ITV eyes up BBC's Grand National after Boat Race steal

LONDON - ITV could win the TV rights to the Grand National from the BBC as the contract comes up for grabs at the end of the month.

ITV has said it will bid for the race after the current contract ends on March 29. If the channel is successful it will break the BBC's exclusive rights to the broadcast, which the corporation has held for 44 years.

The loss would come as a severe blow to the BBC, coming as it does hard on the heels of the rights to the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, which went to ITV last month.

The rights to the UK's top horseracing event have come into play following the collapse of the Attheraces consortium, which subcontracted the rights to the BBC.

The consortium, which includes Channel 4, BSkyB and Arena Leisure, ended its £300m contract after predicted gambling revenues fell short.

It has been speculated that the BBC upset Aintree by scheduling the FA Cup semi-final between Arsenal and Manchester United on BBC One on April 3, the same day as the Grand National.

The scheduling clash means that the build-up to the big race as well as earlier races would be relegated to BBC Two.

The BBC has screened the Grand National since 1960 and at its peak, in the mid-90s, attracted audiences of more than 17m. Last year the race was watched by 7.8m viewers.

ITV grabbed the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race from the BBC last month, ending the corporation's 50-year association with the race. The BBC said the move was prompted by the event's organisers seeking to generate more sponsorship revenues.

The collapse of the Attheraces deal will have a considerable impact on the televising of the sport across the country. Smaller racecourses fear that larger race tracks may be favoured.

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