Hailing from Southampton, Lee McKenzie has forged a career in Broadcasting that has taken him from local BBC Radio via Goodwood Racecourse to National Radio with TalkSport2. Now he works with broadcasting legends Ray Stubbs and Rupert Bell. Lee tells us how it all started and his journey to TalkSport 2….
1 – Can you tell us a little bit about yourself please?
I was born and educated in Southampton, and still live there – but if that seems a little unadventurous, I do get about a lot! For the first half of my working life I split my time between horse racing and being a local radio DJ and news/sport presenter on BBC Radio Solent; more recently I have concentrated mainly on the racing.
That means commentating (I decided to stop working on the national circuit six years ago but still commentate for international services and at a few point-to-points), racecourse presentation and racing shows on talkSPORT2 radio.
2 – How did your interest in racing start?
From my schooldays I loved the Grand National, and when I was in my teens I began to watch the racing regularly on TV – it was BBC and the ITV7 in those days. A neighbour, called Joe, friend of my parents, used to drop in every Saturday morning with a copy of the Sporting Life and we would discuss the afternoon’s action before he headed for the bookies.
I was studying maths at the time, and most of my contemporaries were destined for careers as accountants or actuaries, but by the time I was 18 I knew I wanted to be a sports journalist and commentator.
3 – You present race days at courses, how did this come about?
I knew the Goodwood managing director Rod Fabricius from my previous work in the press room and through commentating there. About 15 years ago he needed someone to make the announcements over the PA and I quickly agreed to it.
It was a new challenge for me but I enjoyed it, and that led to similar work at other racecourses. These days the tracks I work at the most are Fontwell, Goodwood (still), Haydock, Windsor and York, but I do occasional meetings at several others.
4 – You have a Radio show on talkSPORT 2 on Saturday and also presenting race coverage from the biggest meetings, how did you get that gig?
I was approached by Racing For Change (now Great British Racing) to join the team of freelances who provided a daily racing preview for the Alan Brazil Breakfast Show on talkSPORT. I was delighted because I was already a regular listener.
When talkSPORT2 was launched just over two years ago, with a remit to cover a broad range of sports, I was asked to contribute and to present the weekly racing show “The Racing Club” at 8am on Saturday mornings. The station was born on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival, and I was the third voice on air after presenter Ian Danter and racing correspondent Rupert Bell!
5 – You have the privilege of working with Ray Stubbs and Rupert Bell, what have you learnt from then and do you have a nice anecdote about them for us?
Ray is an iconic sports broadcaster who manages to combine gravitas with easy charm; when I first worked with him we were squeezed behind a counter in the corner of a private box at Cheltenham.
All week punters kept coming up to us asking if they could put a bet on! I’ve known Rupert for years – he has the most amazing ability to communicate with his audience on so many different sports. After he had broadcast his epic commentary on Big Orange (trained by his brother Michael) winning the 2017 Gold Cup at Ascot, he rang me to ask if it sounded ok. I told him it sounded fantastic!
6 – What is your favourite course to visit?
I have so many “favourite” courses – the five I work at for starters. All different but special in their own ways. Fontwell was the first course I ever visited – at the age of 14 with my parents on the late May Bank Holiday, and every race meeting there reminds me of thatl. It’s a lovely track.
I also have a soft spot for Brighton, and the Grand National meeting at Aintree is outstanding. I’m crazy about the National. It was the race that began my interest in the sport, and just arriving at the gates brings all those early memories rushing back. There are another 20 or 30 I could name while I’m at it.
7- If you could own a race horse PAST or PRESENT, who would it be and why?
I’ve never wanted to own a racehorse – I would be a nervous wreck watching it, especially over jumps. But kudos to all those who do – we couldn’t do it without them. My most recent equine hero has been Megalala – I’ve seen him so many times, especially at Brighton, and it’s incredible that trainer John Bridger has kept him going so long, even extending to a win at the age of 15. He’s tried to retire the old boy several times, but Megalala wouldn’t have it. However, I feel it’s unlikely he’ll race again now.
8 – What advice would you give to youngsters looking to get into Race Presenting?
Be yourself – by all means pick up ideas from watching others, but don’t copy them. Nobody want to see an unintentional Christina Aguilera or Olly Murs impersonator on X-Factor – individuality is essential.
Don’t forget the basics, because if you’re too far outside the box you’ll get on everyone’s nerves. And talk close to the microphone, almost as if you’re eating it – it will make your voice sound much better.
9- What was your best and worst Interview???
Best – Anyone who speaks from the heart rather than thinking too hard about what they’re saying, and as a result saying nothing of any consequence. Jockeys and trainers are so much better now than 20 years ago, partly because they get more practice.
Worst – There are many on this list, but recently I congratulated a trainer on his return to form after a quiet spell. Me: “You must be pleased, because your horses have been below their best lately.” Trainer: “No they haven’t.” Me: “I think they have – you haven’t had a winner for two months.” Trainer: “Yes, but a lot of them have been placed. We haven’t been out of form at all.” Me: “I think we’d better move on…”
I won’t name him though!
And finally, can you give our readers a couple of horses to follow(NH or Flat)…..
I’m usually wary of horses that have been well beaten in the Derby, but YOUNG RASCAL is much better than he looked when trailing in a modest seventh behind Masar. Wide and never travelling at Epsom, he had impressed at Newbury and Chester beforehand and should bounce back later in the summer or early autumn when he is more mature.
FOXTROT LADY didn’t quite live up to market expectations in a valuable 6f handicap at York recently, but she was short of room in the second half of the race and got going too late. A progressive half-sister to 2016 Stewards’ Cup winner Dancing Star, also trained by Andrew Balding and owned by Jeff Smith, she looks capable of winning a similar race – maybe the Goodwood spectacular itself – off her current mark.
We would like to thank Lee for his time and wish him all the best for the future, we have no doubt he will stride on to bigger things.
Big Thanks to Francesca Altoft for use of the Young Rascal Image, which are available by contacting Francesca at @FranAltoftPhoto on Twitter.
Megalala Pictures courtesy of Lee McKenzie
Interview by Rich Williams – arseonlinetips