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Famed pundit slips from TV saddle 18/3/2008
Greg Wood

John McCririck has been dividing opinions in racing since he made his debut on ITV in 1981. There are those who think that he helps to publicise racing beyond its normal boundaries, and appreciate his forthright views on issues such as the shaving of starting prices and the use of the whip. Others see a relentless self-publicist, who uses racing to promote himself, rather than the other way around.

McCririck himself knows this better than anyone, as he conceded yesterday following the news that Channel 4 has cut 18 Saturdays from his annual presenting schedule, meaning that he will now be off-air more weekends than he is on.

"There are many, many people who can't stand me, and they will be hoping that this is just the start, and that Channel 4 will soon go all the way and get rid of me completely," McCririck, who will be 68 next month, said.

"But how would anyone feel if they are told that they are doing a good job, but unfortunately their days will have to be cut? I hope that they will reconsider, and rescind this decision."

Channel 4 tried hard to play down its decision yesterday. "We are constantly looking at our presenter roster patterns," a statement issued by the broadcaster said, "and in our regular review process, we have proposed a slight reduction in the number of days John is working for us.

"Channel 4 has developed a strong stable of racing presenters, with different strengths and who appeal to different constituencies. John McCririck is well respected and remains an essential part of the mix."

None the less, the impression remains that if this is does not mark the end of an era, then it may at least be the beginning of the end. Andrew Thompson, who recently took over as Channel 4's head of sport, is reported to feel that McCririck attracts too much attention, making it difficult for the next generation of racing pundits to establish themselves.

McCririck, though, would have none of this yesterday. "There are already a number of days which I take off for holidays and so on," he said, "and there's also At The Races and Racing UK where people can get a start. And I think I've done more than anyone to help Tanya Stevenson along, the way that she covers the exchanges is terrific."

It is the BBC's turn to take charge of the racing spotlight in just under three weeks' time, when the Grand National meeting gets underway at Liverpool, but neither Dun Doire or Point Barrow did much to enhance their credentials for the year's biggest betting race yesterday.
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