"It's Such A Buzz": Ed Chamberlin on Racing, Reporting and Royal Ascot

Back in 2016, Ed Chamberlin traded Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher for Luke Harvey and Matt Chapman. There remain some who question the wisdom of this decision, but for Ed, a childhood racing fan ("my grandfather was to blame"), it was one of the easiest of his career. Here, he discusses the ins and outs of racing presenting, Royal Ascot as an unparalleled showpiece and interviews with Dame Judi Dench. Or was it Helen Mirren?

I must admit some jealousy on my part. Ed Chamberlin has gone from one of my dream jobs, presenting Monday Night Football for Sky, to another, as the frontispiece of ITV's horse racing coverage. As a result, the opportunity to interview a man who has been praised by so many for his friendliness and professionalism was one for me not to miss.
"Absolute pleasure," he exclaims on receiving my call. Within moments he's in full flow, keen to shower compliments on others before taking any credit for himself.
Quick to analogise, he states: "The best presenters are presenters who are like quarterbacks because they're throwing it around, getting the best out of other people."
However, this significantly underplays the work which Ed puts into every episode of ITV's award-winning coverage, especially when it comes to the Royal meeting.
"For Royal Ascot I will get to the racecourse between 8:30 and 8:45 to set myself up in the media centre. If I can, I like to have all my prep done the night before.
"From a TV perspective, the bigger weeks you can start planning months in advance and we've already had some ideas for Royal Ascot this year. When it gets to the week itself, I'll start on a Monday when all the race entries come through. I have a book and an iPad on a desk in front of me where I will put in all of last year's facts and stats."
When asked about whether Royal Ascot is set apart from the rest, Ed enthuses: "Absolutely, it's so high profile.
"It's a totally different meeting to any other. During the morning, I'll normally be out filming then at 10:30 you get a list of carriages." (Unusual for a sports presenter, surely?) "Correct. Correct. The Royal procession is probably one of the hardest things I have to do all year. Add to that, you have to remember your buttonhole flower and where you've put your top hat! But it's such a buzz.
"All I'm trying to do is steer the show gently but at Royal Ascot it's more like steering a Formula One car."
As with his quips on TV, Ed's second razor-sharp analogy could not be more apt: "We move around a lot so we're constantly in the heart of the action - that's our ethos. At Royal Ascot you've got everybody watching from fashionistas to racing aficionados to people who watch racing once a year. You've got to have something for everybody.
"But then you never know what's going to happen in a day at Royal Ascot and we've had the odd disaster."
Pursuing this line, he continues: "My worst moment was actually at Royal Ascot last year when Dame Helen Mirren, who is a heroine of mine, was on the podium. We were chatting away when I got an instruction in my ear to ask her how her movie's going. And she goes, "what movie?""
"And so back in my ear comes, "the movie that's out at the moment, how's it going at the box office?" Again, she replied, "Well I haven't got a movie at the moment." So, I apologised and we went to adverts where someone who shall remain nameless revealed he thought that it was Dame Judi Dench!"
For every Dame Judi Dench, however, there have been a hundred golden moments.
"Gold Cup day of 2018 was the best broadcast I've ever been involved in in 20 years of broadcasting. Frankie [Dettori] winning the Gold Cup itself and receiving the prize from the Queen was just television gold. And to go from the sublime to the ridiculous you go from that to singing "O when the Saints" on top of the bandstand at 6pm. It's the closest I got to being Robbie Williams. It was just Ed heaven.
"We've been nominated for an award for that show which is extremely rewarding. The team are just a great bunch."
Of that team, Richard Hoiles, ITV's commentator-in-chief, is the first of many to receive unbridled praise. Ed says "he's my right-hand man, always making it easy for me. He's so generous with his time, he'll help me out with whatever I need."
Though that's not to say Hoiles is perfect:
"Where he can be annoying is he's so knowledgeable and such a good journalist that I'll have a line lined up for the end of the race and he'll nick it. And I'll be left thinking, ah! You absolute rascal!
"Then you've got Luke Harvey down at the start with his trainers and his top hat interacting brilliantly with the jockeys. Matt Chapman brings total vibrancy to the show and Francesca is just a joy to work with. I could single everyone out individually if I had time."
Unfortunately, time is of the essence, but I have one final question. Has the swap from Sky to ITV been worth it?
"It doesn't make a lot of sense to people but it makes complete sense to me. I'd been at Sky for 17 years and I fancied something different and a new challenge. Racing was always the job I'd dreamed of doing.
"A lot of people still say "oh look, that's the bloke from Sky." But then we won the BAFTA and I think that's changed a lot of perceptions."
Much of Ed's rhetoric blossomed with the drive to alter opinions. One opinion hasn't changed though: mine of Ed himself. The man you see on TV is exactly the man I interviewed. With him in the saddle, ITV's reins are in very good hands indeed.

 

A Stable Environment

In 2006, the BHA teamed up with Godolphin to form the Stud and Stable Staff Awards, honouring those who put in countless, tireless hours behind the scenes to look after the thoroughbreds we know and cherish. Now in its 14th year, it is a fabulous initiative that sheds light on an industry reliant on love and dedication far more than gambling and entertainment. In order to find out more about the inner workings of our sport for myself, I recently went up to the Quinn stables in Malton to meet a man named Otty and hear about the sport from his side of the curtain.
It is a fresh, wintery morning as I arrive at Highfield Stables, Malton. Blissfully, the sun is shining, bathing the glorious surroundings in a light befitting of my time there. Within a few minutes, I am introduced to Otty, Group winner Signora Cabello's groom.
"I'm Otty in the yard," he begins. "Nobody here knows my real name."
A man of mystery then and an intriguing start to our meeting. Yet, as I prepare for an interview full of euphemism and obscurity, the enigmatic stranger begins to open up. On the subject of his beginnings in racing, he says:
"I set off in racing at 15-years-old and I served my time with Frank Carr in Malton over at Whitehall Stables. I worked for 17 years in racing, then got married and had children so had to find another job!"
While Otty's more personal details remain elusive, he admits that he is 64 later this year. So, what happened in the interim between leaving racing and returning to John Quinn's yard back in Malton?
"I was in a club at Richard Fahey's and we used to go racing. I've also known John on and off for years, since he first came to Malton. I recently worked 15 years in the building trade then got made redundant there. Mr Quinn was kind enough to give me a job here as a yard person and I've been here for the last two years."
Otty refers to his boss as both John and Mr Quinn throughout our interview, never able to make up his mind. It evidences the high regard he is held in as both a person and a trainer. Asked what the most important factor of getting a horse prepared to race, Otty's answer is emphatic:
"Mr Quinn. He trains them to a T does John. We just look after them and make sure they're all well and healthy and everything like that."
Modesty is an honourable attribute as I sense Otty is downplaying his role. I ask him to extrapolate on his work within the yard and again, he ensures I'm aware it's a team effort.
"Conn [the "second in command"] will start at 5am to feed. He starts putting some on the walker at 6am while myself and a couple of others muck out from 6 onwards. The rest of the team are here for 7. They tack up and ride out.
"While they're out riding the rest of us don't stop. We keep mucking out and taking horses on and off the walker."
Surely those early starts make him yearn for a different life from time to time?
"Ah! You're kidding me! I've been used to getting up early all my life."
There is no doubt that the team atmosphere and genuine affection for the horses are inescapable joys of working within racing. However, for Otty especially, there is one horse who stands out above the rest: Signora Cabello, known lovingly as "Mary" after she took Royal Ascot's Queen Mary Stakes as a two-year-old last season. Now in her third year, I enquire as to the wellbeing of the apple of Otty's eye:
"Our hopes are very high. Mary's got a good mind on her a great temperament. She had a break after she was in the paddock at Newmarket and she's just coming nicely back into training now.
"She's just very laid back. That's what's stood her in such good stead for all those big races. If you ever see her racing, she takes everything in her stride. She's never batted an eyelid, even at Royal Ascot."
Signora Cabello's carefree nature not only explains her exceptional levels of performance, but also the regard she's held in by those who look after her.
"From Mary being broken in, and she's a three-year-old now so we're hoping she's trained on, she's never had a good hiding, she's never been ill-treated. Anything she wants she gets near enough. She's treated like a proper lady."
I can confirm first-hand that truer words can hardly be spoken. I visit "Mary" in her box after the interview and she is pristinely conditioned, receiving any attention she desires. Any detractors of racing need only visit Highfield to recognise that a thoroughbred could never be as loved elsewhere.
"All they [opponents of the sport] see is three minutes on television," continues Otty. "They are the best cared for animals in the world, the best treated animals ever. Anyone who says different doesn't know what they're talking about."
Moreover, the bond between horse and human is not a brief, disposable fling. Connections are formed as soon as horses arrive and for Otty and co, the ability of Signora Cabello was apparent from day one:
"She was down at Settrington [at Quinn's Bellwood Cottage stables] first off. Jason Hart rode her there. He came in one morning and said she showed a bit of spark.
"She ran first time out at Beverley and she finished fourth. She ran very green, but she finished strongly."
Her racecourse form was not immediate, but soon dreams begun to focus on Royal Ascot.
"Her second run, she went to Bath, won her race there and after that her work really improved. She has one particular gallops where she works and when she sees them, she really starts to come alive."
Otty's face seems to light up at the thought of his superstar's work at home, let alone her victories. Goodness knows what it must have been like preparing her for the Royal meeting.
"We knew she had a chance, we just wanted things to be right for her. She'd won a Listed race at York narrowly, but she came past the line not doing a stroke with her ears pricked up, having a look around.
"It was a Group race," he recalls, misty-eyed at the mention of such a high-profile contest. "And with that amount of runners, gosh…but she doesn't know what she's going to be facing!"
On the day itself, it was Conn and not Otty who was charged with the safe conveyance of Signora Cabello through the growing hubbub of fans packed into Ascot last Summer. Not that Otty's own experience was any less romantic:
"There was a group us watching in the pub, shouting and screaming! The winning feeling was amazing, just brilliant."
I suggest it must be fairly indescribable as Otty's words begin to falter. He nods, but with a telling grin that expresses far more than language could tell me.
Signora Cabello's adventures for the season did not end there, however. Her Queen Mary victory, to an extent, was only the beginning. Thereafter, she travelled abroad winning another Group race in France and placing in a Group One there.
Nevertheless, it is that afternoon at Royal Ascot that sticks in Otty's memory and fingers are crossed for a repeat visit.
"Hopes are, according to John, to go to Ascot again," he admits gleefully. "The buzz the day after especially when it's something like that…but the camaraderie is brilliant anyway."
It is certainly refreshing to see. Young and old communicate and share a joke as if bosom buddies for years and when quizzed about the upcoming Godolphin Stud and Stable Staff Awards, Otty makes two things clear:
"I think they're a really good thing." However, he enthuses far more keenly that "whether there's an award or not, it should be noted that there are lads and lasses who've spent all their life in racing and it's not for money. You know it was -9 degrees last week when they were riding out? And we work Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year's Day."
On those days, you would imagine Otty would dream of a morning off? Not a bit of it.
"No absolutely not. It's just a great life."
There is no doubt then, that the GSSSA are as fitting an awards ceremony as there is in racing. The likes of Otty and so many others work day by day without desiring any recognition for their toil, freezing temperatures or otherwise. It is impossible to honour them all and based on what I've seen at Highfield, Otty's words ring true; that everybody who works behind the scenes in racing warrants some form of trophy.
It is only fitting that the GSSSA honours some of these marvellous people. For the hours they work and the care they exude, the staff at Highfield and Otty in particular, would receive my vote in a heartbeat.