Royal Ascot on TV: Comments on the Coverage

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Featured in the telecast was this custom Royal Ascot globe made by Bellerby & Co. The broadcast featured a story about the making of this globe, plus images of the Royal Ascot globe were used for transitions between the program, a.k.a., “bumps.”

In Summer 2017, NBC Sports aired horse racing live from Royal Ascot for the first time. With announcer/TV presenter Nick Luck fronting the American-ized version, most of the action was covered by ITV, which did a wonderful job.

I hope y’all at NBC were taking notes on the production, especially for Kentucky Derby coverage.

First, a note to our readers from the UK: pardon me, but I may use British racing and American racing terms interchangably.

How Many Cameras Were On You? 

The headline is a reference to a line from TV’s “Friends,” and is a fun lead-in, but this article in the Telegraph says ITV. the host coverage, used 42 cameras with a crew of 170 to cover Royal Ascot.

Let’s just say, the broadcast left few unanswered questions for me, as in, “We saw (So&So) do (Such&Such), but what happened after that?” From the horse that unseated the jockey in the gate to different angles on each race, we saw it all. We viewers didn’t miss a thing.

There were drones and a camera flying on cables high over the saddling enclosure. Multiple cameras on horses in the stalls. Outside the gate. Even on some jockeys. Cameras on, yes, the famous owners and trainers, but also the guys and girls “who look after the horse.” Roving camera crews even talked to fans in the stands and on the grounds.

And even saw two-camera coverage in the steward’s room where jockeys were questioned about an alleged jostling incident.

Talk about tension. I was on the edge of my seat, partly for the result and partly because of the unparalled access.

We got to see why people love what insiders call “The Game,” even though it’s more than a game: it’s a vocation, a passion, and even a generational way of life.

Speaking of generations …

I don’t mean the Royal Family and the Royal Procession. Or how the Queen’s love of racing and horses lit up her face whenever she was in front of a camera and a horse, althogh I loved all that.

Nor do I mean the three hundred years of traditions at Royal Ascot from the racing itself to the Greencoats.

I mean the pedigrees of the horses.

Yes, the ITV presenters talked about the pedigrees, plus we saw “lower third fonts,” or, rather, “lower left side box supers” of a horse’s sire and dam.

Thoroughbreds are blood horses. Their ancestry is documented for hundreds of years. Breeders breed the best to the best. Or, at least, their best to the best who can bring out The Best in their best.

These big horse races have been run for decades, if not centuries, so history is part of the program. If nothing else, the horses and their owners and the traditions are history come to life.

The Lifestyle segments

ITV showed what it’s like to be at Royal Ascot. Glimpses of the shopping and dining and the cocktails. Visits to the various enclosures to see the fashions specific to each. Even the singalong with libations after the last race when the Parade Ring turns into a giant pub with live music.

What I liked best? Nothing was made fun of. If something was amusing, like Luke Harvey dashing around the starting gate area in his top hat, tails, and “trainers,” it was just shown.

The Best “Horse Racing 101”

Having TV presenters who were former jockeys (Johnny Murtaugh, Jason Weaver, and Hayley Turner) or are members of racing families (Francesca Cumani, Oli Bell) or work the horses on a daily basis (Luke Harvey) gave us excellent lessons about the sport. (Please forgive me if I omitted any names.)

The coverage at the starting gate, aka “the stalls,” taught us a lot about the equipment used, including special equipment used by the gate crew, some of which was created by British natural horsemanship clinician Gary Witheford.

Plus, I was bowled over by the camera in the steward’s exam room. Riveting television, and unparalleled transparency about the process. Yes, I’ve said it before, but there it is, like coverage of open court.

NBC, we need you to up your game

In the Telegraph article I referenced earlier, the producers acknowledge several demographics watch their show.

Some want the action. Some just want to see the Royal Family. Some watch for the fashion with the gravity defying hats and to see how individuals get creative within the rigid dress code. Others only want to see the horses, who happen to be the most unpredictable element of all.

The Kentucky Derby, for many people, is the “gateway drug” for new American TV horse racing fans. A friend who was active in the hunter-jumper once told me she didn’t realize there were other horse races besides the American Triple Crown. Could be horseman’s myopia, but could also be a PR challenge.

I’ll be back next year

Like Her Majesty’s frequently stated tradition, I marked my advance calendar for the proposed (not a lock) Royal Ascot dates of June 19-23, 2018.

For me, Royal Ascot is now must-see-TV.



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1 Comment
  • Fran Jurga
    June 27, 2017

    I’ll be right there with you, Rhonda. I watched all day, every day. After seeing what ITV did for Cheltenham Festival, I knew they would ace Ascot.

    One thing you forgot: on the first day, the horse that lost a shoe at the gate and ITV showed the entire process of the farrier replacing the shoe and even interviewed him!

    The only thing that could have possibly made it better was if Clare Balding had been on the team but she may have been contractually prevented from appearing on ITV. That was her voice at the beginning of each day with the gorgeous globe you featured :

    I can’t imagine that NBC would ever invest so much in the Derby but we can hope that ITV might build interest in the Breeders Cup in Britain and perhaps build some kind of international broadcast coalition. Del Mar will be a spectacular venue and I would think plenty of British and Irish and French trainers who were at Ascot may consider going there.

    I thought of you at the end of the last day when they were saluting the people in the truck and how they”d be in there for five days!

    Thanks so much for your insights.