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New deal worth £30m

Racing seeks popular appeal in switch to ITV

Cheltenham Festival vidITV takes over the terrestrial rights for British horse racing from January next year, causing a split between the sport and channel for the first time in 30 years.

Racing’s governing body hopes the change of channel will arrest steep falls in ratings which came in spite of a revamp that saw the colourful characters such as John McCririck leave in favour of more serious presenters, including the BBC’s Clare Balding.

It is thought the authorities are seeking the popular appeal of ITV, and its choice over a more lucrative bid from Sky would bear that out.

ITV is thought to have offered about £30m, around 50% higher than the current deal with Channel 4 . It is understood that a version of C4’s Morning Line will remain, although it may appear along with lesser meetings on ITV4.

The main ITV channel will carry a minimum of 34 days of coverage, with a further 60 on ITV4, the broadcaster said.

In a statement it confirmed coverage of the Cheltenham Festival, the Grand National meeting, the Derby and Oaks meetings, Royal Ascot, Glorious Goodwood, York’s Ebor meeting, Champions Day and the St Leger.

It not certain who will cover the 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket as well as Ascot’s King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes.

No mention has been made of international events, such as the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, the Breeders’ Cup or the big races in Asia, Australia and Dubai.

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.

The on-air team of presenters is yet to be announced and according to some sources, Matt Chapman, a present with At The Races, could be among them.

Richard Fitzgerald, who led racing’s negotiating team, said: “Of course, there is sadness, as we have worked with Channel 4 for so long and we have valued relationships and friendships there.

“The sport owes Channel 4 a huge debt of gratitude for its valued support and substantial contribution to horseracing over three decades.

“However, we are excited about the new era for racing and confident that the right decision has been made. We still have a year left of the existing contract and we look forward to working with C4 in producing an outstanding 12 months of televised horseracing.”

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