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Racing deal for Olympic winner Clare Balding

By Chris McGrath

Few of the medal winners she has introduced over the past couple of weeks have gained greater plaudits for their Olympic performance than Clare Balding.

There will be corresponding satisfaction on her home turf, then, that she is now to follow its best sport to Channel 4.

It is almost as though a new, exclusive terrestrial contract for the cream of British racing could not properly match its remit without her.

The BBC, having run down its racing coverage over recent years, earlier this year finally surrendered the last glittering kernel — including Aintree, Ascot and Epsom — to Channel 4, for a minimum of four years from January.

But the lead presenter will remain unchanged, following the announcement that Balding has signed a deal that will also install her as anchor of Channel 4's coverage of the Paralympics.

The contract is not exclusive, enabling her to maintain a diversifying portfolio with the BBC.

The production contract for the sport's new coverage has, meanwhile, been won by IMG Sports Media, beating off competition from Channel 4 Racing's longstanding partner, Highflyer Productions, and Sunset+Vine, praised for its innovative coverage when Channel 4 obtained Test cricket rights.

As a result another seasoned pair of hands will be joining Balding, Carl Hicks having joined IMG Sports Media as executive producer after editing BBC coverage of nine Grand Nationals prior to its Olympics coverage.

Significantly, a parallel, four-year extension has also been confirmed in the Dubai sponsorship package credited, since 2008, with keeping any racing at all on Channel 4 — even as the BBC lost interest. Jamie Aitchison, sports editor of Channel 4, said: “Quite simply, Clare is the sports broadcaster of her era.

“For her to be heading up our coverage across the year is extremely exciting.”

Balding herself offered a suitably decorous response. “Racing is my ‘home’ sport, and I am delighted I will still be part of its coverage on TV,” she said.

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