Inside the game: the Grand National

UK: The Grand National, one of the world’s biggest and most iconic horse racing events, also happens to be one of the biggest annual OBs of a single event in Europe, with host broadcaster, the BBC, estimating it’s up there in complexity with the very biggest golf tournaments.

Won this year by jockey Jason Maguire on relative outsider Ballabriggs, the coverage of this year’s race involved 49 cameras covering around 60 camera positions.

“The cabling starts at minus 12 days, and these days is mainly fibre,” explains SIS Live’s Dave Chapman, Lead Engineering Manager on the event. “The technical rig starts on the Sunday before, with the Director’s Look-See on the Wednesday afternoon before the Thursday racing gets underway.

“There have been no significant changes over the past three years, apart from that it went high def last year,” he continues. “In terms of speciality cameras, we use Arri’s Hi-Motion in several positions, and there’s also a Cammotion Vortex Camera that operates through nigh on 360 degrees to a height of about ten metres, plus helicopter coverage as well.

There are two courses at Aintree, necessitating that several radio cameras and their operators are shuttled backwards and forwards between their respective positions by buggy and bike.

“We have a very heavy commitment to radio cameras and run about 14 units,” says Chapman. “One of the problems we had to overcome this year was that there were far more 3G masts than we’ve ever seen before up at Aintree, so we were having to use a lot of filters to clean up the incoming pictures.

“When we do our final tech checks on the Wednesday afternoon, there are no punters, there are no horses, and there is no racing. Radio links are very much a black art and the situation from Wednesday afternoon is totally different to that on Thursday when the meeting starts. 80,000 people with mobile phones can make a difference to your plans, as can a horse. If one of those is standing between your camera and the receiver, it’s almost like it’s been designed to soak up radio waves.”

SIS deploys two scanners at the event: one does the main programme and the other looks after the 20 minute programme within the programme which hosts the rerun of the entire race in slo motion, including three or four angles of every fence.

“In terms of complexity, I would say it’s up there with the biggest of the big,” says Chapman. “I was talking with Barbara Slater, BBC Director of Sport, and there was some debate about whether the National was bigger than the Open Golf – it’s certainly faster in presentation!”

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