They’re Off! at Cheltenham — and Live on Channel 4 Five Hours a Day

By Kevin Hilton

A usually genteel spa town in the west of England has been taken over by 300,000 racegoers arriving for the March 10 start of the Cheltenham Festival. This week is the jewel in the horseracing jump season, and the spectacle, which extends beyond just the races, is being covered by Channel 4 with nearly five hours of live broadcasting each day.

Coverage for C4 Racing is produced by Highflyer Productions, with The Morning Line magazine programme kicking each day off between 8:30 and 9:30 a.m. and then the full race card from 12:30 p.m. to 4:15 p.m.

NEP Visions provides the OB scanner, and 39 cameras are located around the course, including three PSCs (portable single cameras) for news reporting, a blimp for aerial shots, a Steadicam unit, and 10 radio units.

In 2008, the technical highlight of the show was the Vortex camera mount, but that was not available for this festival. So this year, the “star camera,” in the words of Programme Director Denise Large, is the Hi-Motion, which can shoot at up to 1,000 frames a second. “That gives us so much detail,” she says, “showing every single particle.”

Audio plays its part in conveying the excitement of the festival’s races, which include the Champion Hurdle, won opening day by 22-1 outsider Punjabi, and Friday’s climactic Gold Cup. The crowd, including a large contingent of Irish punters celebrating St. Patrick’s Day early, is always very vocal. Adding to the stereo mix are the sounds of the horses’ hoofs and the jockeys’ voices, which are picked up clearly because a mic is installed at every fence. “We aim to capture as much sound and effects as possible,” Large says.

C4 Racing’s coverage is in standard-definition 16:9, but, because Channel 4 now has an HD channel, Large says, the hope is that Cheltenham will be in high-definition next year.