Wednesday, January 04, 2017

New year, new show, new brahma

White Valiant didn't run very well on Sunday, but funnily enough that wasn't a disappointment.  This blog is not a tipping site and I don't use Twitter for that purpose either, but on Sunday morning I did respond to an enquiry on Twitter as to how I rated White Valiant's prospects.  The rain had been beating down for a few hours by that time, and I wrote thus: "Ought to run OK but opposition will be strong and the v soft ground will be a complete unknown.  Hard to know what to expect."  I think that you'll work out from that that I certainly was not going to be disappointed were he to perform not particularly well.

We all know that when conditions become really testing in National Hunt races in the winter, the NH-bred horses generally clean up and the Flat-bred ones generally struggle.  Long before the bumper, the last race, came around, it was clear that those were the conditions which we were enduring at Cheltenham, where it rained all day.  Consequently, I was not at all fazed when he struggled.  My feeling was that that was likely to happen, but I just didn't know.  He'd never cantered on very soft ground, never mind galloped or raced on it, so it really was a case of guesswork as to how he'd cope.  My educated guess was that he wouldn't cope - but, of course, educated guesses are sometimes proved wrong.  Not, unfortunately, on this occasion, though!

The incessant rain led to five of the 16 horses in the race being withdrawn, their connections presumably suspecting that they would struggle the way that White Valiant did.  However, I couldn't really see the point in not running: we just didn't know how our horse would run on heavy ground, and there was only one way to find out.  And, while there is never no risk in running a horse, the risk was minimal.  He wouldn't jar up on heavy ground; rather, unless one were very unlucky, the worst that would happen would be that he would run badly and be tired but sound afterwards.  That was indeed what happened - and, happily, as we had a very sensible jockey on board, he wasn't too exhausted, because Davy Russell had the presence of mind not to put him under much pressure once it was clear that he was struggling.  So we live to fight another (and drier) day.

One interesting (to me, anyway) aspect of the outing was that it gave me an opportunity to give an old paddock sheet an appropriate airing.  In general I never put sheets on the horses in the parade ring.  My view (shared, plainly, by nobody else) is that they shouldn't be allowed because the point of a parade ring is that the horses should be available for inspection by the public, which aim is totally undermined if the horse is wearing a rug.  Strangely, this anomaly seems to have occurred to nobody else but me.  But even I use one maybe once a year when it is raining incessantly, simply to keep the jockey's saddle dry to make it more comfortable for him when he mounts.  (Trying to keep the horse dry is pointless, as he is going to be soaked by the end of the race whatever one does).

I had taken an old sheet with me in case it really was going to be as wet as the forecast was suggesting.  (Which it was).  This sheet was given to me by Barbara Lockhart-Smith, a formidable (unlicensed, because women were not permitted to hold trainers' licenses until the latter stages of Barbara's training career, so her husband Lt-Commander R. A. (Tony) Lockhart-Smith held the license) National Hunt trainer from the '50s to the early '70s.  Anyway, a while back Barbara gave me her old paddock-sheet, saying, "You will use it, won't you?".  The true answer would have been, "Very, very infrequently at best", but I took it anyway, gratefully because it is a nice little piece of racing history.

Barbara's best results included Sartorius finishing fourth to Arkle in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1966 under Terry Biddlecombe and Steel Bridge finishing second to Highland Wedding in the Grand National in 1969 under Richard Pitman.  Barbara might have had more than one paddock sheet so it is not guaranteed that these horses did wear it on those occasions, but I like to think that they did.  So I thought it fitting that White Valiant should carry this sheet around the Chetenham parade ring (a different parade ring from the one graced by Arkle in 1966, of course) one more time.  I took a photograph of him doing so which I shall have printed and which I shall send to Barbara, and I hope that she will approve.

On the subject of approval, Sunday's Cheltenham meeting was, of course, the subject of the first broadcast by the new ITV racing team.  Being there, I was obviously not at home to watch it, but we did tape it as it seemed right to be able to watch it subsequently and see how the new land seems to be lying.  And my first impression is very positive.  I had no idea what to expect of Ed Chamberlin, and I was slightly sceptical as we have seen too many occasions in the past when general sports presenters or specialist presenters of other sports have been drafted in to cover racing simply because they held a degree of 'celebrity' status, and then proved not up to the job simply because their racing knowledge was not deep enough.

However, I was delighted to find that we need have no worries on that score.  I haven't watched a soccer match since about 1975 so had no idea what to expect from Ed Chamberlin, but I thought that he was excellent.  He's clearly a first-rate broadcaster, and Sunday made it clear that he is very well stocked with both knowledge of and passion for the sport.  Nick Luck's shoes will be hard to fill, but he will be up to the task.  Otherwise, AP and Luke worked very well together and jointly made a very good back-up team for him, and the features (including the excellent montage at the start of the show made up of lovely archive footage reminding us of all the great racing coverage which ITV had given us in the past, and also including the outstanding Jonjo O'Neill segment) were first-class.

Furthermore, broadcasting from an outdoor position in the parade ring was a much better idea than doing so from a portakabin stoodio plonked down somewhere fairly nearby, as had been the Channel Four way.  This new ITV method made the viewer feel as if he were there, right in the thick of things, being rained on with the horses walking past merely an arm's length away.  In other words, it makes the TV-viewer feel like a race-goer, leaning on the parade ring rails, taking it all in, a sport of living animals and humans, rather than computers and animation.  Seeing Sunday's show, it makes it hard to understand why the Channel Four bosses persisted with their clearly less satisfactory method for so long.

The 'wild-card' element of the show was provided by Matt Chapman, and there's no point in trying to improve on Matt's analysis of himself, ie that some people will love him and some will loathe him.  However, I think that everyone will agree that he provided one of the brahmas of the show (along with Luke's very good and very topical observation, on the day that the New Year's Honours List was announced, that a horse with a poor completion record had 'more letters after his name than John Gosden').  I managed to miss Matt's brahma because, watching the programme the next day, we understandably fast-forwarded through a few sections; but I've been told about it, and assume that the account which I have been given of it is accurate.

Apparently, at one point during Matt's loose-cannon blunderings around the betting-ring, he spotted a spelling mistake on a bookmaker's board.  (The man was offering odds on the straight 'forcast').  Most people would have let sleeping dogs lie, but not our Matt.  He marched over to point out the error to the hapless bookie - and the brahma was that the bookmaker couldn't grasp what Matt was trying to highlight.  When I was at school, Mathematics and English were probably my two best subjects, but I believe that it is more common to find people who are very good at English and hopeless at Maths, or very good at Maths and hopeless at English.  This bookie clearly does not fall into the former category.  For the sake of his commercial future as a bookmaker, I hope that he is in the latter group.


neil kearns said...

have to agree with your comments on the ITV show on Sunday feel they may need a couple more voices who are less racing professionals (ie not ex jockeys , trainers) or they may struggle to keep the non racing public entertained

D J Dizzy said...

I must say Mr Berry that your horse looked very well in the paddock at Cheltenham and I have no doubt a nice flat maiden is easily winnable on decent ground. Good luck with such a lovely type.