Clare Balding to present Melbourne Cup

PinkNews logo surrounded by illustrated images including a rainbow, unicorn, PN sign and pride flag.’s Ben Leung looks back on a great year for BBC sports presenter Clare Balding including a civil partnership and now expert punditry status.

As the American public get ready for a biennial event that is an election, on the same day – though 24 hours earlier – and on the other side of the world, another nation is gearing up for something which is equally unavoidable – the annual betting bonanza that is the Melbourne Cup.

The ‘race that stops a nation’ is just that. ‘Cup Day’ – the first Tuesday of every November – is itself a national holiday in the state of Victoria, where the race is being staged for the 156th time at Flemington Racecourse, just outside of Melbourne.

It’s the only time during the year where all the Aussies up and down the country will grind to a halt for four epic minutes as they watch they fate of their trifectas and quinellas before they do it all over again a year later.

The week-long – some say month-long – build-up to the Cup is an experience like nothing else. Carnivals on the streets of Melbourne, free concerts, parades, all-night parties, women and men wearing their finest and all packed liked sardines into one of the many trains heading to the racecourse – it really needs to be seen to be believed.

And for those not among the 150 000 plus crowd expected to attend the race this year, they have the added the bonus of not just having the best view in the house – as one never does at the races – but also the benefits of some invaluable punditry from renowned BBC sports presenter Clare Balding.

To the uninitiated, Balding has been the face of racing on the BBC since 1997. In recent years, her profile has risen further with her work as co-anchor of all of Auntie’s major sporting events.

Lavishly praised by Jeanette Winterson, author of ‘Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit’ and fellow lover of country pursuits, as ‘no gimmicks, no gameshow personality…just top class commentary that comes out of a big brain with plenty of experience and a passion for the subject’, Balding has been recruited by Australia’s Channel 7 as their form-expert on the European horses taking part in the big race on Tuesday.

And for a woman who began by reading the news on the Danny Baker Show on Radio 1 during the mid-90s, this is a major coup in a career which has already included five Olympic Games, numerous Grand Nationals and Royal Ascots, Lord Mayor shows, Trooping the Colour, Ramblings on Radio 4 and New Year’s Eve celebrations on BBC1.

What makes her addition to the Australian broadcasting team special is that female sports presenters are few and far between in the antipodes. And for a British female presenter to be given such a prominent role in one of the most-watched broadcasts of the year, is indeed a phenomenal achievement.

However, Australian television critics are notorious prickly about the odd Pommie encroaching upon their territory. Former Channel 4 cricket anchor Mark Nicholas is still getting plenty of stick over his ‘smarmy’ presentation of the gymnastics during the Melbourne Commonwealth Games on the local station, Channel 9.

But unlike Nicholas, Miss Balding will only be on air for three days, and will be completely within her comfort zone of talking all and sundry about horses, and maybe the odd hat and millenary on display.

Whatever happens though, no doubt the 35-year-old Cambridge graduate will look back on 2006 with pride, in particular her elevation to the top echelon at BBC Sport, and off the track, her recent civil partnership to long-term partner and Radio 4 announcer Alice Arnold.

So maybe she can afford a slip-up here and there at Melbourne….it’s not as if anyone in Britain will be watching anyway!