Channel 4 pulls out the stops for Grand National debut

The Grand National is being shown live for the first time on UK commercial broadcaster Channel 4 today (6 April), completing three days of coverage from Aintree race course in Liverpool. C4 has taken over terrestrial broadcast of the National Hunt handicap steeplechase from the BBC and is pulling out all the stops, with new technology along the four miles, three furlongs of the race to give as comprehensive a view as possible.

The race itself, now known as the John Smith’s Grand National after its main sponsor, is an event that attracts the attention of people who usually do not watch or bet on the horses as well as hardened followers of racing. It is being covered live from 4.15pm, following a full day’s build-up. C4 has made sure its viewers know it is covering the race with a full advertising campaign, both on-air and on billboards, and associated programmes including documentaries and entertainment shows.

Coverage of the National began at 1pm, fronted by C4 Racing’s new lead presenter, Clare Balding, who was named Sports Broadcaster of the Year by the Sports Journalists’ Association during March. The runners and riders were called home by C4R’s principal commentator, Simon Holt, who has worked on 13 Cheltenham Gold Cups but is describing the National for the first time on terrestrial TV. He is being supported by additional commentators Richard Holies and Ian Bartlett.

A total of 45 cameras have been located round the Aintree course, with a number of specialised devices among them. A CAMCAT remotely controlled wire-mounted camera system is being used, running in parallel to the inside track at a height of 20 to 40 metres, starting two fences out. This also gives mobile views at fences that are part of National history, including The Chair and the Water Jump. Perhaps the most famous fence on the course is Becher’s Brook and this houses a camera giving shots of the approaching horses.

A new tracking camera travels ahead of the field of 40 horses. This is supported by a vehicle-mounted crane that is able to rise up from the height of the running rail to 18-feet above the course. Three jib cranes cover strategic points, including the Canal Turn and the Parade Ring. Super slo-mo coverage is provided using a SuperLoupe Hi-Motion camera, recording shots at up to 1000 frames a second.

A new departure is a system of microphones fitted into fences, designed to capture “the true essence of the high action and drama of the entire Grand National meeting”. For the first time the whole event is being shot by cameraman David Manton of Aerial Camera Systems, working from a twin-engine, low noise helicopter.

Commenting in the run-up to the broadcast Channel 4 sports editor Jamie Aitchison remarked: “The Cheltenham Festival proved that racing provides all the drama and emotion of a world class sporting event. We were delighted to bring the four days into people’s homes and after a strong start to our Crown Jewels coverage we now head to Aintree with relish.”

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