The changing face of television racing commentary has taken another turn with the decision by “Aussie Jim” J A McGrath to hang up his microphone. McGrath has spent 40 years describing racing, the last 26 of them here in Britain.
When Sir Peter O’Sullevan retired from commentating in 1997, McGrath took over as lead for the BBC, but was not offered a job with Channel 4 when that broadcaster took over sole terrestrial television coverage at the start of this year. That left McGrath with work for RaceTech, but he has decided to give that up too.
McGrath has arranged a neat symmetry to his career, as his final commentaries will come from Ascot on 7 September, the same course and time of year that he did his first full meeting for Racecourse Technical Services. He said, “I’m retiring from commentating in Britain in September. It’ll be 40 years exactly that I’ve made a living from racing commentary and I think it’s the right time to draw stumps. It was a difficult decision in that I love doing it, particularly the big meetings, but it was made easier by the fact that the BBC no longer do racing.”
It seems that the loss of the big meetings was a key factor in his decision, as McGrath went on to say, “The beauty of the BBC job was that you were able to do the Derby, Royal Ascot, the Grand National, the Arc every year. It was a fantastic privilege and great honour to call those races. They are the pinnacle, and although I could have kept on going and doing my Newton Abbots and Kemptons and the rest, it’s not quite the same.”
Giving up commentary does not mean that McGrath is retiring from all his racing work, as he will continue to write as Hotspur in the Daily Telegraph and also to appear on At The Races. It does mean, though, that we’ll hear little more of “the persuader” and “scraping the paint”, phrases he is credited as having introduced to the commentator’s vocabulary.