Mark Johnson will assume the role of number-two commentator for ITV
By Lee Mottershead 12:35PM 8 OCT 2016
ITV has moved closer to finalising its racing team by appointing Mark Johnson to the role of number-two commentator and deputy to Richard Hoiles.
Johnson, one of Britain’s leading racecourse commentators with an annual portfolio that has included the Cheltenham Festival and Grand National meeting, will assume the lead role when Hoiles is not on duty and is also likely to be heard at a number of ITV’s second site fixtures.
Channel 4’s long-time principal race caller Simon Holt this week confirmed ITV had informed him he would not be used from January 1 when the broadcaster begins a four-year deal as the sport’s new exclusive home on mainstream television.
Hoiles, who has served as Holt’s deputy at Channel 4, is due to be unveiled by ITV on Qipco British Champions Day. He was selected to be the new voice of racing’s biggest events after BBC Radio 5 live’s John Hunt rejected persistent overtures from ITV and chose to remain with the corporation.
Johnson, who previously commentated on the Kentucky Derby when employed by Churchill Downs, will join Hoiles on ITV’s Grand National squad, while both their appointments will free up racecourse commentating roles on showpiece days that many will expect Holt to fill.
Also added to the ITV line-up are At The Races regulars Luke Harvey and Jason Weaver, whose duties are likely to include explanatory features for new viewers. However, with ITV not thought to want a fixed team of pundits, neither Harvey nor Weaver are expected to be seen on a large number of days, while both will continue to work for ATR and Radio 5 live.
ITV has so far announced only the appointments of Ed Chamberlin, Francesca Cumani and Matt Chapman, although the Racing Post has revealed Alice Plunkett, Oli Bell, Mick Fitzgerald, Rishi Persad, Hayley Turner and Sally Ann Grassick have all been offered work.
The potential for ITV to reap the anticipated financial rewards from its new association with racing was thrown into doubt this week when it emerged the government is considering imposing a ban on daytime bookmaker advertising.