ITV to replace Channel 4 as horse racing broadcaster from 2017

By Frank KeoghBBC Sport
Channel 4 racing presenter Clare Balding with trainer Nicky Henderson
Channel 4 racing presenter Clare Balding with trainer Nicky Henderson

Television coverage of horse racing is set for a major change next year with ITV to replace Channel 4 as the free-to-air broadcaster.

ITV has won rights to cover fixtures including the Cheltenham Festival, Grand National, the Derby and Royal Ascot, from January 2017.

It will broadcast a minimum of 34 days annually on the main ITV channel, with another 60 shown on ITV 4.

Reports suggest the four-year deal is worth £30m.

"The unprecedented level of interest in the tender shows what an attractive proposition the sport is," said Richard FitzGerald, chief executive of Racecourse Media Group (RMG), who headed racing's negotiating team

"This is reflected in the new deal, which will generate increased revenues for racing."

TV racing coverage
2016: Channel 4 to broadcast racing on 91 days of the year, with Morning Line preview programme every Saturday.2017: ITV 1 to show racing on at least 34 days annually, with another 60 on ITV. Saturday morning magazine programme on ITV 4.

The big Cheltenham, National, Derby, Ascot, Glorious Goodwood and York Ebor meetings will all be shown on the main ITV channel, along with Doncaster's St Leger and British Champions Day at Ascot.

However, it has yet to be revealed which channel will broadcast other meetings, including the Guineas Festival at Newmarket, which features two Classics.

Channel 4, which has broadcast racing for more than 30 years, will show 91 days of racing in 2016, concluding with the Challow Hurdle meeting at Newbury on 31 December.

Its portfolio was expanded to include racing's 'crown jewels' of the National at Aintree, Epsom's Derby and Ascot when taking those meetings from the BBC in the last rights deal in 2012.

ITV will broadcast the Grand National for the first time in April 2017, although the broadcaster has an historical link with racing, going back to the days of the 'ITV Seven' bet, a key component of the Saturday afternoon 'World of Sport' programme in the 1980s.

Its coverage moved to Channel 4 in 1985, together with well-known presenters such as Derek Thompson and John McCririck, although they were dropped when the channel won the exclusive terrestrial rights in 2012.

John McCririck and his wife Jenny
John McCririck (pictured with wife Jenny) lost a legal case, claiming ageism, against Channel 4 after being released in 2012

It sought to innovate, won awards for its coverage and brought in guests including jockeys Frankie Dettori and AP McCoy, and fashion expert Gok Wan, but ratings for some meetings, particularly Epsom and Ascot, have dropped significantly, and Channel 4 last month agreed a deal to show Formula One after the BBC cut short its deal.

A Channel 4 statement said: "2016 will be an unprecedented year for premium live sport on Channel 4 as it becomes the new terrestrial home of Formula One alongside the Rio 2016 Paralympics and horse racing.

"We are proud of the award-winning coverage we have given to horse racing over the last three decades - and the 90 days of live terrestrial television exposure per year we have offered the sport, backed by significant editorial investment, marketing and programming across our schedules."

The sport currently has two dedicated channels in Racing UK and At The Races, while all the major races are broadcast on BBC Radio 5 live.

ITV director of sport Niall Sloane said: "We want our coverage to reach not only its loyal, core audience, but beyond, by capturing the full enjoyment of this most wonderful of sports."