Sunday, November 07, 2010

Heroes all

Yesterday was almost too much to take. The culmination of the epic battle for the jockeys' premiership should have been more enough excitement for one day - but that was, of course, only the fore-runner to the roller-coaster of emotion provided by the second, and principal, day of the Breeders' Cup meeting. The long-running jockeys' title race had been such a thriller and so inspiring, with both Paul Hanagan (left) and Richard Hughes (below) conducting themselves impeccably throughout and afterwards. As Paul Hanagan said of Richard Hughes afterwards, "I had huge respect for him before and I've got even more now." I think that those sentiments are now echoed by all of us about both riders. It's actually doing a Paul Hanagan a gross disservice merely to salute him for being champion jockey: he's actually proved himself much more than just a champion jockey, as we now know (which had, of course, long been clear anyway) that he's a champion human too - and that, of course, is much, much more important. Ditto Hughes, whose graciousness in defeat was a lesson to us all. As Kipling put it: "Yours is the earth and everything that's in it; and, which is more, you'll be a man, my son". Well, we now know that they are both from the very top bracket of men, and you can't say any more than that. A tie would have been a very fitting result because it was a duel which neither deserved to lose, but it was also a duel which I really didn't want to see Hanagan lose - so, while it would have been lovely to see Hughes also collect the trophy, the sight of Paul Hanagan becoming only the second northern-based rider in the last 100 years to end the season as champion jockey was a joy to behold.

As, of course, was much of the action at Churchill Downs. Not even John McCririck could spoil things, although he did his best. I don't know which of his contributions to the show marked the nadir, but his crassness dragged the show down at pretty much every stage, whether he was repeatedly telling us in advance of the Classic that Zenyatta wasn't much of a horse, or telling us after the Juvenile Turf that Pluck (who had come from last to first in the length of the straight to pass the post with his ears pricked) was just an ordinary horse who had beaten a load of rubbish, or lambasting the hapless Mike Smith after the Classic (without, of course, actually specifying what he was supposed to have done differently and without even mentioning, or probably even noticing, that the jockeys who had disgraced themselves during the race had actually been John Velazquez and his mates up the front who had ridden as if they had no idea about rating a horse whatsoever). Or even just droning on and on about which bets he wanted to make, as if the evening was a mathematic conundrum rather than the sport of horse-racing at its finest. It was unthinking, ill-informed and outspoken punditry at its worst and it came close to spoiling an evening of horse-racing which had it all. One after another, we had the shock of the sudden and fatal fall of Rough Sailing, the exhilaration of Pluck scything through the field to make his high-class rivals look second rate as only a true champion can, Uncle Mo indicating that he's a dead-set star of the future by romping home in the Juvenile, the wonderful Goldikova blowing them away to make history with her third consecutive Mile victory - and then the quick-fire emotional swings of the anticipation of the Classic, the agony of watching Zenyatta go through the first half-mile like a horse about to break down while we wondered whether Mike Smith would pull her up before she did so or not until afterwards - and then the incredulity when she finally started to gallop comfortably and began to make up ground, the thrill when she looked as if she might snatch victory from the jaws of certain defeat, and finally the feeling of numbness when she just failed to get up, an even greater heroine than before with her status even further enhanced but, sadly, her unbeaten record gone forever. What a day!


problemwalrus said...

..and to top it all the letter you wrote and which we previewed made it to the Racing Post.
I agree about the Breeders Cup coverage - the constant bickering between McCririck and Chapman was extremely irritating , worse I have to say than those post race interviews that Channel 4 conduct after every race.
On a positive note Goldikova was great.. and so was Zenyatta. i thought she looked injured during the first furlong, so to nearly get her nose in front on the line was amazing.Great fillies both of them.
Now we can concentrate on the jumps season. Kauto was good yesterday. The Walrus is hoping for great things this season from Great Endeavour and long range tips are Hurricane Fly (Champion Hurdle); Tataniano (Queen Mother chase); Cooldine (Gold cup) and Ballabriggs (National). Along the way Denman will win a third Hennesssy; Kauto a fifth King George; Tony McCoy will win Sports personality of the year and Haydock will rebuild its formerly great jumps track. Well you can dream...

John Berry said...

Great dreams, Problemwalrus - and the really exciting thing is that several of them (but probably not all - that might be asking too much, especially as far as Haydock is concerned) might even come true. Surely a thrilling winter awaits.