It isn’t very often it can be said a single individual
has had a major
impact in their chosen profession, but it is something
Aussie Jim McGrath, aka The Croc, can justifiably claim.
Back in 1984 British racecourse commentaries were
generally bland affairs, usually delivered by plummy
voiced ex-military types and heaven forbid any emotion or
passion be shown in the delivery.
Then, at that year’s Ebor meeting, a “guest” commentator
called a few races. A young thirty something Australian
who had made a name for himself in Hong Kong was invited
to call a few races.
No plummy received pronunciation here but an Australian
twang and a lively, more passionate style of delivery.
Ears were pricked and the calls of Jim McGrath attracted
the attention of many followers of the sport as many
realised the sport could be made to sound exciting and
Commentators could be passionate in their calling.
Needless to say he was soon picking up more and more gigs.
His arrival also led to the introduction of a new style of
commentator, gone were days of plummy majors and it was a
case of hello to regional accents as younger, more
passionate voices, were introduced to the commentary rota.
It’s quite likely the racing commentary style in the UK
would have eventually changed without McGrath’s arrival
but he was undoubtedly the catalyst for change and the
timing of his arrival ensured we now have the likes of
Simon Holt and Richard Hoiles gracing our commentary
It was no surprise McGrath became the heir apparent to the
doyen of commentators, Peter O’Sullevan and when Sir
Peter, as he was shortly to become, retired in 1997
McGrath was his obvious and rightful successor.
Unfortunately race commentating is a job which requires a
sharp mind an immense concentration and as time moves
inexorably on it becomes more difficult.
A combination of advancing years and lifestyle meant
McGrath wasn’t, in recent years, as sharp as he once was
and sadly his standard of commentating declined. He could
still pull off the occasional brilliant commentary but he
began making mistakes.
I recall a couple of meetings in 2012 where he was
calling. One, at Plumpton, involved a six runner contest
where he still managed to completely mess up the order of
the runners. The other, at Warwick, where he managed to
completely miss a fast finishing runner. Only picking the
horse up in the dying strides.
McGrath was one of the five commentators placed under
review by the Commentators Committee in 2012 and,
arguably, was the only one to genuinely justify being
Instead of taking the strong hint he may be past his best,
McGrath started throwing his toys very publicly out of his
pram and began threatening legal action – contrast that
with the quiet dignity, shown in public , of fellow
MacKenzie and Darren Owen, who got on doing their jobs and
showing they were more than capable of doing their jobs
I’m not sure if it is ego but there seems to be a tendency
of those in the public eye to carry on longer than they
It’s true of many politicians. In the world of show
business someone like Bruce Forsyth is a prime example.
Of course McGrath isn’t the first caller to hang in longer
than he should. Even the great O’Sullevan arguably went on
a few years longer than he should, although for me the
worse example was the great Peter Bromley.
Bromley was BBC Radios racing commentator for over 40
years and was as iconic as O’Sullevan.
He did wind his commentary work down towards the end and
it is said he wanted to retire in 1999, his 40th
anniversary with BBC Radio and his 70th
birthday but he was persuaded to stay on a couple of years
by the BBC so he could call 200 classics.
He should have stuck with his original plan.
In those days I had a “real” job and I couldn’t always get
Cheltenham Week off so I had to listen to commentary on
Listening to Bromley’s final Festival in 2001 almost had
me in tears – it was clear he had lost his talent and
ability and it was heart wrenching to hear him struggling
to produce a coherent commentary.
The trouble is when talented professionals stay on past
their peak they become remembered as much for their
decline as for their prime performances.
McGrath was, by and large, an excellent commentator and he
is still an excellent writer. Like or loath his commentary
style he changed British racing commentary for the better.
I wish him well in the future, I will think back to his
halcyon days but will still wish his final call had been
five years ago when he was nearer the top of his game,
rather than yesterday at Ascot.
The expression “always leave them wanting more” is
variously attributed to PT Barnum and Walt Disney,
it doesn’t matter
who first said it, however it is an expression those in
the public eye, including commentators, should take heed