“When you start with a blank sheet, you’ve got to get your cards right. At the end of the day, the sport we’re covering is horseracing… But we were very specific about how we wanted to do that, and we were lucky that the people we wanted were available and up for it.”
Lucky in a sense, but unfortunately for 10, their timing’s off. The network returns to the Cup just as public scrutiny around horseracing has reached a new high, fuelled by the two-year investigation from ABC’s 7.30, aired last month, that uncovered the cruelty behind the sport’s glamorous facade. Is it a fraught time to be celebrating horseracing? Will 10’s broadcast team have to address the tension on air?
“I think that’s for the industry to address that in the shape that they are. We as broadcasters can only control what we can control,” says White.
“We’re not only presenters of the sport; we have a lot of people who are heavily invested in it, and heavily invested in the animals themselves. I’m a part-owner of a horse; Britt [Taylor], who is our horseback interviewer, she lives and breathes these beautiful animals every day. In terms of addressing what was featured in the 7.30 report, that’s for the industry. Our job is to showcase exactly what this event is – it’s four stellar days of racing and entertainment.”
Horseracing’s darker aspects are “certainly nothing for us to avoid,” adds White.
“Even before the [7.30] report came out, we were taking a really good look at the other side of the industry as well, the unsung heroes, right down to the dentists, the bloke who looks after the horses’ teeth before they get out there.
“The industry as a whole has put its hand up and said we need to look at this, and our job is to report that fairly and accurately and showcase exactly what’s in front of us.”
Animal rights activists are sceptical. Elio Coletti, campaign director at the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses, hopes 10’s coverage contributes to the current discussion about industry reform.
“I think it’s important that they do address it,” he says. “To pretend this whole discussion hasn’t happened isn’t going to serve the industry or the horses very well. It’s a very serious problem that the racing industry has and they need to face these problems head on and find solutions for them.”
Colletti says that when “less than two per cent of racehorses even earn enough money to cover their costs”, emotional videos showcasing the apparent bond between big-race horses and their teams isn’t enough.
“That’s something I’d like to not see done by Channel 10 because all they’ll be doing is giving the impression that owners and trainers care about their horses when really what they care about is the return on their investment,” he says.
“What I would like to see Channel 10 do is perhaps do a story on the horsery homes, the ones that actually save these horses from the knackeries (slaughterhouses) and saleyards where they end up, and the tireless work so many people around the country do in cleaning up the race industry’s mess.”
10’s Melbourne Cup Carnival coverage begins with Saturday’s broadcast of AAMI Victoria Derby Day.
Robert Moran is a culture reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age