Racecourses chairman frustrated over TV race clashes

Fears over coverage of busiest racing day of year on St Stephen’s Day

Ahead of Irish racing’s busiest day of the year later this month, the chairman of the racecourses organisation has said steps must be taken to avoid as many race-time clashes as possible on St Stephen’s Day.

Conor O'Neill was speaking after Racing TV's coverage of the Grade One John Durkan Chase at Punchestown on Sunday was heavily criticised on social media in particular for being shown on a split-screen and with no commentary until the closing stages.

A series of delays at Punchestown, including when jockey Davy Russell was taken ill before the third race, meant the Durkan went off over 10 minutes late, shortly after the Grade Two Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon began.

Approaching the end of the first year of Racing TV’s coverage of Irish racing, the clash has once again focused attention on the volume of action on one channel with fears already expressed about Irish action getting overlooked on St Stephen’s Day when three fixtures take place here.


Conor O’Neill, who is the general manager of Punchestown, admitted to being disappointed with the Durkan being shown on split-screen.

He said on Monday that exceptional circumstances arose during the fixture and that Punchestown enjoyed a very good relationship with Racing TV.

However he conceded: “There’s obviously quite a level of frustration and anger from the wider racing audience.”

Racing TV covered both meetings on Sunday in Britain as well as the two Irish fixtures at Punchestown and Cork.

With split-screens having to be employed in such circumstances fears have been expressed about what could happen to coverage of racing here on St Stephen’s Day when three fixtures take place at Leopardstown, Limerick and Down Royal.

Racing TV, part of the RMG company owned by many of Britain’s racecourses, took over coverage of Irish racing from Sky Sports Racing at the start of this year in a controversial media rights deal which prompted fears that the sport here would struggle for air-time.

O’Neill is also chairman of Horse Racing Ireland’s (HRI) media rights committee and said that Racing TV had been proactive in addressing some of those fears.

Exceptional circumstances

But on the back of Sunday’s scheduling clashes, he said: “There are obviously some issues ongoing and they have to be dealt with. AIR [Association of Irish Racecourses], along with HRI, need to address them in conjunction with Racing TV.

“Yesterday there were exceptional circumstances which led to clashes of races. It highlighted the potential issues that could arise on December 26th. It’s in everybody’s interests that we take every possible step to ensure that on December 26th issues don’t arise with the coverage.”

AIR’s chief executive, Paddy Walsh, a key figure in negotiations on the media rights deal, insisted on Monday that it best serves the overall interests of the sport in Ireland.

“Yesterday was an unfortunate confluence of events and when things like that happen of course you’re going to get a reaction – and a negative one at that.

“We’d rather not see it happen [but] I don’t see a big groundswell of complaints about it. I think generally speaking people have appreciated the efforts they [RTV] have made to avoid clashes when there’s a lot of racing,” he said.

“In general terms they’ve made a reasonable fist of it given all the circumstances. That’s not to say it can’t be better and we will hope to see that things will improve a little bit. These things happen. You’d rather not see them. But you have to have regard to reality as well.

“We all try and keep to the schedule if we can. But when requests to delay a race are made by a minute or two we try to facilitate people as much as we can because we understand everybody else has the same problems,” Walsh added.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column