JUMPS legend AP McCoy has warned racing faces ‘a disaster’ if ITV cannot secure a new deal.
The 20-time champion jockey revealed negotiations are back underway as ITV Racing seeks to extend the contract which expires at the end of the year.
Bigwigs from ITV and Racecourse Media Group had hoped to strike a deal during a slap-up lunch at Cheltenham last month – but talks stalled.
McCoy, a regular pundit on the channel, says the future of terrestrial racing coverage hangs in the balance.
One possibility is ITV could lose rights to all but a few flagship racedays – much like the BBC’s slimmed-down racing coverage in the early 2000’s.
He told Sun Racing: “I don’t think ITV get enough credit and I really do worry about the terrestrial TV coverage for racing.
“The negotiations for the next contract have been going on for a while and I hope the rumours going around aren’t true that there might be a certain number of selected marquee days on ITV and the rest will go to Sky or Racing TV.
“That really worries me, and it scares me that some people in racing could let that decision happen because of money. It’s NOT all about the money.
“One of the strongest opinions I have is that racing must stay on terrestrial TV.
“I think the way ITV has utilised ITV4 to show some of the lesser days has been great. A lot of people panicked when they announced they’d be doing that — but it has worked.
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“The mix we have at the moment is perfect for the sport. If it is taken off terrestrial we’ll reach a much smaller audience.
“I have always said we need people with a good knowledge of racing and a huge passion for it.
“The suits will say they have brought in a load of money for us all . . . but then racing will never be seen on terrestrial again and it will be a disaster.”
Racing in Britain is currently suspended until further notice due to the Covid-19 outbreak, with the BHA yet to agree on a possible resumption date.
And William Hill ambassador McCoy said the ongoing crisis had exposed a serious lack of leadership among the sport’s top brass.
He said: “I think the idea to start off racing behind closed doors could work — but I also think this crisis is an opportunity for racing to do something different and have a restructuring of the whole sport.
“But, as I’ve said before, the trouble with our sport is there is no leader.
“That’s not really a criticism of anyone in particular, it’s just a fact that no individual has enough power.
“Every successful business has one leader and one clear idea. The problem with horse racing in this country is that the power is distributed across so many different people.
“The BHA, the racecourses, the bookies — no one has the outright power to make any significant changes. Everyone has their own interests to look after.
“When you look at the number of lives that have been lost because of this virus, it is absolutely tragic. It’s going to be hard, but I think we have to get some kind of normality back as soon as possible. We have to get creative and be brave and some proper leadership wouldn’t go amiss.”
It’s five years to the day since McCoy rode in his last race at Sandown before hanging up his boots, and he admits he misses the buzz of kicking home winners over jumps.
He said: “It was an emotional day at Sandown five years ago. But I am delighted that Dickie Johnson has managed to win the title four times since I retired.
“I love horse racing and love to still be involved. But you miss the competitiveness, you miss the pressure, you miss the torture of it.
“I actually dislocated my shoulder a couple of weeks ago when I fell off a horse. I was taken to A&E to get it popped back in – and in a sick kind of way I actually kind of enjoyed the little bit of torture of getting it fixed!”
And like millions of others, McCoy tuned into the Virtual Grand National earlier this month – and he received plenty of stick for his ride on Don’t Push It in the legends race.
He said: “It’s been tough with no sport now for over a month.
“It was amazing how many people watched the virtual race, it just shows how badly people are craving some sport.”
McCoy joked: “The ride I gave Don’t Push It in the virtual legends race was so bad, I got to the front way too soon!
“I deserved to get hammered for it and got messages from all sorts of people afterwards.
“Robbie Fowler texted me saying ‘what are you doing lad, what are you thinking!’.
“Thankfully in the real race I gave him a much better ride!”