It’s not just the horses who can look forward to a searching examination at Cheltenham this week.
After 40 years on the BBC and 21 on Channel 4, the Festival’s 28 races are showcased on ITV for the first time.
“I’ll feel the pressure – I’m nervous about it now,” admits Ed Chamberlin, lead presenter with racing’s new terrestrial partner.
“The ITV team feel a huge responsibility to do it well and get it right because Channel 4 did the most terrific job.”
Sixteen years with Sky Sports , Chamberlin spent the last six as the assured and polished anchor of its Monday Night Football and Super Sunday shows yet chose to swap the Premier League for horseracing.
“A lot of people thought I was crazy, but I didn’t feel crazy at all,” he explains. A day didn’t go by in various supermarkets or high streets without people saying, ‘What are you doing?’
“But anyone who knows me, from my mum to my great mates, said, ‘Go for it – absolutely, 100 per cent, go for it!’
“They’d have known this is always what I’ve wanted to do – to work in racing,” adds the 43-year-old, who eight years ago overcame stomach cancer, bribing hospital staff to smuggle a TV into his Southampton General Hospital intensive care unit so he could watch the Cheltenham Festival.
Bluffer’s Guide to The Cheltenham FestivalCapture
A vicious January storm tore through Cheltenham for ITV Racing’s debut on New Year’s Day. The weather was horrendous,” recalls Chamberlin. “All my notes were washed away on my first day in the job, which wasn’t ideal.
“I’d never done anything like that. As AP McCoy said on the show, ‘Why have you swapped the cosy Monday Night Football studio to be out in the cold with Luke Harvey and I?’
“At football grounds you were always undercover, so it was a totally new experience.
“In presenting terms, football and racing are chalk and cheese – in racing you can prepare for the first half hour but from then on it’s on the hoof.”
But no pre-race prep could have readied Chamberlin for ITV Racing’s return to Cheltenham at the end of January.
As Many Clouds won a photo-finish from Thistlecrack, the team pondered the sport’s glorious uncertainty – how Oliver Sherwood’s 2015 Grand National hero had upset the Gold Cup favourite.
Minutes later Many Clouds, a horse treasured by the National Hunt faithful, was dead.
“Many Clouds’ death was a major learning experience,” says Chamberlin. “I’ve never done anything like that before in my life.
“Oliver Sherwood did the sport a huge turn. He spoke brilliantly and he got it absolutely right – the sadness of it for him and his team, but also what a wonderful horse Many Clouds was.”
Reviews to the coverage have inevitably in racing been mixed, but Chamberlin would sooner face the flak than be ignored.
“Everyone had an opinion, positive and negative, and I’ve got no problem with that whatsoever – if they’re not talking about it, that’s when you’ve got a problem.
“My only surprise was that you got the sense a lot of people out there didn’t want us to succeed, which was strange.
“The whole of racing needs the terrestrial broadcaster to succeed – racing needs to be on terrestrial television.”
Chamberlin, whose old day job is now his release – “Southampton is the escape” – confides his “shambles” of ante-post bets will be saved if Messire Des Obeaux wins Wednesday’s Neptune, and will happily watch Cue Card defeat long-range Gold Cup punt Minella Rocco.
“Great stories are what you want and the greatest story of the lot would be Cue Card winning the Gold Cup. That would be very, very special – roof-off-the-stands time.
“I’d love to see Altior and Douvan win brilliantly, so we can look forward to that big clash at Cheltenham next year – a proper heavyweight showdown that wouldn’t need trash talk.
“But there will be great stories everywhere. We’ve got a great team and that’s our job – to tell them as best we can and bring the excitement home to people.
“I’ve found my vocation – I absolutely love it.”
ITV will broadcast the first five Festival races every day (1pm-4.30pm). The Opening Show is on ITV4 Tuesday-Friday (9.30am-11am).