Ian Monk: Royal gift horse fails to romp home

It was one of the great PR gift horses of all time. Yet, like so many good things on the turf, the Queen's Derby contender, Carlton House, got beaten. With its eclipse went many of the dreams of horse racing's newly hired image makers.

Ian Monk: Royal gift horse fails to romp home
Ian Monk: Royal gift horse fails to romp home

Their brief is to create a new narrative to update the image and relevance of what is perceived by many as being an elitist sport competing in a modern world.

Ironically a first ever Epsom Derby winner for the Queen would have made their job far easier.

The Queen is, of course, exactly the sort of old-fashioned owner whose pre-eminence on the turf should logically cause modernisers consternation. Her ownership of priceless equine bloodlines depends on her hereditary privilege and position. Monarchs and champion racehorses generally owe everything to breeding.

And yet horse racing's new image makeover team knows that royalty is currently one of the great brands of UK plc. The royal wedding, Prince Philip's 90th birthday and next year's Diamond Jubilee have contributed to burgeoning brand equity of the House of Windsor. Sealing it with a royal Derby win would have forged an unbeatable commercial partnership for horse racing. No multi-million-pound sponsorship deal could have touched it.

Racing, while rich in equine heroes, boasts few human ones whose public personas instinctively endear in the mass media age. The wonderfully ebullient Frankie Dettori apart, most jockeys tend to be taciturn on camera. The level of evasiveness displayed by most trainers in media interviews makes Sir Alex Ferguson look positively forthcoming.

Racing's new PR strategists also face a challenge to counter the perception that most decent racehorses are owned by foreigners (they are) and that the British turf is merely a playground for wealthy Arabs and others.

For horse racing the stigma of elitism remains. Yet, ironically, its greatest PR coup would have been for the sport to tap deeper into the heritage of the monarchy.

If only that Derby favourite had run faster, the odds of broadening the sport's appeal would have shortened.

Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and a former executive at the Daily Mail and The Sun.

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