Matt Chapman opens up on broadcasting from empty racecourses with the Cheltenham Festival behind closed doors

THIS time last year I was in bed with my ITV colleague and chief Ed Chamberlin.

Twelve months on due to lockdown I haven’t been in bed with anyone for ages! Oh my.

The Covid pandemic has hit many people in many ways, and most of them negative.

But it’s also made us appreciate what we once had a lot more.

Of course I was only in bed with Ed for a sketch on the ITV racing show from Cheltenham, but looking back it’s incredible to think that just a few days later everything was shut down.

Workwise my life hasn’t changed that much, and in that respect I have been one of the lucky ones.

Yes, of course racing stopped for a few weeks, but due to great work at the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) the industry was soon up and running again.

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Broadcasting, though, at an empty racecourse – and sometimes at a track that’s not even hosting a meeting – has been an eerie business.

Although I have noticed that those jockeys and trainers who have been about have probably talked more freely than ever.

They have played a huge part in entertaining us all.


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And the atmosphere of a crowd, the hustle and bustle, has been sorely missed.

Equally, the traffic in and out of tracks has been absent. That has been quite good!

So Cheltenham 2021 behind closed doors is going to be crazily different.

I’ve already filled in countless forms for ITV. They basically question me about who I’ve been mixing with and whether I show any symptoms of Covid-19.

I will also have to fill a document in for the BHA every day at Cheltenham, as I have done for all the meetings I have attended for SKY and ITV.

Temperature checks on track are taken every time I enter a racecourse, and wristbands confirming I have been checked over are mandatory.

For the four days of Cheltenham I will be isolated with a camera man close to the winning post.

I will be in charge of betting and interviewing the winning jockeys. I love that responsibility, as the immediate reaction of riders can be some of the great TV produced in the week.

Imagine Jamie Moore wins the Champion Hurdle on Goshen! The emotion…

Of course, the roar of the crowd will be badly missed. And the bookmaker pitches will be empty.

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On course bookmakers have been forgotten by most during the crisis. They bring much to a racecourse. They haven’t been forgotten by me.

The questions I ask those jockeys will hopefully add to their feeling of achievement. No crowd will mean less buzz.

But I hope once I’m done with them they will feel the buzz. The sense of a job well executed should come with any Cheltenham victory.

I will be in a very privileged position to be able to watch Cheltenham 2021 live. I don’t in any way take it for granted.

And I have to be careful.

The eyes of the world will be on Prestbury Park, especially as the racecourse got plenty of stick for racing in 2020, for all that most sensible people realise the bad press was unfair and unwarranted.

Face masks will have to be worn at all times when not broadcasting. Social distancing will have to be kept. Even the hotel experience with the team will be a very lonely one.

But I’m not complaining in any way. The sport will be as good as ever. The horses don’t know about lockdown.

It’s just a week where we find out who is best of the best in the world of jumps racing. I can’t wait.

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