Racing Commentary: Sky focuses on down to earth action: A newcomer to transmission of the turf's twilight meetings benefits from more substantial content than its rivals

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The Independent Online
BAD NEWS for dogs this week as televised evening racing came on to our screens. Master does not even have to get the leash out now if he wants to take in racing in the twilight.

Those behind Sky's The Winning Post report good reaction to their first two editions, on Thursday and Saturday, and already plan to extend the programme past its six-week trial period. With the BBC and Channel 4 already committed to the sport, the racing enthusiast should take heed of Harold McMillan's words.

Racing, as a televised sport, has never had it so good, and viewers now have a third entity to consider in the turf's Best Presentation Stakes.

Hours before Jeff Stelling and Steve Smith Eccles (who was dressed, for some reason, as Hans Christian Andersen) fronted Saturday's The Winning Post, came an example of why the BBC attracts hostility for its coverage.

Saturday racing from the Auntie never deviates from the feeling that their screening of the sport is rather like kissing your grandmother. Something that has to be one, but out of duty more than enthusiasm. This presentation is all the more disappointing when you consider that the BBC's broadcast of the Grand National (when the tapes work) is among the pinnacles of sport on the airwaves.

Over at Channel 4, the allegiance to racing appears greater, though not as deep as the desire of some of the contributors to promote themselves rather than the tiresome spectacle taking place on the other side of the rails.

The Cheers] format of interlocking characters works better than the BBC's ringmaster approach, but, more annoyingly, the time between races is filled with revenue-driven pap such as the Champion Tipster, Dial-A-Distance and Picture Puzzle competitions.

The Winning Post spares us these horrors because this, like the old ITV Seven, is a racing programme with quite a lot of racing in it. On Saturday evening, there were eight live events in a two-hour show. The fare, from Carlisle and Southwell, was among the most appalling imaginable, but there was still a compelling element of regular action. This is not to say, that all is rosy with the Sky production.

Analysis of the sport comes not from the racecourse, but from the Centaurs Business Park in Osterley, where the company is based, a Sky Sports logo hovers permanently and irritatingly in the corner of the screen and there is always the nagging thought that racing fans should not have to enter the American-inspired pay-per-view arena to watch their sport.

In the future, there may be times when offspring will be told on the first Wednesday in June that the Derby used to be viewed free of charge. Tenby's prospects of joining the ranks of Epsom winners appeared to dim over the weekend, when he produced a lurching display alongside his workmates on the Newmarket gallops. Henry Cecil's colt has been eased by all three main bookmaking firms, while his colleague from the Warren Place changing-rooms and Saturday's gallop, Commander In Chief, has been cut.

While workwatchers were stirred by these events, those behind Tenby were keen to play down the significance of the morning's exertions. 'Tenby worked rather lazily,' Grant Pritchard-Gordon, racing manager to the horse's owner, Khalid Abdullah, said. 'We weren't too perturbed because he had colic last Sunday night and we did not want to overdo it.'

Pat Eddery is still expected to ride Tenby at Epsom, while Abdullah's other Blue Riband runner - which will almost certainly be Commander In Chief unless heavy rain brings the name of Armiger back into the argument - is likely to go to Cecil's favoured supersub, Michael Kinane.

Further alliances were confirmed yesterday. Vincent O'Brien and Lester Piggott, the Derby partnership nonpareil, will be represented in the 215th running by Fatherland, who has recovered from having a foot abscess. 'It was only a minor problem and we wouldn't have been doing much with him anyway last week,' O'Brien said.

Piggott's other prospective mount, Richard Hannon's Geisway, has now fallen to Cash Asmussen, while Michael Dickinson, who sends over Wolf Prince from his Maryland stable today, has booked the services of Lanfranco Dettori.

Sheikh Mohammed's Derby chance continues to diminish. The Sheikh's Advocat bowed out of consideration at The Curragh at the weekend and from an inital entry for Epsom of 28, the owner is now down to a single representative, Barathea.

THE DERBY (Epsom, 2 June): Coral: 8-13 Tenby, 6-1 Commander In Chief, 10-1 Barathea & Fatherland, 16-1 Planetary Aspect; Ladbrokes: 4-7 Tenby, 6-1 Barathea, 8-1 Commander In Chief & Fatherland, 14-1 Planetary Aspect, 20-1 Bob's Return, 25-1 Desert Team & Geisway; William Hill: 4-7 Tenby, 7-1 Commander In Chief, 10-1 Barathea & Fatherland, 12-1 Planetary Aspect, 20-1 Bob's Return & Geisway.

(Photograph omitted)

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