SOME racing nark suggested that the good folk at TVN should take the hat around and buy multi-millionaire owner, Lloyd Williams, a remote control for Christmas.

That way every time Lloyd hears something that ruffles his feathers he can immediately switch across to Sky Channel where you can bet they will be preening him instead.

If Williams has felt so badly for so long about his treatment by highly respected multi-media commentator, Steve Moran, one wonders why he would bother even listening to him on Sport 927 or TVN.

What a pity the pantomime that unfolded on Sandown Classic afternoon overshadowed a magnificent achievement by one of the unsung heroes of the Australian turf in Zipping.

There is no chance of it happening with the superstars of world golf or tennis who have contractual obligations to attend media conferences. The same should apply to horse racing.

Plenty have pointed to leading Sydney trainer, Jack Denham, who has refused to deal with the media for decades. There has been reference to jockey Danny Beasley ignoring a TVN interview then being ordered back by Racing NSW Chief Steward, Ray Murrihy.

Cups King Bart Cummings would probably prefer to dodge the spotlight after being almost trampled by constant media scrums. Gai Waterhouse and her famous dad, the late T J Smith, would talk under water for the racing media. The majority of leading trainers and jockeys are professional and forthcoming before and after races.

Gone are the days when the old trainers treated the media as the enemy and told them next to nothing. Henry Davis was a classic example in Queensland. The story goes that he was so determined to stay silent that on race eve he even had a different bedroom to his wife to avoid the risk of talking in his sleep.

Another top trainer of that golden era in Brisbane was Roy Dawson, a perfect gentleman with the media, but he would tell them next to nothing before a race or after a win. I remember an occasion when one of his promising youngsters came out and scored a heavily-backed win after bucking at its previous start and running last. A young racing scribe posed the question: “How did you stop the horse from pig-rooting, Mr Dawson?” “Took away the pig,” came the quick reply.

But back to the current state of play in the heavyweight bout between Williams and Moran, the sooner that this issue is put to rest, the better. Both men are passionate about their racing.

For far too long Williams was reluctant to speak to the media but that has changed for the better in recent years. The punters love to hear what he has to say, especially in the lead-up to races.

As a major racing employer Williams argues that he has the right to decide if one of his staff speaks to the media. He and son Nick are the delegated spokesmen for the stable. But one can’t help but feel that what happened last Saturday was just the tip of the iceberg of some simmering feelings that boiled over.

The controversial departure of top trainer John Sadler and intense media scrutiny surrounding the fitness of strongly fancied Efficient prior to his scratching before the Melbourne Cup threatened to see Camp Williams go underground again. No-one, including Moran, wants that.

But at the same time there is a groundswell of feeling in the racing industry that Moran arguably wound up the victim of this latest incident for simply doing his job and trying to ensure the punting public was kept well informed.

Just imagine the situation in racing – or any major sport for that matter – if every time a television network or newspaper ran something that upset someone they imposed a media ban.

It prompted me to take this light-hearted look at what racing – and the racing media – might be like in the year 2020 if industry stakeholders from owners, trainers, jockeys and officials become so increasingly thin-skinned that every time something is written or said that offends them a ban is imposed.

Picture the scene – practically deserted racecourses with the only ones in attendance those physically involved in the meeting itself. There are no bookmakers on the course. Punters have been priced out of going to the track – at $100 a head to get through the gate, $30 for a pot of beer and $20 for a hot pie – it’s a once a year treat, if that.

The Pubs and Clubs are doing a roaring trade because it has become virtually impossible to afford to watch TV racing at home. Sky has 69 Channels but you have to pay a fee to watch every one of them.

TVN is still free but its coverage is restricted to camel racing from the beach at Broome; goat racing from the Bjelke-Petersen Coliseum at Kingaroy; toad races from the Picnic Bay Pub on Magnetic Island; and for those fans of off-shore fixtures, Black Rhino racing from the Mayfield-Smith Manor in the heart of Africa.

Television sets have replaced poker machines in the majority of horse racing-oriented hotels. With 70 separate screens to take in all the action, punters arrive armed with form and program guides that resemble War and Peace.

The key players in the industry are contracted to talk only with the highest bidders for their services. Rather than do the form the night before, punters have to wade through the program guides and work out who and what to watch and where to get the best information out of their race viewing.

‘Camp Williams’ has delegated Nick junior, son of Nick, as the sole stable spokesman and he can only be seen on Sky 31 after Andrew Bensley hosts a regular This Is You Life In Racing segment with the patriarch of the family, Lloyd.

Gai Waterhouse is contracted to speak only on Sky 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24 (at this rate we’ll run out of space). You can hear her on 60 of the 69 Sky Channels and she is making a guest appearance on ‘Out of Africa’ on TVN where she talks about growing up in Double Bay with her pet panther until it ate TJ’s prize tabby, Dominic.

John, Michael, Wayne, Warren, Fred, Trixie, Nicki, Oscar and Felix of the Hawkes Racing Dynasty can be seen exclusively on Sky 27 in between two features on the controversial Cushion Tracks. The first ‘A Reason to Race on Cushion’ lasts just one minute. The second ‘Reasons Not to Race on Cushion’ is an edited version that goes for three hours.

Over at Sky Channel 66 – where boutique coverage is provided of racing in the Sunshine State – Mark ‘the Ear’ Oberhardt provides his ‘long shot’ preview where nothing under $31 is tipped – largely because that’s the average price of the winners in Brisbane these days. Favorites have a winning ratio of one in 57. Mark’s much-watched preview follows ‘Battery Bill’s Saddling Tips’ brought to you by Ever-Ready and the trainers from that complex we better not mention.

Down at Sky 3 they have an exclusive debate between two of the ‘big men’ of Australian racing – Nathan Tinkler and Richard Callander. This is available in Super Wide Screen Vision only. Those with the smaller plasmas (under 80inch) will only be able to see one of the participating parties.

2020 and Bob The Builder Bentley is still running Queensland Racing but has retired from the chairmanship of the Australian Racing Board after finally relenting to pressure and allowing each jockey to carry a whip in each hand, one behind his back and another in his riding boots. But ageing NSW chief steward, Ray Murrihy, still refusing to retire, insists they can only be used after the horses have passed the winning post.

Bentley is contracted to speak exclusively on Sky 11 and this week he talks about how he modeled the ‘Bobby Mander’ voting system for the Board of Directors in Queensland on that of the ‘Jerry Mander’ which for so many years kept another stubborn old guy called Joh in power in Queensland with less than 40 per cent of the vote.

Bob the Builder’s deputy at QR, ‘Nifty’ Neville, sponsors the richest race in northern Australia, the $10 million QRIS Classic (half of the prizemoney is provided by the new – they finally made it in 2019 – LNP Coalition Government where Premier Ray Stevens is a great favorite at racing functions where he cracks out the old Guitar and his taxpayer funded Gold Card to entertain the troops). The one drawback to Nifty’s sponsorship is that the only horses eligible to race in the $10 million Classic are those bred at Oaklands Stud, on the Downs, which he owns and operates.

Cups King Bart Cummings, now in his 90s, has just won his 20th Melbourne Cup but has refused Sky contracts since a media scrum bowled over he and his walker in the Flemington enclosure during the Spring Carnival of 2013. He lets his horses do the talking these days but makes an occasional guest appearance on Sky 55 after Dr Dolittle’s nightly segment on ‘How to Spot a Ring-In, Family Favorites and What Caused the Caffeine Crisis?’

At the Lee Freedman stable, where ‘Emma’ has taken over training duties from her Hall of Fame dad, there is no lack of media interest. Francesca Cumani was so overtaken by her love affair with Australian Racing and its male centerfolds that she followed the convict lead and took up permanent residency in OZ as ‘Emma’s foreperson.’ The femme fatales of the Freedman stable breed guard dogs as a sideline to keep a hungry Paparazzi from photographing them sun-backing by the stables in their birthday suits on a warm Rye day. Emma has refused to speak with the press since that famous faux pas about ‘Danny O’Brien rolling in his grave’ on national TV.

It’s time to wind up the 2020 segment with a news release from Sky on the national survey of punters just undertaken to determine their favorite Racing Channel. To the surprise of all it was SKY ONE.

When long-time host ‘Mute Button’ was forced to quit after losing his voice permanently (largely due to incessant chatter), management decided that Sky One would be a ‘pictures only’ channel – no words apart from the race calls.

It turned out to be just what the punters wanted. What a pity it took Sky twenty years and a generation of lost viewers to find out what most would be only too delighted to tell them today. All they have to do is ask!


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