Eclipse sponsor Coral hit out at 'unfathomable' delay to result and presentation
Coral PR director Simon Clare has blasted the length of time it took for the result of the Coral-Eclipse to be finalised, which meant ITV went off air before the result was known and presentations to winning connections could be made.
Clare's comments were strongly refuted by the BHA, who said there was no way the stewards' inquiry could have been concluded any quicker.
In what was the richest race ever staged at Sandown, Roaring Lion drifted to his right in the closing stages of the Group 1 on Saturday, bumping Saxon Warrior, who was beaten a neck. The first prize was £448,363 and second £169,984.
Britain's interference rules are such that the vast majority of observers would have been surprised had placings been reversed, although Saxon Warrior's jockey Donnacha O'Brien certainly did his best to convince stewards to promote his colt and disqualify Roaring Lion.
Clare reflected: “It was the 43rd year of our sponsorship and nearly all aspects of this year’s event went really well, with Sandown doing a great job running a successful race meeting alongside the England World Cup quarter-final clash with Sweden.
"The atmosphere on the day was amazing and the crowd singing "It's Coming Home" as the horses went into the stalls for the big race was particularly surreal. The ITV coverage headed by Ed Chamberlin was excellent as always.
“It was therefore deeply frustrating and completely incomprehensible that the stewards' inquiry should take so long given the very clear and sensible interference rules in place in this country.
"That delay had a significant, negative impact on the proceedings at the track and the audience at home.
“It completely took the edge off the celebratory moment for connections of landing the Coral-Eclipse, and by the time the big-race presentation was eventually able to take place it was played out to a handful of spectators and a polite, muted hand-clap."
“It also meant that when ITV Racing went off air the TV audience didn’t even know with certainty which horse had won, which I find almost unforgivable given that situation was so avoidable.
“We specifically staged the Coral-Eclipse at 2.10pm to give maximum time for the post-race interviews and presentation to take place before ITV Racing went off air, and it all would have worked fine if the stewards' inquiry had taken anywhere near the normal time to quickly review what was a very simple decision to make."
Clare summed up his disappointment by adding: “I’ve worked on the Coral-Eclipse for 20 years and it was easily the most frustrated I've ever felt at the event.
"It was not drama, it completely ruined the moment. Everyone was standing around, baking in the sun, waiting for the inevitable 'placings remain unaltered' announcement and the subsequent big-race presentation, watched by nobody, was a damp squib compared to what a Group 1 trophy presentation should be like, and normally is."
The race was off more than a minute late, while the inquiry was announced two minutes after the finish, and it then took a further seven minutes to begin the inquiry, with horses pulling up further round the track than normal and winning rider Oisin Murphy posing for some photographs.
ITV went off air four and a half minutes after the inquiry began, with riders still giving evidence, and the BHA felt there was no foundation for Clare's criticism.
Head of media Robin Mounsey said: "Based on the time that ITV went off air it is extremely unlikely any stewards' inquiry could be held and concluded, and the post-race presentation carried out, before the end of the ITV broadcast.
"The stewards' sole responsibility is to ensure that the inquiry is conducted in a fair and transparent manner and it would be inappropriate for them to tailor the time of an inquiry in order to fit in with outside influences, such as TV programme timings or sponsors' presentations.
"As TV viewers will have seen, both riders gave good evidence to support their case, and it would have been wholly wrong of the stewards to cut them short."
"We were set to come off air 20 minutes after the last race, which was the Eclipse. That would be fairly typical – races like the Derby and Grand National would get a bit more post-race time.
"Yesterday was a bit of an unusual case, because Sandown and the BHA had worked to move the Eclipse so it would fit in with our schedule and retain that main-channel status, as it were, and not clash with the World Cup.
"I think it's important as a broadcaster that we show the stewards' inquiry and it brings an insight to the audience, and while it always looked likely Roaring Lion would keep the race we weren't ever going to assume that, as we could only look silly if something unexpected came out of it."
Willoughby added: "The horses took a long time to pull up. John Gosden [Roaring Lion's trainer] even commented when speaking to Matt [Chapman] immediately after the race, 'God, look at how far those horses have gone after the line'.
"That's added some time, and I seem to recall the race went off a minute or two late [64 seconds].
"Two minutes is a long time in TV – I know the Old Newton Cup went off five minutes late because of the stress that caused us. All those little things eat into our time post-race, and unfortunately on Saturday it just all fell the wrong way."
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