Clare Balding is to make significant changes to her broadcasting plans from 2015 after it was announced that the acclaimed presenter will scale back her Channel 4 Racing commitments to just two major meetings next year.
The BAFTA-award winning broadcaster has signed a new two-year deal with Channel 4 in which she will anchor its coverage of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, as well as the Crufts dog show, but her role on the network’s racing coverage will now only consist of anchoring the Cheltenham Festival and Royal Ascot in 2015.
As a result of the decision to scale down her Channel 4 Racing work, which had been widely expected, the 43-year-old, who has been the face of mainstream horse racing coverage since the late 1990’s, will most notably miss the 2015 Grand National at Aintree, when she will instead be working on the BBC’s Boat Race coverage on the same day.
Channel 4 will also lose out on Balding’s services for all five British Classics, including the Epsom Derby, while a different Channel 4 presenter will be needed to host other meetings which were previously anchored by her, including Glorious Goodwood, Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp and British Champions Day.
The broadcaster also confirmed that Balding will be scaling back her Channel 4 Racing role even further after next year’s Royal Ascot, with no deal in place, at present, for her to anchor any racing coverage beyond the Royal meeting next June.
Since Balding was appointed to present 40 days of racing for the IMG-produced Channel 4 coverage, Nick Luck, who was recently voted racing broadcaster of the year for the sixth time, has worked as her co-presenter at all major festivals and he will be one of the prime candidates to take over from Balding in hosting Channel 4’s Grand National coverage.
Balding has featured regularly on Channel 4 since being its lead presenter of the London 2012 Paralympic Games, when the network’s coverage won a BAFTA for best sport and live event coverage, but it was her work for the BBC during the Olympics earlier that summer which received huge critical acclaim, leading her to become one of Britain’s most sought-after broadcasters.
Alongside her racing commitments over the past two years for Channel 4, Balding has also continued to host sporting events for BBC TV, such as the Winter Olympics, Commonwealth Games, the Boat Race and equestrian sport, as well as work for BBC Radio 5 live on Wimbledon and The Open Championship.
She has also fronted her own sports chat show for BT Sport – The Clare Balding Show – which will return for a fifth series in the new year, and also has a regular Sunday morning slot on BBC Radio 2.
Commenting on her new working arrangement with Channel 4, Balding said: “I have been lucky and honoured to work as a racing broadcaster for the past twenty years and will continue to promote the sport on and off screen.
“I look forward to working with the enormously talented Channel 4 Racing team at Cheltenham and Royal Ascot next year and, of course, to the Paralympics in Rio in 2016.”
Ed Havard, Channel 4’s head of live events, added: “Clare is a broadcaster at the very top of her game and I’m delighted that we will be continuing to work with her on our racing coverage and the Rio Paralympics in 2016.”
Channel 4 is expected to announce full details of the presenting team and coverage plans for the 2015 Grand National Festival early in the new year, while the broadcaster will also welcome a range of expert presenters and guests throughout the year to its racing output, including Frankie Dettori and other top jockeys and racing figures.
Finding a replacement for Balding on the majority of its marquee race meetings will be a tough task for Channel 4, with the presenter having been the face of horse racing on UK television for almost two decades, having started as a co-presenter on BBC TV’s racing coverage in 1997.
The fact that she has cut back on her TV work in racing was decision which was widely expected, as Balding remains an in-demand presenter whose profile has soared way beyond the narrow confines of her first sporting world, having been part of major televised events such as the Diamond Jubilee, the Lord Mayor’s Show and Trooping the Colour for the BBC.
But her decision to prioritise the Boat Race over the Grand National, when the two events clash in April, and to also step down from fronting the Epsom Derby in June will be surprising for some, considering her long association with both events.
Balding explained her decision to host the BBC’s Boat Race programme instead of Channel 4’s Aintree coverage in a wide-ranging interview with Racing Post journalist Lee Mottershead.
“I knew I couldn’t do the Grand National because of the Boat Race,” said Balding. “I have not been quiet about my commitment to women’s sport and next year will be a really historic moment because the Women’s Boat Race will be on TV for the very first time.
“I would have liked to do both events, but whereas I’ve covered the last 21 Grand Nationals I’ve never covered the Women’s Boat Race. I felt I couldn’t say all I say about women in sport and then not be there that first time the women are on the tideway.”
Balding added: “I have enormous respect for the Channel 4 Racing team. They’re great and I love them. No matter what formation the individual members get played in, it’s a really strong team.
“I have too much respect for the members of that team, and too much respect for racing, to just land on the sport for the odd Saturday here and there. For that reason I’ll do Cheltenham and Ascot and then we’ll see.
“The other option was to not do any racing at all next year. That’s what I was leaning towards. I started making a list of days I felt I should do but the list never really comes in at shorter than 30 days.
“For that reason I started with no racing and tried to decide what could fit. I don’t think anyone would argue against the sport’s two big festivals being Cheltenham and Royal Ascot.
“By doing only them I don’t end up in a battle about what’s bigger, the Derby or Champions Day. At Cheltenham and Ascot I can also immerse myself in racing over consecutive days. When I concentrate on something in that way I do my best work.”
Over Christmas, Balding will host Channel 4’s coverage of the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day, with her next Channel 4 work set to be at Crufts in early March, which will be followed by the Cheltenham Festival later in the month.
For more information about Clare Balding’s presenting work, visit clarebalding.co.uk.