16 Feb What Are the Biggest Televised Horse Races in the UK?
Horse racing remains the second largest spectator sport in the UK, behind football. Be it flat racing or national hunt racing – more commonly referred to as jumps racing – the sport’s popularity has maintained its high level in recent years. In fact, in a recent study, half of the top ten attended sporting events in the UK were horse racing meetings. For those that cannot make it to the track live, however, all of the big race meetings are available to watch on terrestrial TV. So, what are the biggest televised races in the UK? And where can you find them?
The Grand National remains by far the most popular televised horse race in the UK, with the latest renewal seeing 9.6 million viewers at its peak. The Aintree ante-post betting for the 2021 race has Tiger Roll among the favourites, with the horse bidding for a third successive Grand National win. Whilst that 9.6 million TV viewing figure suggests that 1 in 7 of the UK population watched the Grand National in 2019, the total views worldwide account for almost 600 million people – showing the race’s global reach. In the UK, ITV has held the rights to air the Grand National since 2017. ITV recently managed to secure a new deal with British racing for the channel to continue to cover the race until 2023 – securing the race’s spot on terrestrial TV for the immediate future.
Whilst the Grand National is the biggest race for the casual UK horse racing fan, it is difficult to eclipse the four-day Cheltenham Festival in terms of a sustained meeting. On ITV’s terrestrial coverage, each day of the 2020 Cheltenham Festival saw over 1.2 million viewers at its peak – with Wednesday’s card seeing them have more than 15% of the total television audience. Over a quarter of a million people flock to Gloucestershire for the four-day Festival, making it by far the most attended national hunt meeting in the calendar.
In terms of overall footfall, however, it is tough to eclipse Royal Ascot. Around 300,000 people attend Royal Ascot every year, making it the largest flat meeting in the UK. In terms of quality, Royal Ascot’s five days feature 19 Group races, including eight Group One’s – the highest level of flat racing. The average audience figure across Royal Ascot in 2020 was 980,000, a 14% increase on their 2019 figures, with each individual day’s average audience being the highest seen for eight years. In terms of non-terrestrial coverage, Sky Sports Racing has held the rights to broadcast Royal Ascot from 2019. Sky Sports Racing recently extended this partnership to guarantee them coverage of Royal Ascot until 2024.
Whilst there is ITV coverage of live racing every weekend, Aintree’s Grand National meeting, the Cheltenham Festival and Royal Ascot are clearly three of the biggest events in not just horse racing, but the overall UK sporting calendar. Whilst these meetings are also available on non-terrestrial sites such as Sky Sports Racing and Racing TV, it seems imperative to the long-term success of British racing that racing remains covered in some capacity on free-to-air broadcasts.