Matt Chapman is one of horse racing’s most recognisable characters – bombastic, opinionated, enthusiastic, controversial – he has been called all these things – and more – at one time of another.
One thing is not in doubt though – Chapman is hugely popular amongst the punters. Today we look at the “People’s Presenter” and what makes him tick.
Matt achieved a long term ambition in September 2016 when he landed a job as presenter with ITV Racing after the transfer of horse racing coverage from Channel 4. Previously known for his sometimes controversial style as racecourse reporter and studio presenter for At The Races (ATR), he has built up a big following amongst horse racing fans, sometimes for what he gets wrong as well as when he is right.
Matt first became interested in horse racing when he was very young. He was attracted to the sport as he saw it as a challenge. He would weigh up the pros and cons of the various runners in a race and try to come up with the winner as if it was a puzzle to be solved. It gave him a great feeling when he got it right. The speed and the danger of horse racing was also a fascination and one that he still feels today.
His first job in sport came soon after leaving university, in fact the first day after he left university he joined the International Racing Bureau (IBR). Based at Newmarket, the IBR promotes international horse races globally, providing services for trainers, breeders and owners. He joined the editorial department as the junior member.
It was there that he gained his deep knowledge of international racing. While at university he had worked part time at the Independent newspaper on the news desk where he worked with the well-known sports writer John Cobb. His other mentors were Greg Wood, now the racing correspondent for the Guardian plus Paul Hayward and Richard Edmondson of the Telegraph.
After leaving the IBR Matt worked for the next eight years on the news desk of the Racing Post. Keen to enter the presentation business, he managed to persuade George Irvine, who ran the Racing Channel, to give him a screen test. The rest is history.
Awards and Accolades
While happy to have achieved what he has in his career in horse racing, Matt feels particularly proud of being able to describe Sir Henry Cecil as a friend as well as being voted the Horserace Writers and Photographers Association (HWPA) 2010 Broadcaster of the Year along with winning the 2010 Racing Post Broadcasters’ World Cup.
Matt hasn’t always found his career path to have been easy, though he knows he has many fans for which he feels proud and lucky. What he does lack is a feeling of job security. He works as a freelance reporter which means that he never knows when or where he is going to work. For many years two unfulfilled ambitions were to work on the Chanel 4 Racing Show and to commentate on horse racing; something he would have loved to have done. Now that he is working for the new ITV racing, he has essentially achieved the first of these as ITV is Chanel 4 Racing’s new home.
Taking a Contrary View – Even to himself
In fact, Matt sometimes feels that as a presenter he is fairly irrelevant as he says “People who are interested in the sport will watch whoever it is who is presenting”. Whether that is false modesty or genuine insecurity is difficult to assess, but he always likes to make his presence felt even if that means being controversial. On another occasion he expressed an opposing view, saying that the presenters are essential, after all, he says, people watch X-factor to hear what Simon Cowell has to say, not to watch the singers. Fundamentally Matt knows that he is a top line presenter, but he still worries about the future and what it might have in store for him.
He has little respect for tipsters and racing pundits and is highly sceptical of their ability to really pick winners. He says that if they were really as good as they say they are at picking winners then they wouldn’t be pundits. He also says the most enjoyable aspect of his work is actually being paid to watch the sport that he really loves. Of course Matt loves to predict winners, but that doesn’t always go to plan. Some famous mistakes where when he said Pour Moi couldn’t win the Derby, which it went on to do so in style, and that it was impossible for William’s Wishes to win as Ascot which it did on a sodden track.
Tools of the Trade
Matt’s advice for any aspiring racing commentators is to have a clear voice, to be able the think quickly and to be able to express themselves well. You need to be able to continue a conversation with one person while another is screaming in your ear. You also need to have the knack of asking the right questions and to be able to make your guests feel at ease. He makes a point of watching every race that is run on every day of the week, and he has little time for racing presenters who don’t follow that discipline.
On horse racing he believes that much should be done to improve the spectacle of the sport, in particular by bringing the characters of horse racing to the people. He thinks that racecourses should be improved substantially as often they are the worst place to watch horse racing. And, he says, the food served at racecourses is usually of poor quality and overpriced. The loos could be better too. He is an advocate of social media as it gives ordinary people the opportunity to communicate with jockeys and trainers, something that previously would have been impossible. The best place for news on racing, he says, is Twitter.
Looking to the Future
Now aged 35, Matt can clearly look forward to many years ahead of being involved in the sport that has underpinned most of his life. Charismatic, controversial and lots of fun, he is one of the more acclaimed horse racing presenters of his generation. There isn’t much about horse racing he doesn’t know.