Racing: BBC pull out of Cheltenham

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The Independent Online
THE Cheltenham Festival will almost certainly be televised by Channel 4 next year following yesterday's decision by the BBC to withdraw its bid for the broadcasting rights at the headquarters of National Hunt racing, which it has held since the 1950s, writes Greg Wood.

Jonathan Martin, the BBC's Head of Sports and Events, said that the decision to pull out of the negotiations was 'a big disappointment, but unfortunately we found ourselves in a 'Dutch auction'.

'Although we offered more than twice the amount we paid for the last contract, Cheltenham's asking price for a new three-year deal was more than five times the current price.'

Martin added: 'This contract no longer represents value for money and we have had to say that enough is enough - in the best interests of the licence payer and of the BBC.'

Martin's statement does not leave much room for manoeuvre, and while Cheltenham has yet to shake hands on Channel 4's bid, it seems likely that a formal agreement will be reached today.

The BBC's contract expires at the end of 1994, and Channel 4 coverage could begin with the New Year meeting on 2 January.

In addition to the Festival, the contract includes the Mackeson Gold Cup, Bula Hurdle and Tripleprint Gold Cup. Channel 4 already covers all five British Classics on the Flat, and the King George VI Chase and Whitbread Gold Cup over jumps. Without Cheltenham, the BBC's racing portfolio would appear painfully thin.