to the races. Television does a great job but when you are actually here, the physicality of seeing the horses thundering by and their liveness and beauty.” Where’s the harm in that? The wish I was there appeal sells the meeting and makes it just that. A great place to be for a summer’s week.