Horses and Jockeys ahead of the Betfair Exchange Stayers' Handicap Hurdle at Haydock Park on Saturday

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Amongst all the gloom and doom in racing, photo-finishes blurred by the dark, hurdles missed in error, jockeys forgetting to weigh in, it seems there are a few shafts of light after ITV racing recorded a peak of over a million viewers for the second Saturday in succession.

Of course some of that is attributable to a captive audience courtesy of the current lockdown and, in the case of the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham, a foul afternoon of weather and, on a blank weekend for domestic football, few sporting alternatives also encouraged people to watch racing.

However that does not explain Saturday’s audience for Haydock and Ascot where small fields, traditionally a turn off, prevailed. It was up against Premier League football, England playing Ireland at rugby and tennis and the weather was fine everywhere – except Haydock. The average audience was up by over 200,000 on last year.

 “A million is the holy grail,” said ITV racing presenter Ed Chamberlin. “I think it’s the power of jump racing. What we (racing) need to do is convert this interest into going racing when we can and getting involved, for example, in syndicates.”

Saturday’s peak came during the Betfair Stayers Handicap Hurdle at Haydock in which Main Fact, one of the unexpected stars of 2020, notched up his ninth straight win (over jumps and on the flat.)

Tom O'Brien riding Coole Cody (red/yellow) clear the last to win The Paddy Power Gold Cup Handicap Chase at Cheltenham Racecourse on November 14

Credit: Getty

The only pity was the poor visibility and his pale, mud-splattered silks which made it hard to pick out his extraordinary progress from an impossible position turning in to winning by two and three quarter lengths.

It is not just the jumps performing well though. The big Flat meetings were all up, the Derby peaked at 2.3 million viewers compared to 1.7 in 2019.

The average viewing figures for Epsom were up 50 per cent and Goodwood and York were both up by 30 per cent while Royal Ascot returned an eight-year high every day.

The appetite for British racing is not just restricted to the domestic audience. British racing made its debut on Fox Sports which can ‘reach 100m viewers in the US on a single weekend.’ ESPN has been taking the sport to Latin America and SuperSport has been taking it to Africa.  

Enable’s build-up for the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe was popular across the Channel with almost E2m bet on the September Stakes, a record for money bet on a foreign race in France.

Seb Vance, spokesman for Racecourse Media Group, a key part of the ITV negotiations, and a distributor of British racing to international markets, said: “Racecourse may, unfortunately, be looking at huge losses this year but fans and punters are watching in great numbers. Viewers in 125 countries, served by 30 broadcasters, were able to watch the major Flat race-days this year.”

The viewing experience is also changing for the racing fan. RMG is doing its best to keep up with the Joneses and Amazons. Its channel, Racing TV, has launched dedicated racecourse streams with presenters at every meeting.

So if, on Derby day for example, you wanted to watch Musselburgh all day without interruptions while the action cut to Epsom, that is now possible.