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How working with Gary Neville prepared Ed Chamberlin to become the face of horse racing

The former Sky Sports presenter talks to The42 about his role in ITV’s racing coverage.

Ed Chamberlin with is horse, Lord Rapscallion.
Ed Chamberlin with is horse, Lord Rapscallion.
Image: HRI

HE’S NOT OFTEN lost for words but, for the first time in 30 minutes of chatting, Ed Chamberlin is stumped.

The ITV racing presenter can’t decide if he’d prefer to have a Grade 1 winner over the jumps at Cheltenham or a Group 1 winner on the flat at Royal Ascot.

In the end, he just about comes down on the side of the latter, but it was clear from the length of deliberation that it was a close run thing.

Indeed, what swayed it for Chamberlin was the fact he has high hopes of seeing Lord Rapscallion — a horse he owns as part of the Rapscallion Syndicate — winning at the Berkshire venue some day.

“There are so many different ways of becoming involved with horse racing, you don’t have to spend a fortune,” he told The42 recently as he launched a new initiative with Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) to get more people involved in the sport.

“Some people see racing as just for the elite or the affluent but that’s so not the case.

“That’s why this initiative from the HRI is so important and, to be honest, some of the best moments for me on ITV have come when syndicates have won big races.

We had the Hot To Trot syndicate at Royal Ascot winning the Group 2 Queen Mary Stakes with Heartache. These are magic moments because, as the presenter, I can show people that the dream is attainable, you can do it.

“And you can have that thrill for relatively little money. I think it’s important in any sport that you can have a dream that is attainable, and HRI trying to involve people is so important because, at the end of the day, it’s really good fun.

“I’m personally involved with the Rapscallion Syndicate whose name comes from a very good night out… but not one I could possibly tell anyone about on air,” he jokes.

But for Chamberlin, the race day itself is only part of the experience.

“Going to the yard is what I’d encourage everyone to do.

I enjoy seeing them working out, it’s very special. In my former guise in football, there was nothing particularly exciting about going to watch England or Arsenal train, but watching a horse train is one of the biggest thrills in sport.

“It’s just phenomenal.”

As familiar as he is to racing fans for his role as ITV presenter, Chamberlin is probably best known for hosting various shows on Sky Sports, most notably Monday Night Football.

Soccer- Barclays Premier League - Stoke City v Sunderland Covering football wasn't always glamorous. Source: Matthew Ashton/AMA

They may be very different sports, but the 44-year-old believes what he learned from Gary Neville and company has helped him in his new career.

“It was an amazing experience to be involved in, both in terms of learning production values and also working with the people I was working with. I’ve taken a lot of that with me to ITV.

“Monday Night Football made in-depth analysis of football a little bit cooler and that’s what we’re trying to do with racing to appeal to a younger audience.

“Gary Neville taught me an awful lot. One of the things with punditry is that you’re always trying to teach people at home something they don’t know.

With Sir Anthony McCoy, Ruby Walsh and these great pundits that I work with now, there is so much assumed knowledge that I often have to say to them: ‘Hold on, that’s actually new and interesting for people at home and you need to share that on screen.’

“One example was at Newbury where AP [McCoy] and I were chatting over a cup of tea the day before the Game Spirit Chase.

“I asked him, if he was Sam Twiston-Davies on Politologue, what would he do about Altior?

“And he got into a little bit of gamesmanship that I never thought about before, and said he’d light him up a little bit, both in the paddock and by following him down to the start. He’d never let him out of his sight before the start of the race.

“He just took that for granted whereas I knew our audience would love to hear that kind of insight so I’m always talking to the guys about spreading their knowledge on television.”

Cheltenham Races Some of the ITV Racing team of presenter Ed Chamberlain with AP McCoy and Luke Harvey Source: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

While he doesn’t go full Bill O’Herlihy when talking to his pundits, Chamberlin admits to taking a similar laid-back approach to presenting, acknowledging that few are interested in what he has to say when some of the legends of racing are standing by his side.

“As a presenter, my opinion is pretty much irrelevant,” he says.

“My job is to get the best out of other people and I always think about it as being like a football referee. If I’m not noticed, then — I hope — I’m doing a really good job.

When I finished a show at Sky, I’d always watch it back in finite detail and make a note of where things could be improved and I do exactly the same with the racing. I often watch it back on a Sunday morning, when the kids are watching rubbish on the other side, I’ll watch the racing back.

“My poor editor, I’m always emailing him at 7.30am on Sunday with a list of ideas of things we can do better the next time. It’s all-consuming but I love that.”

Chamberlin also admits that they haven’t perfected their coverage on ITV yet, but feels they’re on the right course.

“Since day one, our remit was to broaden the interest in horse racing. The danger with the sport is that, if the viewing figures drop too much, then racing could lose its place on terrestrial TV which would be a disaster.

“But that’s easier said than done.

“I remember when I first got the job. Leicester had just won the Premier League and I had six months to immerse myself in racing and I realised just how wide the spectrum of opinions in racing is.

Everyone’s got a different view on how racing should be covered, as well as the people covering it and that’s great, because it shows that people are passionate about racing but it’s a really difficult balance to strike too because we’re in the entertainment business, we need it to be entertaining.

“Within that, you need to keep the people who already love racing happy but, at the same time, you’ve got to break down some barriers because horse racing can be a foreign language for some people and you’ve to open that up and explain things.

“That’s a difficult balance and I’m not sure we got it right to begin with but I’m happy in the place we are right now.”

Ed Chamberlin was speaking to The42 as Horse Racing Ireland promoted horse ownership and syndication ahead of the flat racing season. Visit racehorseownership.ie to find out more.

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Steve O'Rourke

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