AS horses and riders charge towards the first fence of the Grand National, the famous sporting spectacle will be described by a commentator who honed his skill by watching television in Winchester.

As a student, Mark Johnson, made something of a reputation for himself at the University of Winchester where he would stand in front of a television and commentate out loud on racing programmes.

Practice makes perfect, and now 42-yearold Mark has become the voice of horse racing, as he adds his unique style and extensive knowledge to some of the greatest horse races on both sides of the Atlantic.

Today, Mark will be at Aintree, describing the jump-by-jump action at the most famous steeplechase in the world to millions of horse racing fans.

Mark’s reputation has resulted in him gaining one of the highest accolades in the racing world by becoming the official track commentator at Churchill Downs, home of the USA’s world-famous Kentucky Derby.

This makes Mark the first racetrack announcer in the history of horse racing to call the Grand National and then the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, May 2 in the same year.

Mark studied for a degree in Television, Film and Theatre Studies at Winchester in the 1980s and these days he splits his time between the UK and America but he never misses an opportunity to attend the Grand National.

Mark said: “This will be my third Grand National, which really is the pinnacle of horse racing commentating in Britain, as indeed, is the Kentucky Derby in America.’’ Mark has one of the most recognisable voices in British racing, presenting Racing UK and commentating for Channel Four Racing. He has called many of Britain’s most important races including the Epsom Derby five times, and Oaks Classics, a total of 11 St Leger Classics at Doncaster, and more recently, the Cheltenham Festival.

“Speed of delivery isn’t really an issue for the Grand National,” said Mark. “The real problem is the number of runners and the number of fallers.

“You have to get them right in the blink of an eye and make sure you don’t ‘deck’ a horse still standing. Plus the size of the track, at two-and-a-quarter-miles round each circuit, binoculars become virtually useless so you have to rely on TV pictures and instinct.

“I recall thinking at my first Grand National as 40 runners came hurtling towards me about to jump the first fence, ‘Now I know what General Custer must have thought at the Battle of Little Big Horn!’”

Mark has regularly described races at Sandown, Kempton Park, Cheltenham, Goodwood and Stratford and also presents coverage of American cards for Britain’s Racing UK television channel.

When appointed as commentator for the Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs’ president, Steve Sexton said: “In our eyes, Mark is the complete package when it comes to a track announcer.

“He is a unique, polished and passionate talent with an absolutely infectious personality.

His race calls together with pre- and post-race commentary are supremely accurate, descriptive and colourful, and his knowledge of the sport of horse racing and its historical perspective is vast.

“It all makes for a wonderful and unique entertainment mix and we’re thrilled to showcase his talents to an American and worldwide audience in 2009.”