Horse racing fans in the UK and Ireland might have been surprised on Saturday afternoon, when for the first time in a very long time, Channel 4 did not have live racing on our screens. This despite the fact one of just five Classics (The St Ledger) went to post at Doncaster on Saturday afternoon.
The annual Group 1 instead appeared on sister channel More 4 and was replaced on Channel 4 by live covered of the Paralympics from Rio. This could simply be down to demand by viewers and a decision by the channel to screen the more popular event. Sponsors of the St Ledger, Ladbrokes were pragmatic. Spokesman for the company David Williams, said: "We've got to be realistic. Racing doesn't have a God-given right to have first dibs at the TV buffet of sports broadcasting...we understand the bigger picture".
This could be the first parting shot by Channel 4 to horse racing authorities, in response to the channel ceasing all racing coverage at the end of 2016. This responsibility will pass to ITV who successfully purchased the broadcasting rights from 2017, for an estimated £30 million.
Whether this moves turns out to be successful remains to be seen. The movement of Royal Ascot from its traditional BBC slot to Channel 4 a number of years ago saw a drop in viewing numbers. If racing coverage appears on ITV1 (as many expect) it's likely the sport could see a rebound. If however other channels become the sports home e.g. ITV4, the sport may not get the viewing figures it expects.
Either way, the move is a statement of intent by racing authorities. Only time will tell if it is successful.