Name – Matt Chapman
Occupation – Freelance TV presenter/journalist
Years involved in racing - 20yrs
First horseracing memory – Shergar’s Derby romp in 1981
What first stirred your interest in horseracing?
The same thing that makes kids today love computer games – solving the puzzle. Everyone likes to be right in life, and horse racing provides a great platform to be proved right. Is there any better feeling – outside of the bedroom – than studying a race, weighing up the pros and cons and then the result going as you thought? Not many. Add to that speed, danger and an abundance of characters and you have a real mixture to alert the mind.
What was your first job in the sport?
The day after I left University I joined the International racing Bureau in Newmarket. There were then four in the IRB’s editorial department, and I was at the bottom. But it gave me a fantastic knowledge of international racing. I had spent one day a week during my last year at Uni on the Independent news desk, subbing race cards and stuff like that. John Cobb provided me with the chance and I can’t thank him enough. Paul Hayward, Richard Edmondson and Greg Wood were there at the time so a fine trio to learn from.
How did you become involved in the presenting side of things?
Towards the end of my days on the Racing Post news desk (eight years) I begged the then Racing Channel for a screen test. George Irvine, in charge in those days, gave me a chance, mainly on the then Stateside show that had a big following. When I worked with Dave Compton we could go on until 1am and have 100 emails we hadn’t had time to read out. It had a kind of cult (that’s cult) following!
Career to date…
Proudest moment of career to date?
Considering my family have absolutely no background or relationship with horse racing I am proud of where I am. That said, to be able to call Sir Henry Cecil a friend is something dreams are made of and, of course, it was special to be voted 2010 HWPA Broadcaster of the Year and winner of the 2010 Racing Post Broadcasters’ World Cup.
Is there anything you have been embarrassed about in your career?
No. That said, plenty I have been disappointed over. People might read this and think – “hold on Matt, didn’t you say Pour Moi couldn’t win the Derby, and William’s Wishes couldn’t win at Ascot”. Yes I did. But I am not embarrassed by that. I put my neck on the line. I don’t have to, as a presenter I don’t have to ever give a selection in any race. But we all have opinions and sometimes we will be right, and sometimes wrong. The difference is that the public want presenters to be wrong. Why? Because it comes back to the puzzle aspect. The kick you get in racing is finding your own winners, not someone else finding you a winner. I tip winners and never hear a word about it, I tip a loser and the world caves in! I have also been disappointed with my presenting on occasions. I don’t think anyone has ever seen the best of me. But the nature of the things I present means I am restricted in what I can do.
Are you happy with the path your career has taken so far and what path do you see yourself taking in the coming years?
It’s not been easy, but I know I have a following amongst younger racegoers and I am proud of that. I also know if my job was for sale on Ebay there would be thousands of bids for it. I am very lucky. That said, it may not be up to me how long I present for – as a freelance you never know when you are going to work. I had two dreams, to commentate and get on Channel 4 Racing and I have failed at both. I believe I could have brought energy to the C4 show. You have to remember that racing presenters are essentially irrelevant – people who like horse racing and betting will watch whoever is presenting. So what you have to do as a presenter is make people think “I wonder what he will do today or say about that”. Being wallpaper is not what it is about for me. That does not mean you have to be controversial, it’s about having strong opinions and not being afraid to say what you think. It’s also about living and breathing horse racing. And I’m not sure many racing presenters do that. The future, though, is a worry for me…I wish I could answer the question.
In the presenters chair…
Most enjoyable aspect of being a racing presenter?
Being paid to watch the sport I love.
How much ‘homework’ do you undertake before each days racing?
I would say none. But in reality it’s 24-hour ongoing. Watching every race and keeping on top of news is constant work.
Best and worst aspects of being a racing presenter?
In the past, the best part of the job was when I used to interview trainers and jockeys on the old ATR. There are so many characters out there. There are no bad aspects, although obviously you have to cope with constant abuse on forums etc etc
In your opinion what makes a good racing broadcaster/presenter?
Not really a question for me to answer. I would say a clear voice, ability to think quickly, ability to express yourself. Cope with someone screaming in your ear while you are trying to hold a conversation with someone else. An ability to ask the right questions. And I think it is important to be liked and disliked. Be able to put your guest at ease. Most importantly every presenter should have watched every race run every day. I cringe when I hear people say they have not seen a race. No excuse, and viewers know instantly if a presenter has not seen what they are talking about. If it means staying up until 4.00am and going to work at 6.00am then that is what you do.
Which racing pundits and commentators do you respect the most?
Hmmm. I have little time for racing pundits/tipsters or guests – although that’s not to say they are not lovely people. Most are bluffers. They churn out cliché after cliché. You simply would not be a pundit if you were that good at picking winners. That said, I could listen to James Willoughby and Hugh Taylor at length. John Hunt and Simon Holt are my favourite commentators (nothing original there).
Is there any comment you wish you had never made and could erase from history?
Any horse that I have said couldn’t win and did. I am not going to list them all here…..not enough space! I criticised a starter once in Ireland – that went down badly. Last year I presented the HWPA awards badly – I wish I could do it again but Nick Luck always wins Broadcaster of the Year so will always present the awards.
Which sporting event from history (out with racing) do you wish you had been in the presenting chair for?
Any transfer deadline day on Sky Sports news.
Which other sporting event would you like to have the opportunity to present in the future?
Racing and the general public…
In your opinion what could be done to attract new fans to the sport?
Improve the spectacle and bring the characters to the people. Racecourses are often the worst place to watch a race – that can’t be right. And there is no excuse for basic food and drink to be bonkers prices.
Do you think Social Media (Twitter, Facebook, etc…) has had a positive impact on racing and how else do you think it could be used to further promote the sport?
Without doubt. Racing is being talked about more than ever before, and it’s possible for ‘normal’ people to have conversations with people they could only imagine chatting to. Jockeys and trainers have a real chance to communicate with the public and they should do so as much as possible. Twitter is without doubt the best place for racing news.
Do you think racing is viewed in a positive or negative manner by the ‘non racing’ public?
Tricky question. People worried about gamblers will look at it badly, and animal ‘lovers’ who don’t understand the sport will look at it badly.
Improving the sport…
What one thing would you like to see implemented to improve horse racing -
a) on-course? Reasonable facilities – from loos to viewing positions.
b) off-course? A BHA-run Betting exchange.
Horses to follow…
Which National Hunt horse are you looking forward to following this season?
Don Cossack, trained by Gordon Elliott. He’s a giant and is going to be a fabulous chaser one day.
Dark horse to follow for the 2012/13 NH season?
Buckers Bridge (not that dark, as unbeaten in two for Henry de Bromhead).
Which novice has impressed you most so far this season?
Tarla (Willie Mullins)
Which horse are you looking forward to following during the 2013 flat season?
I think Certify is a big price at 8-1 for the 1,000 Guineas.
Cheltenham Gold Cup or Epsom Derby? Gold Cup
A P McCoy or Ruby Walsh? Equally brilliant in different situations. McCoy if my life depended on it and the horse needed to be ridden for a circuit!
On course or in the studio? Studio on the old ATR, on course now.
RUK or Channel 4 Racing? Channel 4 for 90 days.
Just for fun…
If you could have any superpower what would it be and why?
Being able to see into the future, or just to the end of a 3m novice chase would be useful!
Many thanks to Matt for taking part in the latest NTF Q&A session.
Follow Matt on Twitter – @MCYeeehaaa