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  Friday, 29 March, 2002, 13:25 GMT
Aintree calls Aussie Jim
The field clears one of the 30 National fences
McGrath will call his 10th Grand National this year
Commentator Jim McGrath talks to BBC Sport Online's Scott Heinrich about the unique demands of the Grand National.

For Jim McGrath, BBC TV's racing commentator, nothing matches the theatre of the Grand National.

This April will mark McGrath's 10th year calling Britain's most popular race and fifth since assuming the top post vacated by the legendary Sir Peter O'Sullevan.

The National represents the highlight of McGrath's year. As caller of races like the Derby, Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and Dubai World Cup, that's some distinction.

"There's no comparison to the Grand National," said McGrath, an Australian who left Melbourne almost 30 years ago because of a lack of opportunities.

Jim McGrath relates the National drama to millions of TV viewers
Millions of people rely on McGrath's commentary

"As far as a racing commentator is concerned, it is the most important race of the year and also the most demanding."

McGrath feels Aintree is the perfect stage for a race steeped so heavily in intrigue as the National.

An uncompromising track with its share of quirks and foibles, Aintree forces not only horses, but McGrath also, to delve deep.

"In every way it is the most challenging race of the season to call.

"Aintree is a unique course. The horses jump 30 fences and they are all different shapes and sizes.

"It's the longest race to call each year and it's on a course that is huge in size (one circuit equals 2 miles).

"They race out of sight. No matter where you are, you're not going to see them with binoculars very clearly.

"That's why we have three commentators to call the race."


This is a one-off, you won't see this replicated anywhere else in the world
Jim McGrath

Eleven stone might seem a huge weight for a horse to lug over four-and-a-half miles, but consider the burden riding on the commentator. Everyone's had a bet, which means everyone's tuning in.

"You must consider there are 40 runners, which is twice as big a field as you would normally get in major handicap races," McGrath points out.

"Also, you find there is more interest with the general sports public in this race than any other race.

"Hence everybody's had a bet on something and they like to hear their horse called and it's quite a big responsibility to achieve that.

"They want to know where their horse is, how he's going and if there is a fall you have to immediately identify what's happening and tell the viewing audience."

McGrath admits the gambling bug took a sizeable bite long ago, and this year you can bet the man behind the microphone has his own winner in mind.

Not that you'll detect it, ever, in a call that exudes fluency and impartiality.

Sir Peter O'Sullevan
The Greatest: McGrath's praise for O'Sullevan

"You've just got to switch off if you've got an interest in a horse or if you've backed a horse.

"You've got to put that to one side, put it in another compartment in your head and get on with it.

"You've got to be professional."

Professionalism was something of a pre-requisite for the job when in 1997, McGrath was handed the reins by the peerless Sir Peter O'Sullevan.

McGrath says: "Peter had been there for 50 years and I regard him as the greatest sporting commentator there's been.

"Considering his great reputation, to take over from him was obviously a big thing - and I was very aware of it.

"But he made it a very comfortable transition for me and was always very forthcoming with advice if I needed it.

"It was quite daunting coming in after Sir Peter but I hope I've made it a comfortable transition for all concerned."

Come 6 April, the millions tuning into Grandstand might wonder what the National would be like without the now-familiar tones of the boy from Melbourne.

See also:

25 Mar 02 |  Grand National 2002
One man and his microphone
Links to more Grand National 2002 stories are at the foot of the page.

 

Links to more Grand National 2002 stories

 
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