Friday, June 29, 2007

Bullshit and Horse Sense

At this time of year an older man's fancy often turns to horses. The Epsom Derby was won with some authority by Authorised, with Frankie Dettori finally getting his Derby. But only in the absence of the black prince Kieran Fallon. Ascot was a bit of a damp squib but was livened up by those big old Aussie sprinters and their no-bullshit trainers. Aidan O'Brien had a good meeting with Yeats' win being the highlight. The horse is, like his namesake, a great stayer and improving with age. I had a fairly poor meeting from a gambling perspective but Mahler at 7-1 rescued me from penury.

Talking about Ascot, the BBC's commentary team is appalling. Willie Carson was a wonderful jockey, a whirling dervish who never gave up. But God is he inarticulate when it comes to talking about racing. When he does get a coherent sentence out, it's usually some banality. He is flanked (nay overshadowed) by the great bulk of Claire Balding - a jolly hockey-sticks type whose main claim to fame is bursting into tears when her father (the great Ian Balding) won some big race. She's an amiable earnest type but again incapable of moving beyond the banal. The third member of the team is some harmless cratur presumably brought in to provide racial balance. He's young, cheerful, hard-working and relentlessly gormless. He clearly knows very little about horses.

Contrast them to the Channel 4 racing team: the incomparable John Francome, the shrewd and knowledgeable Jim McGrath and the astute Alastair Down. There is that bufoon McCririck of course but he's confined to the betting ring and provides harmless colour. The thing I like about the Channel 4 crew is that they obviously like a bet and can be ruefully amusing about their failures. Also, they are not so close to the racing scene that they are reluctant to offend anyone. Trenchant stuff from true professionals and always entertaining with their informed banter.

As for RTE's racing team of Ted Walsh and Robert Hall. They bugger description. Ted is a working trainer and shouldn't even be doing this job. He's sure to observe how one of his horses is not trying - if that ever were to be the case. And he's too close to the whole Irish racing scene to snitch on one of his buddies either. Instead he has adopted the cringe-inducing role of the plain-spoken unpretentious horsy man who calls a spade a spade ("that mares a right little tinker" etc.) - but it is a sthick that has grown tedious and forced. We are no longer amused Ted. Robert on the other hand lives in an area beyond bland. Special subject: stating the bleeding obvious. The only member of the team that gives value is the rarely seen Tony O'Heihr. He is an excellent commentator but is also clearly a man who likes a bet. You can occasionally detect a tone in his voice at the end of a race that gives some indication of how his luck has gone. It's a subtle thing but worth listening for.