1st August 2016

The response to my appearance on the morning line has been quite astonishing. We have been flooded by e mails and letters of support for my views. A selection have been printed in this month’s Klarion but we do intend to put more of them on the website in due course.

To be fair, there were a couple – well, one and a half really – in support of Graham Cunningham’s position and I have to accept that people who agree with him might be less inclined to write to me but past experience suggests that critics aren’t slow to come forward so I have to conclude that there is widespread support for my views.

For me, it was a very unsatisfactory debate. I’m a big boy – too big by half – and I can cope with interruptions and attempts to mock but it is a serious subject and it would have been good to get into the detail.

Some say that I was ambushed. I don’t particularly feel that but clearly they had a preset agenda and prepared questions which I had no prior knowledge of. That was obviously going to put me at a disadvantage – I didn’t have any quips about string vests or dancing and sex at the ready – but I could still have answered his questions if given a chance to do so.
Surely we should really have started with a discussion on why, if the current programme content and the emphasis on betting is acceptable or preferable, as Graham Cunningham would have it, they have lost viewers, lost the contract and why most of them are fighting for a job. I shouldn’t need to tell them that something is wrong. And Graham Cunningham, if he is looking for a position in the ITV team, might be better trying to think of what he could do differently to attract more viewers rather than trying to defend the same old failing format.
Graham Cunningham asked me, ‘What would you do to engage 10 year old, 12 year old, children with a programme about horseracing? Just give me a couple of concrete ideas.’ And added, somewhat condescendingly I thought, ‘You’ve obviously thought about this’. I replied that I had thought about it but, in truth, I was unprepared for the question and didn’t think to query how he thought we could engage them with a programme about betting. Off air we discussed how all of us there had become interested in horseracing and most, if not all, had first become hooked in their pre-teen years. Of course it wasn’t betting that lured us in. I am surprised that the betting industry don’t seem to consider that or maybe they know it but would rather lure new customers into sports or betting opportunities that are cheaper and/or more profitable for them.

I could have gone on for hours on ideas to make coverage of racing more interesting to a wider audience, on how to simplify it, and on how to educate people about it. I built my business on an almost daily diet of new ideas. Most, of course, are rejected long before they are put into practice. Many are tried and fail, and it is very important to recognise that they are failing, but the regular supply of new ideas ensures that we don’t stand still. If I ran a television company covering horseracing, or a bookmaker, I’d have the same approach.

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