Wednesday, 14 April 2010

National Treasure

Saturday saw history being made: at the fifteenth attempt the greatest National Hunt jockey of all time, AP McCoy, finally won the World’s greatest steeplechase – The Grand National.

As you have probably gathered from my past musings and rants about Horse Racing, over the past few years I have developed an, at times, unhealthy obsession with the sport; The Grand National therefore has become almost like my FA Cup final.

So on Saturday, I awoke with the excitement of a child at Christmas and headed straight out, my hair still looking like I’d been zapped with a cattle prod, to get a Racing Post and bed in for one of the greatest sporting and TV spectacles there is.

The BBC’s coverage of the whole day, while not perfect, really embarrassed Channel 4’s recent lazy attempts at Racing coverage. As grateful as I am that C4 bring regular coverage to us (something the BBC does not do) I am growing increasingly concerned that their virtual monopoly on mainstream Racing coverage is causing them to grow lackadaisical.

But that’s another story for another time.

The BBC’s coverage on Saturday was brilliant, catering not just to the millions of casual viewers who will have tuned in Saturday and won’t tune in again for another 365 days, but also to genuine fans of the sport.

There was great archival footage from races past, lovely features on those involved in the race and some nice interviews and guests.

The production, from the camera angles to the commentary had that big day feel to it; and all things combined, the BBC (who I’m by no means a huge fan of) helped to really elevate the epic feel of Saturday afternoon.

The supporting card had some great races on it – I had a nice win in the first on the very impressive Peddlers Cross. The Walsh/Nicholls juggernaut showed no signs of stopping as Tataniano hosed up in the second and Champion Hurdle 2nd Khyber Kim went one better in the third, a hurdles race that proved that Zaynar could be the Horse to finally challenge Big Buck’s in the staying hurdle stakes next season.

Sadly that third race also featured a crushing fall from Celestial Halo, the mount of that man Ruby Walsh. It was a terrible looking fall and I was amazed to see the horse jump straight back up from it. Unfortunately the jockey wasn’t so lucky, and the man that was due to ride Grand National favourite Big Fella Thanks suffered a broken arm and was stretchered off the course.

It was a shame to see Ruby not able to take his ride in the big race, but he’ll be back and better than ever in no time.

On to the National then, and as I helped my other half pick a couple of bets for the race on Friday night – I broke down some of the ‘stories’ that there were in the race to her: Dream Alliance’s fairytale story that could soon be a Hollywood film, Nina Carberry’s quest to become the first female jockey to win the race, Mon Mome bidding to secure the first back to back successes in the race since the mighty Red Rum… and Tony McCoy looking to finally break his National duck on his fifteenth attempt…

My fancy for the race had carried over from last year in the shape of Black Apalachi.

Running the field ragged last year while cruising round, Black Apalachi had, unfortunately for me (who had tipped the Horse to anyone who would listen) unseated jockey Denis O’Reagan at Becher’s Brook on the second circuit.

As the race began Saturday and some of the lesser Horses crashed out early on, I got a nasty sense of de javu as Black Apalachi jumped his way into a comfortable lead.

It was all looking good as Becher’s loomed up for the second time, clearing it without a hiccup this year I actually started to think he could win it and then I heard two words from the commentator that made me realise the writing was on the wall: “Tony McCoy”.

Those ominous yellow and green hoops could be seen creeping into the picture as the leading pack headed for home, even a mistake at the 26th couldn’t slow McCoy’s mount Don’t Push It down.

So it came down to Black Apalachi, Don’t Push It, Hello Bud and the favourite, now ridden by Barry Geraghty, Big Fella Thanks. Black Apalachi wasn’t going to roll over and die though and although I was already resigned to either McCoy or Geraghty picking him off at any minute, with every stag like leap Black Apalachi looked every bit the winner.

Brushing through the 28th looked like his undoing as the other three all made up ground, but O’Reagan rousted him along and he regained his place in front. Hello Bud soon looked beaten and Big Fella Thanks seemed to suddenly go backwards leaving McCoy and me to do battle once again.

The number of times Tony McCoy has been the bane of my existence doesn’t even bear thinking about and he once again swooped in to snatch my joy away as he managed to push his Horse that little bit harder and go on to win by a few lengths in the end.

That mistake three out could well have been the difference between first and second for Black Apalachi, but deep down I think this was always going to be McCoy’s day with the Grand National gods finally smiling down on him.

It took me a couple of minutes to get over the sour taste of second but I soon came round to being happy for McCoy, as he gave a magnificently humble and emotional interview after the race.

He thoroughly deserved this win and continues to be a fantastic ambassador for this sport, it’s impossible not to like him, even when he’s screwing you out of money.

This was probably the greatest renewal of the Grand National I’ve had the pleasure of watching (and I’ve had the winner twice in the previous four years) and it was just a fantastic day in general.

A few of the other highlights included:

A brilliant interview with legendary trainer Ginger McCain, who was absolutely hilarious. He managed to swear on live TV on a lunchtime broadcast, call his son a pillock and basically call modern jockeys soft. But it was all done tongue in cheek from a man who lived and breathed this sport – it is characters like McCain that make Horse Racing so very special.

Richard Pitman also managed another great interview on Saturday afternoon, but this one was great for different reasons entirely to the McCain one. His interview of ex-wife Jenny was a master class in discomfort but still relayed some wonderful anecdotes.

Elsewhere this great quip from the legend that is Richard Dunwoody had me in stitches – (Re: the Horse ‘Flintoff’) “He looks a little switched off… a bit like his owner…”

Speaking of Flintoff, if you ever needed an example of the stupidity of the Great British public then Saturday was it. In a ridiculously overlong interview Clare Balding conducted with Peter Kay, Balding asked Kay who he was backing in the National, Kay responded Flintoff and alluded to the fact he’d had some sort of inside information.

Within minutes the price of the Horse plummeted and it ended up going off one of the best backed horses in the race. Shame it ran to form and was last nearly all the way round until pulling up on the second circuit.

I honestly believe Peter Kay could go on TV and tell people to light themselves on fire and they would. Utter lunacy.

Kay was about as unfunny as usual during his interview – even referring to the jockeys as “Borrowers” at one point – because they’re small, get it? In fact I’m sure I’ve heard him use that crack before, well this is Peter Kay I suppose, his entire routine is about ten years out of date.

Up to Saturday the Aintree Festival had been a parade of peroxide, perma-tanned Scouse flesh which thankfully was kept to a minimum on Saturday but why Racing broadcasts feel the need to play up to the stereotype of the opposing spectrums of hen/stag dos and moneybags yuppies is beyond me.

So a few minor quibbles with a fantastic TV and sporting event, which ultimately belonged to Tony McCoy. If he can’t get a Sports Personality of the Year nomination this year then there’s no hope for a Racing personality ever getting the nod.

Check the archives for last year’s 'The Real McCoy' article for more on that travesty.

One final point of interest on Saturday’s Grand National and Tony McCoy – as the champ left Aintree he was on the phone to his Mum and Dad back in Ireland, no doubt beaming with pride when he was pulled by cops for using his mobile at the wheel.

I know it’s an awful stereotype but it doesn’t make it any less true – surely there was worse crime occurring in Liverpool on a Saturday evening than one of Britain’s greatest sportsmen using his phone while driving in the aftermath of probably his greatest ever achievement.

Maybe those cops had backed Black Apalachi too…

Another Musing:

- Last Monday night Fox aired back to back episodes of 24 in the States, yet for some inane reason Sky1 have limited us to the regular airing one episode per week meaning we are now two weeks behind the Americans.

In this day and age it’s hard enough to avoid spoilers, but when we are only a few days behind a la Lost it can be achieved but there is no earthly way now that a show of this nature which fans know is now in its twilight can be avoided online.

Sky1 better have something up their sleeve to catch UK viewers up before the finale airs in the States in a few weeks time… but I wouldn’t back on it. After all this is the same channel that seems to have just removed Modern Family completely from its schedule in favour of Pineapple fucking Dance Studios.

Speaking of 24…

24 Day 8 Death Counter:

Hour 15

- Tarin Faroush – committed suicide by driving his 4x4 off the roof of a multi level car park.

Episode Death Total = 1

Cumulative Season Death Total = 69

(Ongoing) Jack Bauer Kills (JBK) Total = 18

Check in next week as I cast an eye over the first televised election debate.


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