ITV Racing’s Oli Bell believes there’s no better stage than the Cheltenham Festival to illustrate ‘everything that is great’ about the sport.
The horse racing industry has been left reeling after a photo of top National Hunt trainer Gordon Elliott sitting astride a dead horse was leaked on social media last month.
Three-time Grand National winner Elliott was handed a one-year ban, with six months suspended, by the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB) last week following an investigation into the photograph.
ITV Racing’s Oli Bell believes there’s no better stage than the Cheltenham Festival to illustrate ‘everything that is great’ about the sport
The prestigious Festival, where racing takes spotlight for four days, gets underway on Tuesday
The horse racing industry has been left reeling after a photo of top National Hunt trainer Gordon Elliott sitting astride a dead horse was leaked on social media last month
The shocking picture caused outrage not just within the sport but also in the wider world with the reputation of racing severely damaged ahead of one of the biggest weeks in the sport.
The prestigious Cheltenham Festival, where racing takes the spotlight for four days, gets underway on Tuesday and Bell, a presenter for ITV racing, insists it’s the ideal meeting for the sport to begin its recovery.
‘The first thing to say is that no one, whether you’re a racing fan or a non racing fan, can ever justify that image or make sense of it. It’s completely indefensible and wholly unacceptable on any level at any time,’ he told Sportsmail.
‘I think we’re all well aware of the importance of Cheltenham every year, but in a way more so than ever this year in light of what happened.
‘There are undoubtedly people that probably doubt the sport now and it hurts all of us to the core that people are doubting racing because it is such a brilliant sport.
‘But the one thing I would say is Cheltenham is the Olympics of our sport and it’s the pinnacle and I honestly don’t think there’s a better place with better racing, better horses, better staff.
Bell, a presenter for ITV racing, insists Festival is ideal place for the sport to begin its recovery
‘For a shop window for our sport Cheltenham is the absolute best place to show off everything that is great about the sport of horse racing.
‘You’ve got staff who care for these horses immensely, who will be cheering on the best of the best in this wonderful sporting amphitheatre.
‘I actually think that in light of what’s happened we’re all looking forward to going to Cheltenham because there’s no better place to show off everything that’s great about racing.’
Cheltenham Festival-winning amateur jockey Rob James was given a 12-month ban from racing – with the last eight suspended this week – after a shocking video emerged of him jumping onto the back of a dead horse.
Bell, who will anchor ITV Racing’s Social Stable alongside former Love Island star Chris Hughes next week, admits the only free-to-air channel to broadcast racing must be ‘transparent’ with the sport under the microscope more than ever.
The Cheltenham Festival will go ahead without thousands of racegoers for the first time
Bell will anchor ITV Racing’s Social Stable alongside former Love Island star Chris Hughes
‘I think what we’ve all had our eyes woken up to is that whilst it may operate largely in a bit of a bubble, we can’t live in that bubble forever. I think that it’s really important that we do become as transparent as possible,’ he added.
‘I think it goes without saying that the platform that ITV racing provides for the sport is massive.
‘I don’t think any other sport has anywhere near as much terrestrial presence as racing.
‘I think what this has taught us all is that we actually have to do more because clearly there are people that still don’t believe that it is a sport where the animals are cared for above and beyond anything else.
Honeysuckle, entered in Tuesday’s Champion Hurdle, is one of the horses that could star
OLI BELL’S HORSES TO WATCH AT CHELTENHAM
Honeysuckle 5/2 (Champion Hurdle, Tuesday, 3.05pm)
Shishkin 11/10 (Arkle, Tuesday, 1.55pm)
Envoi Allen 10/11 (Marsh Novices’ Chase, Thursday, 1.20pm)
Monkfish 8/11 (Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase, Wednesday, 1.55pm)
Paisley Park 4/1 (Stayers’ Hurdle, Thursday, 3.05pm)
Al Boum Photo 14/5 (Gold Cup, Friday, 3.05pm)
Frodon 16/1 (Gold Cup, Friday, 3.05pm)
Bear Ghylls 16/1 (Ballymoore, Wednesday, 1.20pm)
*Odds courtesy of Betfair
‘Images like the one that everyone has seen obviously take us back an awful lot of steps.
‘But that’s not to say we can’t get back on the road and continue the great work that ITV and other outfits have been doing in recent years to showcase just how loved and cared for these horses are because they are the stars of the show. They are loved beyond words, really.’
ITV Racing’s viewing figures have surged within the last year. The Derby was watched by 600,000 more people in 2020 than the previous year while National Hunt meetings last November attracted more than one million viewers.
The Cheltenham Festival will go ahead without thousands of racegoers for the first time as spectators remain shut out amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Sportsmail exclusively revealed this week the event’s traditional crowd roar at the start of the first race of the week will be used on ITV’s live coverage.
The broadcaster will also show the first six races every day for the first time after being restricted to five in previous years.
Bell has also revealed that ITV will have a spidercam at their disposal to take those at home to the thick of the action.
‘We’ll be able to take the viewer as close to the huddles as possible and the winners when they come back in,’ he said.
‘I think if you’re watching at home, you’ll really feel like you’re alongside the horses and the connections and the jockeys as they’re going out to bat.
‘I think our ethos for this in light of everything and will always be that we want the viewers at home to feel like they are at the races with us and part of the action with us.
‘The horses that we’re seeing next week are probably about as exciting a bunch of horses across the board as I can ever remember.
‘There’s just amazing stories throughout that will, I hope, get racing on the front pages for the right reasons.’
ITV Racing is on 16-19 March from 1-4.30pm on ITV and The Opening Show from 9.30-10.30am on ITV4.