MAYBE I’LL BE BIG IN BENIN

17 December 2000

Brough Scott reckons that the Emirates World Series could yet prove to be a success

BY TEN o’clock this morning a new world champion will have been crowned in the East. But will anyone care? Well here’s one. I am supposed to be broadcasting the Hong Kong Cup, the last leg of the Emirates World Series, from the former colony’s Sha Tin racecourse in their afternoon and they say there could be an audience of a billion.

There we go again. Give a journalist a microphone and a TV camera and he/she moves from analyst to hype merchant in the twist of a greasy smile. I stand charged, but it’s high time all sport tried to define the line where oversell begins. It’s not always as simple as you might think.

In the old days of the ITV Seven, the producers were distinctly unamused when I introduced a race from Catterick with the suggestion that it should be called “The Catsmeat Selling Stakes, 18 runners competing for the title of worst horse in Britain.” “Look,” said World of Sport supremo John Bromley, “perfectly good people have chosen to watch our programme. They don’t want a little twat telling them it’s a load of rubbish.”

How ironic that, years later, as Editorial Director of Racing Post, I found myself upbraiding our shrewd and esteemed tipster Graham Dench for writing that only an idiot would have a bet on the Lincoln Handicap. Our readers bought the paper precisely because they wanted to have a punt on the stupid race; we didn’t pay him to tell them not to.

So where are we with the second year of the Emirates World Series (EWS), an 11-race sequence stretched through nine months and five continents which could yet end with the admirable but inferior German horse Samum getting enough points to be crowned champion in front of the infinitely superior but now-retired Giants Causeway, whose five Group One successes ended with that gallant near-miss in the Breeders’ Cup Classic?

The easy thing journalistically is to say that the whole thing is a lot of bosh or at best that the EWS has a good way to go to imprint itself meaningfully on the racing fan’s imagination. For all its high intentions (“Racing’s answer to Formula One” was an early claim) and big sponsorship, it is, in effect, an add-on to a list of races already famous in their own right.

But if you take the TV shilling you are duty bound to start looking for the shinier side. After all, you are going to look quite a wally if you come up after the high action, exotic location credits and say “Hello and welcome to not a lot.” The audience, as well as the producer, are entitled to a greeting that is a bit more optimistic than that.

In fact, it’s perfectly fair to argue that the EWS has already made a major impact on racing authorities around the world and the news this morning is that the Arc de Triomphe now seems certain to join the big-race narrative which starts with the Dubai World Cup in March and weaves its way to England, Europe, America and Australia before climaxing here in Hong Kong.

“It’s not been easy to get it off the ground,” admitted Chief Executive Nick Clarke yesterday, before adding unapologetically, “it has been a steep learning curve for all of us but if racing wants to really tackle football, cricket, rugby and other sports with a global presence it has to take up the challenge.”

He claims that the EWS sponsorship has made racecourses focus on the advantages of having an international link-up and that a new chance of capturing and developing a new set of fans is being generated.

Clarke is surely on firmer ground when he points out the huge advantages of using the sponsorship to guarantee television coverage around the globe.

“Today’s race is live all across the Pacific Basin,” he says, “and will be seen on BBC, ESPN and many other stations in Europe, and America. It’s early days and at the moment our champion can obviously only be the horse who performs most consistently through the series. But we are building an idea. There are exciting times ahead.”

He is writing my script for me. International racing can be a marvellously exciting spectacle. Places like Nad al Sheba, Moonee Valley, Longchamp, Ascot and today’s Sha Tin, the course created by moving a mountain into the sea, are exotic to cover. Great horses will run, great jockeys will ride, great trainers will train and it may be that the humans will come to regard the series as a test they cannot duck.

Let’s hope millions will watch, even if the publicist’s idea that the likes of Afghanistan, Latvia, Lesotho, Benin and Guinea Bissau will all be so glued that we reach the billion viewer mark looks a tad unlikely. But you never know. By the time you read this, I could be big in Benin.

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