Inevitably, merging two full teams from the current BBC and Channel 4 stables means some people have not been retained, with John McCririck, Derek Thompson and Mike Cattermole all voicing disappointment that they will no longer be in training.
Overall, the new team amounts to a score draw, with the primary presenters from each side taking on the lynch pin roles. We knew when the contract was announced that IMG would build the new team around Clare Balding, and whilst her new foil, Nick Luck, is unlikely to provide as much hilarity as Willie Carson has done, he is a dependable and engaging co-presenter, and will anchor the programmes which Balding does not present.
Out on the course, the BBC’s Rishi Persad and Mick Fitzgerald are matched with Channel 4’s Alice Plunkett and Emma Spencer. The line-up has a strong commentary team of the excellent Simon Holt and Richard Hoiles, whilst Tanya Stevenson spreads her wings to manage news from the betting ring on her own.
Both Graham Cunningham (Racing UK) and Gina Bryce (At The Races) step across from a specialised audience to terrestrial television and jump jockey Sam Thomas will also be involved regularly.
IMG confirmed that the Morning Line programme will continue, with Luck hosting that, and Alice Plunkett as second in command. Jim McGrath (UK) continues with race analysis, but Jim McGrath (AUS) is not kept on.
Jamie Aitchison, sport’s editor at Channel 4 summed up how he saw the team, saying, “Being the new home of horseracing is a real privilege and I’m delighted to announce this carefully selected team of presenters and reporters, a mix of broadcasting heavyweights and racing experts.” It does look as though, with a new company with no experience of racing production taking over, they have gone for the safe and reliable front of camera team. Innovation can come later.
The three major casualties, John McCririck, Derek Thompson and John Major, woops - Mike Cattermole, were all clearly disappointed at losing out, and were also critical of the way in which they had learned of their dismissal, saying they were told only half an hour before Channel 4 revealed its team.
Thompson, who is mid way through treatment for cancer, said, “I can live without it but I’d rather have lived with it, and it wasn’t much fun receiving the call, especially coming halfway through my chemo treatment. I’m still hungry and not cutting back. I’m on Channel 4 at the weekend and next week I’ll be in Dubai doing some work and also hoping to enjoy some sunshine to aid the recovery process.”
Thompson reminded everyone that television coverage was not just about the people the viewers see when he added, “I hope they keep on all of the cameramen and riggers and so on, as they are the ones who get the show on the road.”
Mike Cattermole appeared sanguine about being dropped; perhaps consoled by the knowledge that he will continue in his other jobs. He said, “I’m glad Jamie Aitchison finally had the balls to call me. They’ve obviously got a fantastic team of presenters and good luck to them. I clearly didn’t tick the necessary boxes but I’ve had a wonderful 13 years working on the programme and will miss my many friends, in front of and behind the cameras. I can’t feel too despondent because I have two fabulous roles still to do for RaceTech as a commentator and At The Races.”
72-year-old John McCririck was most forthright in his criticism, accusing the new producers of ageism as well as having strong words for the process of informing him about his demise. He said, “Naturally I am devastated at being sacked after covering betting, first on ITV and then Channel 4 for 31 years. According to Channel 4, I’m being sacked after audience research. Yes, I do antagonise people, as reactions to being twice in the Celebrity Big Brother house and also on Coach Trip prove. It is so sad that Channel 4 boss Jay Hunt, and production chief Carl Hicks, both long time BBC executives, have again gone down their well-worn path of ageism.”
McCririck said there had been no discussion with him about the way he approaches his subject, and therefore no opportunity for him to consider a different style. But can Big Mac be anything other then himself?
He went on, “Without any consultation or being asked to change my presentation style, I was told by Channel 4’s sports editor Jamie Aitchison only half an hour before their press release. I trust those now in power, having shown their macho images as all new producers so by getting rid of their well-known older performers don’t forget that racing appeals to all generations.”
Well, as they say, to everything there is a season, and it McCririck is no longer “in season” (what a thought!!!). We’ll be able to form a very tentative first thought on whether the new sowing turns out to be fine fruit or a duff harvest at Cheltenham on New Year's Day.