The Front Runner

Horseracing's Drive to Survive? Two behind-the-scenes shows bid to appeal to all sports fans

The levy is forecast to yield more than £100 million in 2023-24
Two horseracing documentaries will be available to huge audiences through the BBC and ITVCredit: Alan Crowhurst

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You've never had it so good, as Harold Macmillan was wont to say. It might not be true for most of us in most aspects of our lives just at the moment, but it certainly does apply for those of us who crave insightful, behind-the-scenes documentary series about horseracing.

One of these, Horsepower, has just been made available on the BBC's iPlayer. Another, titled Champions: Full Gallop, will hit our screens a week on Friday at 9pm on ITV1. It's going to be just like the old days, when Saturday afternoon channel-hoppers had a hard time getting away from the great game.

Horsepower you have probably heard of, but perhaps not seen. It was sold initially to Amazon Prime and screened by them in the autumn of 2022.

Amazon's two-year licence over the show having expired, Horsepower's makers have achieved quite a coup in getting it added to the iPlayer, with its enormous reach. The first two episodes were due to be screened last night on BBC4, the final two will be shown next Tuesday night and all four should be available for viewing by the time you read this.

Anyone who watches both shows should get an excellent overview of the breadth of British racing, since Horsepower follows Andrew and Anna Lisa Balding and Oisin Murphy in the build-up to Royal Ascot, while Champions focuses on the meat of the latest jumps season, from Boxing Day to April.

It's pure coincidence that the two series will be made widely available at about the same time. The plan was for Horsepower to reach the iPlayer in time for Royal Ascot but that was apparently frustrated by the sheer weight of election-related output from the BBC, I gather.

I think things might have worked out for the best. Now that there are fewer competing distractions, more people may hear the message that there's some excellent racing programmes being made available, from two sources.

"There's a case for a busy High Street being a good thing," says John Maxse, who, as well as being a producer and director of Horsepower, is also a regular Front Runner correspondent. The fact that there are two such series rather than one should create buzz from which both can benefit, that's the thinking.

"I would hope both are positive, promotional pieces for the sport with the potential to bring new people in," he adds.

Amazon was happy with the business that Horsepower did, Maxse says, and I remember noting on social media that lots of established racing fans had positive things to say about it. Paul Hayward, a multi award-winning journalist and author, has said: "There is extraordinary beauty in every episode," which is praise worth getting.

I remember having doubts about the extent to which it could hope to attract newbies to the sport, which, as we know, is a difficult trick in any circumstances. But Front Runner readers are among the most knowledgeable of racing fans and I know you will all find lots to love in Horsepower.

I especially enjoyed the time spent with staffers at Balding's Kingsclere yard, a likeable lot. I won't spoil it for you but it's fun to be reminded of the drama of that Royal Ascot of 2021, which, happily for Maxse, had Balding and Murphy at the heart of it.

Discussing how the show was made, Maxse says: "Andrew and Anna Lisa trusted us, that we wanted to produce something that gave people an insight into racing but was also positive. We had seen for ourselves, behind the scenes in racing, how hard staff work, what jockeys go through and we wanted to bring that to the screen, so that people could see a side of things they'd never see from the afternoon coverage and potentially become bigger fans, more engaged."

Andrew Balding: targeting Royal Ascot with his high-class string
Andrew Balding: Horsepower focused on the trainer's Kingsclere yardCredit: Getty Images/Pool

There's a real challenge to giving backstage insights into racing, because being cagey with the media is basically a reflex for many of the sport's participants. Jockeys in particular fear saying the wrong thing and upsetting employers.

You get a flavour of that, I think, in some of the quotes about the ITV series. Nico de Boinville (jokingly) said: "We all had microphones above our saddle racks – and, scarily, some of us forgot they were there. We could be absolute pariahs after this!" Harry Cobden said: "I just hope I didn't say anything I shouldn't have done."

I'm sure they haven't. But it's a pity that jockeys are made to feel that pressure quite so keenly.

Some shots in Horsepower speak very clearly for themselves, especially the JockeyCam footage of Murphy's rides. In an early stage of one round-course race, he is clearly shocked by the rough riding he sees in front of him.

His chance on King's Lynn in the King's Stand is ended by sustained trouble in running. He goes up the same rail on Berkshire Shadow in the Coventry and looks like meeting a similar fate ... until the gap opens, the grey surges forward and all is sunlight and champagne.

Who am I?

Today's clue

"I had a great career but it could have been even better if a couple of races had panned out a little differently. I broke the habit of a lifetime and went for home too soon in the Japan Cup one time. We were clear at the furlong pole, then tired and got done by two heads. Yuck! Then there was a Melbourne Cup where we got completely wiped out at the home turn before finishing strongly into a close fourth. The jockey who mullered us celebrated after the line, only to find out he'd been done in the photo - a tough moment for anyone. We became friends afterwards, I'm not one to bear a grudge."

Tuesday's clue

"A key moment in my 20s was getting the ride on a Classic prospect, the result of a big-time rider deciding to retire. I owe him a lot because the trainer had been focused on Epsom but this jockey persuaded him the horse could get involved at Newmarket as well. We won both Classics, which turned out to be the only two times I rode this horse because retirement beckoned soon after - not for me, I hasten to add."

Monday's clue

"The most enjoyable job I ever had in racing was at a high-profile yard in Lambourn - though it didn't do much for my career in the saddle. With the way my weight was going, plus the fact I won on my first ride over hurdles, you'd think I would have stuck there. But switching to Newmarket proved the making of me. Even there, I joined a yard which had jumpers as well as Flat racers. Their main Flat jockey got injured, I got some rides on some old horses who ran well and soon I was getting most of the rides. I think that trainer just didn't like casting around for jockeys. It suited him to settle for me."

Tuesday's clue proved much more accessible than Monday's. Well done to these folk, who were able to work it out: John Maxse, Ian Callow, Ian Noble, Karen Gregory, Vince Conway, James Shaw, Chris Gordon, Chris Hoult, Paul O’Donoghue, Eddie Thornton, Peter Hall, Steve Wood, Simon Dorken, Tom Cochrane, Christopher Rathcreedan, John Jones, John Lewis, Howard Clayden, Michael Bailey, Andrew Rodford, Andy Payne, William Keenan, Brian Finn, Tony Wells, John Purefoy, Bryan Mayoh and Michael Walsh.

This is our 'Who Am I?' quiz, based around a different racing personality each week. We'll give you a new clue every day, with the answer revealed on Friday.

Think you know who it is? Email to say who. I'll give a mention to everyone who gets it right.

Three things to note on Wednesday . . .

1. Down at the bottom of the weights in Catterick's last race, a 7f handicap for three-year-old (5.30), Calafrio was an eyecatcher last time. Philip Kirby's grey had to wait until the final 100 yards for a clear run up the near rail at Thirsk, having been frustrated for a furlong and a half. Trouble in running should be less of a factor at this trip and up Catterick's hill finish, though she must prove her stamina now. 

Calafrio17:30 Catterick
View Racecard
Jky: Connor Planas (3lb)Tnr: Philip Kirby

2. Devon-based Stuart Kittow has hit form with his Flat runners, notching three wins from his last eight runners over the past fortnight. Apart from a single winner in May, those were his first Flat successes since October, so it looks like his beaten runners from the spring have the excuse of not being ready. Two of his four at Ffos Las this evening are of obvious interest, especially with high-profile riders booked. Papabella will be better for her May reappearance and will appreciate this softer surface in a sprint handicap (5.50); Oisin Murphy rides for the first time, though he doesn't have a brilliant record for the yard. Then Anna Of Saxony makes her handicap debut (6.20), with the step up in trip giving her half a chance. Rossa Ryan (3/14 for Kittow) takes over in the saddle. 

Papabella17:50 Ffos Las
View Racecard
Jky: Oisin Murphy Tnr: Stuart Kittow
Anna Of Saxony18:20 Ffos Las
View Racecard
Jky: Rossa Ryan Tnr: Stuart Kittow

3. Sir Mark Prescott, known to the Front Runner as the King Of July, hit four winners in a row from Sunday to Tuesday, all in handicaps and including 9-2 and 11-2 shots. Overture (6.40) is his interesting runner today, making her handicap debut in a mile race for three-year-olds at Kempton this evening. She's the first foal out of Tribute Act, runner-up in a Royal Ascot Group 2 in 2018, who was herself a half-sister to a Group 1 winner. Overture had a nice bit of size about her when seen in October and there's every chance that her opening mark of 63 will prove lenient. 

Overture18:40 Kempton (A.W)
View Racecard
Jky: Luke Morris Tnr: Sir Mark Prescott Bt

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The Front Runner is our unmissable email newsletter available exclusively to Members' Club Ultimate subscribers. Chris Cook, the reigning Racing Writer of the Year, provides his take on the day's biggest stories and tips for the upcoming racing every morning from Monday to Friday. Not a Members' Club Ultimate subscriber? Click here to join today and also receive our Ultimate Daily emails plus our full range of fantastic website and newspaper content.

Racing Writer of the Year

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