Saturday, February 07, 2015

The soul of wit

Channel Four Racing might at present be described as 'embattled', judged on what we've been reading about it in the Racing Post recently, including Julian Muscat's interview with the show's former producer Andrew Franklin.  However, there's nothing wrong with it at all if today's show is anything to go by: it was a terrific programme, to the extent that I ended up feeling thankful that I had been at home watching it rather than at the races (and I'm including in 'at the races' the two meetings which the show covered, Newbury and Warwick).  Even if one had been at Newbury, the course where it was 'all happening', one would have missed much of the drama to which TV viewers were treated.

Obviously, what made the show so special was what was happening, rather than particularly the way in which it was covered.  There was some real heart-in-mouth stuff in the races, while AP McCoy's unexpected on-air announcement of his forthcoming retirement trumped even such incidents as Sire De Grugy's unseating of Jamie Moore.  It (the announcement) was such big news and came so completely out of the blue that it must have been a challenge to the C4 team to handle it correctly, but this was a challenge from which they emerged with flying colours.  It made wonderful TV.

There's always a brahma, and one brahma which I particularly enjoyed was an interview with AP in which, continuing on from questioning about the taking of the decision to retire, he was asked what had been the best decisions he had taken during his career.  It must have been hard on the spur of the moment to come up with worthwhile questions, but even so this wasn't a great one.  Where even to begin in answering it, especially if one had to condense one's answer into a minute or so, rather than a day or so?  Anyway, AP predictably coped admirably, sticking to the best advice one can give any horseman: keep it simple.  So what, of the several million decisions which he has taken over the past 25 years, was the best?  "Becoming a jockey", of course! Seemples.

This rather put me in mind of a question which flitted across my radar recently when visiting a stud, a question with which I coped much less well.  The stud wanted to keep a track of its visitors, so one was asked to fill in a form, ticking boxes in response to a variety of questions.  I always find these things complicated because I generally find myself ticking all the boxes.  Name, address, email address and telephone number are easy enough, but 'role' becomes complicated.  I regard myself as principally a trainer and I spend the bulk of my time training horses; but I earn my living as a journalist, and I am also an owner, a breeder and a broadcaster too.  (And a politician, but one doesn't want further to over-complicate things).  Those tend to be the five boxes, and I guess that one is expected to tick one of them; for me, all five have to be ticked.

Anyway, at this stud I ticked all the options for occupation, as usual.  Then there were the questions about numbers of broodmares owned (one) and stallions used in recent years (Youmzain, Rajsaman, Le Havre, Gold Away ...) etc.  But then we really faced the googly: I can't remember the exact wording, but the question was something like 'What criteria do you apply when deciding which stallions to use on your mare(s)?'  This was on a par with the question to McCoy about the best decisions he had made: it would have been easy (if time-consuming) to answer this in 200,000 words, but we had two lines!  As I said, AP was superb in coping with his piece of verbal bodyline, but I'm afraid that I lack his incision: I left the space blank, as did the Racing Post's excellent bloodstock writer Nancy Sexton, who was next in line and who shared my view that any answer to this question which could fit into two lines would not be worth the paper on which it was written.

On our usual main subject (the weather) it's been a wintry week (as you'll already be aware) even if, by the standards which often prevail for that sale, the conditions weren't too grim on Thursday for Tattersalls' February Sale (the highlight of which for me was the opportunity to meet one of my all-time favourite horses, Dunaden, pictured in this paragraph at Park Paddocks, having just taken part in the TBA pre-sale stallion parade).  Mind you, it's not meant to drop below zero tonight, and we are forecast a further slight rise in temperatures during next week too.  So maybe spring isn't too far away.  (Here's hoping).

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