Sunday 23 June should have been a day when every horse enthusiast in the UK was glued to the telly to watch one of the most awe-inspiring competitions in the equine calendar. I am, of course, talking about the Hickstead Derby.
Unfortunately, the BBC dropped the rights in 2010 – so unless you have Sky or were prepared to pay £9.99 for a 24-hour pass for Sky Go, you missed out. You could, of course, have watched the European Team Athletics Championships from Gateshead on BBC 2, or – don’t forget to hold your breath in excitement – repeats of Homes Under the Hammer and Escape to the Country on BBC 1.
The funny thing is, that the success of our Olympics teams at Greenwich brought thousands more converts to equestrian sports other than racing. And if you remember, it was all about building a legacy.
So why did the BBC bow out of screening such a fantastic, atmospheric competition? Sadly, it’s because the media still looks on dressage, show jumping and eventing as unimportant. If it doesn’t involve kicking or hitting a ball, forget it: to add insult to injury, BBC 2 even included an hour-long slot devoted to a review of Wimbledon 2012. That’s right, last year’s Wimbledon.
Television coverage of the Olympics equestrian events as superb. Clare Balding made it exciting and accessible and I lost count of the number of non-horsey relatives and friends who raved about the dressage. I don’t think any of us would expect massive coverage of dressage, though clever commentators like Judy Harvey made it accessible and interesting. But how frustrating that the BBC can’t capitalise on the superb show jumping in Greenwich by screening arguably the most entertaining and exciting annual show jumping competition in the world.
It’s equally sad that this year, the Derby had no sponsors. We’re living in tough times, but you can bet the last penny of your licence fee that if it had terrestrial coverage, a sponsor would have stepped forward.
Will the situation change? Probably not, unless Clare Balding becomes Director General of the BBC. Now wouldn’t THAT be a good idea…