The Tellytrack debate has raged for years, but with Rob Scott at the helm, a new digital channel and other innovations, we decided to take a look at what the Tellytrack experience feels like from the couch from someone who knows both sides of the camera – Martin Locke.
“I woke up at 3.30am as I always so on special Classic Grade 1 race days, itching to read through my Weekend Sporting Post, as I have done for decades. The Cape Fillies Guineas is the first Gr1 of the Magnificent Summer of Champions which always brings the good horses, trainers and jockeys to Cape Town in force and Saturday offered an exceptionally high quality card. There was an 800m scurry for the first local juveniles launching their careers, Horse of the Year Igugu’s sister (who won her first start impressively) stepping out in race 3, a smorgasbord of excellence in the Gr2 Green Point Stakes, an exceptionally high quality field for the Fillies Guineas and an excellent line-up in the Cape Merchants (albeit with the sad scratching of Red Ray). Truly a day to get the racing juices flowing and I couldn’t wait for the TV coverage to start.
Whetting the appetite – or not !
TellyTrack’s first crack of the whip was Superbets, which hit the airwaves at 8am. Promising young Alistair Cohen completely lost control of his panel of guests who spent far too much time discussing the boil on Rod McCurdy’s back (was this really the time to announce it had burst? Suddenly my porridge looked rather unappetising!), the sex probe into British Soccer and each others hair do’s (what was left of them….). A pity that knowledgeable racing experts are so easily side-tracked, but thank goodness for the quick witted Gary and down to earth Liam who saved the day and got things back on track.
By contrast, Under Starters Orders was a superb hour, professionally disseminating pertinent guidance for the day ahead. Stan Elley chaired a very informative preview with Jono Snaith and another young star of the future, Justin Vermaak (currently attending the Hong Kong International Week by invitation of the Hong Kong Jockey Club).
Back to the big day and what struck me most of all was the behind the scene efforts of Dieter Wohlberg’s team, the dramatic changes they have made to the overall look of the channel, colourful captions, graphics and layouts. The amount of information required to please the Punter for a race day is almost an impossible task, but give credit where credit’s due, there has been a huge improvement.
However, how would TT cope with the challenge of trying to juggle multiple meetings at Kenilworth, Turffontein, Champs De Mars and Borrowdale? And with international fare added into the mix as well, they faced an unenviable task.
The view from the sofa
Time for race 1. With The Big T, Champs De Mars and Borrowdale fighting for airtime and Cedric in the studio rushing madly through things, they crossed to Vicky and Grant with 3 minutes to spare. The first of the afternoon was a field of 8 juvenile first timers and Vicky smartly disseminated stable comments. Sadly, the fabulous sighting of the new babies that I was so looking forward to never materialised, but the day couldn’t have got off to a better start than a debut win for a daughter of Horse Chestnut, arguably the best horse to run in South Africa.
Races from out of town had to be squeezed in again and it was interesting / annoying that Borrowdale got as much or should I say as little as Kenilworth! Also, somewhat curiously, only the tote odds for the current race were displayed on screen, as opposed to the form a few weeks ago where they would show tote odds for two races at a time. What that meant in practice is that the feature race tote information got only 7 mins coverage! However, we pressed on.
Race 2 was a work rider’s race which Stan Elley previewed with Craig du Plooy, who runs the Cape Work Rider programme. Craig delivered a first class report and had something to say about every single carded rider, including a useful tip about the eventual winner. Really good and compliments to Andile Ndlebe who rode a very good race!
As race 3 loomed, things got congested as Turffontein’s 5th race had 9 mins to go so there was no time for much of a preview of Kenilworth’s Race 3. We got interviews with Aldo Domeyer and Grant van Niekerk, obviously pre-recorded at the stables at an undetermined date during the week. As it turned out, Aldo was bullish about his chances on the Aussie import, Ngaga (the half sister to Igugu) and rode a terrific race to win by a neck, but with no live on-course interviews with trainers or riders, I was getting worried about the magnificent racing that was to come. We were also yet to see any horses in the parade ring, but I was confident the Producer must have a plan!
For race 4, Jehan called the field down to the start with 8 minutes to the off. Again, we got pre-recorded interviews with Greg Cheyne and Grant Van Niekerk – both of whom are good value – and Stan and Grant Knowles had a few minutes to compare some meaningful form. With the field including a R4 million and a R3.2 million horse, I was dying to get a peep at these two – surely with Fiona Ramsden on hand, the roving camera could have taken a break from Laff’s 300 tasty ladies and been put to better use than the ladies tent? Things got hectic here with split screens for two international races running at the same time, but sadly, minus commentary on either. Up at Turffontein, the likeable Alston, who has been thrown in at the deep end again, was darting around and sounding like he was in the lead of a Formula 1 race, talking faster then Nico Rosberg drives, but at least he managed to secure a few live jockey interviews.
With 13 minutes to the off of race 5, we finally got some coverage from the parade ring, but not what we were looking for. With the camera trained firmly on Grant Knowles, he hurriedly covered the horses parading in the background, but there were no accompanying interviews with any of the connections. After Grant’s mad rush, the horses cantered past, followed – rather bizarrely – by about two minutes of silence as we were treated to the sight of the horses walking off into the distance. Then we had a pre-recorded fashion insert from Vicky Minott, followed by another pre-recorded interview with Aldo Domeyer, again leaving little time for her and Grant to deliver much in the way of a meaningful preview. It all felt a little jumbled and chaotic.
Ahead of race 6, I took the liberty of pouring a small libation in anticipation of seeing Horse of the Year Legal Eagle from the farm of my late special friend Tony Taberer, Triple Crown champ Abashiri and last season’s 3yo sensation Marinaresco, but instead we cut to Grant at his seat in the parade ring again, before being offered a few seconds of side-on footage of the canter down before the horses passed the point of no return and we were left with a view of their rapidly disappearing hindquarters. I complained about the position of the canter down camera back in my heyday, but two decades later, we still have the same problem. Fortunately the race itself dished up the promised spectacle with Anton Marcus at his brilliant best on Legal Eagle, fending off a determined attack from Marinaresco who was closing like a runaway train. At least we got a post race interview, but sadly Fiona’s mic wasn’t cooperating so most of that was lost.
With the Fillies Guineas next on the agenda, our production crew found time for a promo for the forthcoming St Lawrence Children’s Haven race day in Gauteng. A magnificently crafted promotion for a wonderful and most worthy cause to be sure, but as it seems to have been flighted at the expense of showing the fillies in the parade ring, surely a more sensible slot could have been found? But you know these crafty Gauties!
Also, if I may digress for a moment, it’s all very well to interview sponsors on big days, but if it has to be ahead of the day’s features, could we please make sure they have something meaningful to contribute about the racing? In my day, the focus HAD to be the stars of the show – the runners, riders and trainers only – no peripheral frippery and sponsors Rothmans and Vodacom were allowed the grand total of three mentions on the SABC for the entire day!
With the highly anticipated Cape Fillies Guineas about to be run, I was chewing my nails in frustration as the Green Point Stakes post-race interviews dragged on. While it is great to hear from the connections, these should really be tightened up so that the programme can move along timeously to the next race (particularly when it is the day’s highlight). This unfortunate lack of control, saw everything concertina-ing to the detriment of punters and viewers at home and as a net (and highly preventable) result, the most important race of the day suffered. Again no parade ring coverage and no live pre-race interviews. Missing the Fillies in the ring was killing me and the eventual consolation prize of seeing their backsides receding into the distance after the canter past was no solace. But again, at least the race delivered in no uncertain terms and with an informative (LIVE!!) post-race break down from Anton, cleverly elicited by Fiona and her temperamental roving mic – left us with much to look forward to over the coming season.
So to the last feature of the day, the World Sports Betting Cape Merchants, which offered a truly magnificent field of 19 super fliers. Would TT at last feature them in the Parade Ring? Would they, hell. One doesn’t want to go on about this, but at this moment in time we are in the enviable position of having some of the greatest racehorses and bloodstock in the world. In addition to that, we are spoilt in having a tremendous breadth and depth of talent in both our jockey and training ranks – yet they hardly featured at the meeting! Firmly pouring a large glass of Klein Zalze Sauvignon Blanc, I abandoned any hope of guidance from our haphazard production team and settled back to simply revel in the real stars of the day, the Thoroughbreds. The fantastic racing carried the day, so a big thank you to Tellytrack for at least covering that.