Irish horse racing is to feature in a new pilot show being produced for Netflix modelled on the successful Formula One documentary series Drive to Survive.
The horse racing equivalent, with the working title Ride to Survive, focuses on the 2022 flat racing season. It will feature Irish trainer Joseph O’Brien and counterparts from the US, UK and France. It is being produced by the UK-based Drive to Survive makers Box to Box Films.
O’Brien was filmed at his base in Co Kilkenny last week, with producers now preparing to shoot at the Pegasus World Cup in Florida next weekend — one of the world’s richest races.
Leading trainers from the UK and the US have also been lined up to take part in the show. Aga Khan trainer Francis-Henri Graffard was recently filmed for the production at his headquarters in Chantilly, France.
Sources with knowledge of the plans for the show said it would aim to follow big names in the sport who are likely to have runners involved at marquee international events later this year — such as the Breeders’ Cup — and chart their stories throughout the season.
Box To Box Films is producing the pilot to give Netflix officials in the US a sense of how the series would look on screen before they formally agree to commission it.
Sky Sports Racing has also been heavily involved in the production, working closely with Box To Box Films and facilitating meetings and relationships with potential participants for the show from within the sport.
Box to Box Films and Sky Sports Racing declined to comment when contacted last week.
O’Brien said he hopes the documentary series, if approved by Netflix, will bring Irish horse racing to the hearts and minds of millions of new viewers worldwide.
Drive to Survive has been credited with boosting interest in Formula One — almost doubling the sport’s US viewership figures between 2018 and last year according to broadcaster ESPN — drawing a younger audience and attracting greater attendances at race circuits.
“There is a lot happening in a horse race, just like in Formula One, that doesn’t get captured in the broadcast of a race,” O’Brien said.
“That really struck me about Drive To Survive and we can probably bring that extra insight to people now. It can attract a new audience, a younger audience.
“Maybe an interest from people who haven’t considered going to a race meeting or hadn’t considered horse racing as a sport that has the storylines and things going on behind the scenes — the work that goes into getting a horse to the track, the characters and people, their stories and how they got to where they are.”
O’Brien said some of the appeal of Drive to Survive was the unprecedented access it gave viewers and after seeing how the filming was done at his own yard he expects this to be replicated with horse racing.
“They were here all weekend from Friday evening to Sunday and filmed pretty much everything, from running in the yard first thing in the morning, meeting with people around the yard, some of the jockeys.
“They saw the horses being trained and then there was a pretty extensive interview I did. They also spent time with some of our staff members, interviewed them and shadowed them for the weekend.
“In racing, there are some great characters behind the scenes and great stories there, but in horse racing the horses are the star of the show so they will obviously feature prominently as well.”