The end of racing tips: Why Radio 4’s gambling advice was killed off

Garry Richardson, Today's current sports presenter and the driver of the tips, is retiring after 43 years in September
Garry Richardson, Today's current sports presenter and the driver of the tips, is retiring after 43 years in September - Mike King

Saturday’s final two racing tips for Radio’s 4’s Today programme, a tradition going back 47 years which came to an abrupt end on Monday, were perhaps the most prescient it ever gave; Missed the Cut in the 3.05 at Ascot and End Zone in the 2.55 at Redcar, a meeting it would never normally give a tip for during Royal Ascot.

Missed the Cut, an 11-1 shot, finished last and End Zone, a 20-1 outsider, trailed in 10th at the Cleveland track – but winning was never really the point of Radio 4’s racing tips. It was never someone telling you the date of the next election and giving you a 24-hour window to get on.

But you do not have to be Sherlock Holmes to work out that in its final two tips, it was giving the sport of kings the heads up that on Monday morning, Amol Rajan would announce it was going the same way as the classified football results on Sports Report in 2022 – a comfort blanket for the nation’s sports fans whether you liked football or not.

In a funny way, there is an irony in the racing tips being axed now. They were introduced in 1977, at a time of great national gloom and doom when the Winter of Discontent was hoving into view over the horizon – a era with remarkable similarities to 2024 – specifically to lighten up a programme which was otherwise wall-to-wall bad news and to provide a bit of a smile.

It gave Today’s then-presenters Brian Redhead and John Timpson a moment to breathe and have a bit of banter with the sports presenter. It was never intended to be a tipping service but rather a bit of levity with a few silly horse names. The fact that it was reckoned to be half as successful as the sport’s regular newspaper tipsters is absolutely irrelevant and as for encouraging betting, it probably put more off.

Russia may be invading Ukraine, it may take 10 hours for an ambulance to arrive, the England football team may have developed the most powerful sleeping drug known to man but, hey, Brian The Snail is running in a five furlong sprint at Beverley.

In time, it has also become an important punctuation point in the programme along with ‘Thought For The Day,’ the news on the hour, the sport at 25 minutes past and the business bulletins. It gave some cadence and familiarity to the start of the day. Maybe its presenters might find they miss it more than they thought they would. Certainly, long-time listener Mark Crawford will no longer be able to delight both presenters and audience every December by adding up just how much punters would have lost had they bet a pound on each tip. In 2022, it was £69.

There were strong rumours at the start of 2023 that this was coming but it was clearly the subject of a BBC conversation and, for lots of reasons, racing is now having a long, self-conscious look in the mirror.

Is this just a case of the BBC now having completely lost any sense of humour it ever had? Does it think racing is a modern day irrelevance despite it still boasting the second largest annual attendance for sport after football? Or now that more people bet on football, should it just be giving Manchester City as a tip every Saturday?

But a BBC insider suggested it was nothing to do with betting’s bad rap at the moment (indeed if that was the case why would they continue providing tips for Cheltenham, Aintree and Ascot?) but is more to do with Garry Richardson, Today’s current sports presenter and the driver of the tips, retiring after 43 years in September. A younger crowd of producers have seen the opportunity to get rid of what they consider an irrelevance.

But the official line is that the tips aren’t stopping, they’re just not going to be delivered every day as the range of sports covered by the programme is now so great, it’s unbalanced to have a dedicated daily slot for racing.

“After careful consideration, we have decided to focus racing tips on the big races across the year,” says a BBC spokesperson. “The Today programme remains committed to covering racing news and this will continue on the programme’s sports bulletins.”

Whatever the real reason, it is bad timing for racing and many within the sport will regard this as kicking a man when he is down.

It comes at the end of a month in which vacancies have arisen at the top of three of its biggest organisations, the British Horseracing Authority, the Jockey Club and the Racehorse Owners Association. And in terms of the face of the sport, no one is filling Frankie Dettori’s boots anytime soon either.

On Sunday, it was also announced that three of its biggest flat races, the 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas and next month’s King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes have lost their long term Qatari sponsor, Qipco.

But it is not all woe. Had you been at a vintage Ascot last week, you would have wondered what the fuss was about and its CFO is likely to be counting the money well into the new year. Wathnan Racing, another Qatari outfit, has spent northwards of £25m on horses in the past year acquiring a seat at racing’s top table and the King and Queen are far more invested in the sport than anyone ever imagined they would be.

“It’s not the end of the world but it’s a big, big pity they are getting rid of something so harmless and so enjoyable,” says former BBC racing correspondent, Cornelius Lysaght. “I always remember one BHA chief executive saying that it was unbelievable the sport had this injection into the nation’s ears every morning. It was an awareness that racing existed for a sport whose profile and relevance is going through the floor.”

Of course for those working on the frontline, they could never hear the tips because they were delivered when the horses were being exercised but Gillie Rowland-Clark, a long-time owner and Today listener, says she would have mixed emotions.

“I really enjoyed listening to them, they weren’t accurate but they were fun,” she says. “You just didn’t want your horse tipped by them – it was the kiss of death.”