Channel 4 has confirmed that its regular racing presenter Nick Luck has been chosen to anchor its broadcast of the 2015 Crabbie’s Grand National from Aintree in April.
The broadcaster ended months of speculation by choosing a replacement for Clare Balding, who hosted Channel 4’s coverage of the event in 2013 and 2014, from within its existing on-air team, with Luck having co-presented alongside her for Channel 4’s coverage of major meetings over the past two years.
He will take on one of the most prestigious roles in the UK sports broadcasting, which has been previously held by the likes of Balding, Sue Barker, Desmond Lynam, Frank Bough and David Coleman.
Luck, who is also Channel 4’s regular presenter of its Saturday afternoon racing coverage and The Morning Line magazine show, will host by far the most watched UK racing event of the year when the 2015 edition is run on Saturday, April 11.
In addition to promoting Luck as lead presenter, Channel 4 has also recruited popular flat jockey champion Frankie Dettori and fashion expert Gok Wan to its Aintree coverage as the broadcaster looks to broaden the appeal of the race.
Channel 4 was on the lookout for a new lead following the news in December that Clare Balding decided to scale down her racing commitments in 2015 to just the nine days of the Cheltenham Festival and Royal Ascot combined.
Balding opted instead to present the BBC’s coverage of the University Boat Race, which this year is being staged on the same day as the Grand National, and includes the historic running of women’s race on the same day and course as the men’s event.
In the wake of Balding’s announcement, there had been speculation that Channel 4 executives considered a number of non-racing broadcasters to front the Grand National coverage, with controversial talk show host Jeremy Kyle, who is an enthusiastic follower of jumps racing and owns horses with Nick Gifford, and BT Sport presenter Jake Humphrey among those to have been linked with the role.
The decision to select Luck comes at a crucial time for Channel 4, with its coverage of last year’s Grand National winning a prestigious broadcast industry award, but any critical acclaim has been overshadowed by a worrying trend of falling ratings at the sport’s biggest meetings since it acquired the BBC’s crown jewel events in a four-year deal that culminates at the end of 2016.
Its ratings for the major events have often been disappointing when compared to audience figures for the BBC’s coverage, and the Grand National, which has exceeded a peak audience of eight million viewers in each of the last two years, is one of the few races taken over from the BBC which has not suffered a significant drop in ratings.
But in a significant boost to Channel 4, the under-fire network was described by Jockey Club chief executive Simon Bazalgette as “in pole position” to retain its grip on the sport from 2017.
While Bazalgette praised the impact of Channel 4’s coverage since it sealed an exclusive £15m deal to exclusively show all the major meetings, he said the door was open for the BBC to return.
“Channel 4 have been a good partner, they’ve really promoted racing,” he said. “Equally, I think racing is probably a more attractive sport than it was four years ago so I think there will be competition for it.
“I think there will be other people who will be interested. Channel 4 are in situ and they have done a great job.
“If the BBC were only coming in for the crown jewels they’d have to convince us that was better for the sport than doing it week in, week out. But that’s possible, they may be able to do that.”
As in 2013 and 2014, Channel 4 Racing will broadcast exclusively live terrestrial coverage of all three days of the Crabbie’s Grand National Festival from April 9-11, culminating with the 2015 running of the world’s greatest horse race on Saturday, April 11.