Go Racing consortium chief Christopher Stoddart's high-wire business style has paid off now that the racing rights deal has been agreed.
If the past month is anything to go by Go Racing chief executive Christopher Stoddart is in for a bumpy ride in the saddle of Britain's biggest horseracing TV consortium.

Earlier this month Stoddart was staring into an abyss. The newly appointed chief executive of horseracing rights consortium Go Racing had left the relative safety of GMTV to take charge of a company that appeared to have no future.

The consortium, which comprises Channel 4, BSkyB and Arena Leisure, had planned to close a£387m deal to secure British horseracing on TV for 10 years.

But a last-minute failure to secure access to crucial pre-race information, vital for operating betting services, with the British Horseracing Board (BHB) led to reports that the deal had collapsed. C4 threatened to pull out of the sport altogether.

All of Stoddart's negotiating skills were tested during tense through-the-night talks as Go Racing locked horns with the BHB in an attempt to nail down a licence for information on the runners and riders.

Arena Leisure chairman Graham Parr was also at that meeting and was impressed with Stoddart: 'I think he is a highly professional broadcaster with good business acumen which is the ideal complement to what we are looking for in Go Racing.'

Up to this point Stoddart's career has been like a game of draughts.

After graduating in philosophy he went to work for the Department of the Environment in the water and sewage division. 'It was my first mistake,' he says. Needless to say he did not stay there long and in 1988 joined Tyne Tees Television where he was director of resources. He then made his third career move becoming managing director of start-up firm Satellite Information Services, which provides TV images to bookmakers.

It was his first taste of running a brand new company - and one with a disparate set of shareholders: bookmakers Tote, Clive Hollick's MAI (which later became United Business Media) and the Racecourse Association.

Four years later he went back into TV as managing director of the Sunrise TV consortium, which controversially outbid TV-am to take the breakfast television licence and became GMTV, another company with a mixed bunch of shareholders. He remained there for almost a decade.

It is this mix of experience - launching a company, managing the interests of powerful shareholders and having been both on the media and horseracing side of the fence - that his backers feel makes him a strong candidate to take charge of Go Racing.

'In his first month he has demonstrated his quality in all these areas,' says C4 director of strategy David Brooke.

Arena Leisure non-executive director Graham Parr echoes praise for Stoddart's tenacity and adds that he is a good negotiator: 'He's been very much involved in the talks and doesn't just see the TV side, he considers the business side of it as well.'

But some observers say Stoddart has been out of racing for too long.

One racing source claims: 'Stoddart is a TV man essentially. He has come in very late in the day (in the deal) and he is not really a horseracing man.'

Even Stoddart admits that he is not a horseracing aficionado and only occasionally goes to the races as a part of corporate events. But he claims that his move from GMTV was overdue and that he had fulfilled his ambition to push the broadcaster into profits.

Chance seems to be a theme in Stoddart's life. He says that life at GMTV 'never seemed that safe' and he was attracted to Go Racing because of the uncertainty in the sport. 'I like the risk in it,' he says coolly.

'(Go Racing) is ambitious and involves a lot of different platforms and ideas that need a lot of thinking through and a lot of delivering.'

GMTV finance director Simon Davey recalls the competitive side of Stoddart.

Whilst cycling round the Dead Sea for charity in 1996 Stoddart was in joint first place out of 90 riders as they approached the finishing line.

He says: 'Chris was wearing the yellow jersey as we arrived in Jerusalem. He is extremely competitive and has a wicked sense of humour.'

With as much drama as a photo finish at the Grand National, Stoddart's Go Racing seems to have finally sealed a deal. But you can't rule anything out in this sport.