Sport Horse Racing

Sunday 4 December 2016

Creep of The Cotswolds grunts his way to infamy

Published 21/03/2010 | 05:00

Wednesday at Cheltenham and as usual the lady and the creep are monitoring the market in the betting ring.

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And as usual, Channel 4's Tanya Stevenson and John McCririck have an army of punters pushing and shoving behind them, mad to get their mugs on the telly. She turns around and asks which horse they fancy (in the RSA Chase). Given the chance to actually speak, they can barely muster a word.

Then McCririck repeats the question, except he shouts it at them. "Who are ye backing?" He turns to the camera, making a dismissive gesture at the imbecilic mob behind him. "Don't even ask them!" he bellows.

A fellow C4 pundit is unimpressed. "John (Francome) has a phrase: 'You can only expect a grunt from a pig'. And when you see Mac behaving like that and the people behaving like that behind him, you know exactly what he means."

So, no love lost there. Earlier, on C4's preview programme The Morning Line, McCririck had excoriated the Limerick jockey Brian O'Connell for his ride on the hot favourite Dunguib in the Supreme Novices Hurdle the day before. A lot of punters' money had gone west on Dunguib, which had finished third.

No sooner had Davy Russell won the RSA than he was calling for an apology from McCririck for his "cowardly" remarks. By then O'Connell was back in Ireland and racing at Down Royal where he had two winners.

On Thursday's Morning Line, the controversy rumbled on. "Do you know," said Francome, looking directly at McCririck, "the best thing that happened yesterday? Brian O'Connell riding two winners in Ireland. It absolutely made my day."

McCririck shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "Don't let's go there," he replied, "don't let's go there." But he couldn't resist the bait. "You know I'm right," he added.

Francome was flanked by Ted Walsh and another C4 pundit, Jim McGrath. Now they all turned their guns on McCririck. Francome: "No. No. You weren't right." Walsh: "You were out of order and you know you were out of order." McGrath: "There are ways of saying things and you were unfair." Francome: "You've got half a chance to redeem yourself by saying 'I was over the top', and people might just not want to kick you when you're walking down the road." Walsh: "And I wouldn't recommend you to go to Limerick on your holidays."

Later on Pat Kenny's radio show, McCririck claimed he was only saying what a lot of punters with beaten dockets had been thinking. Walsh and Francome were just closing ranks around a fellow jockey.

"It's the boys sticking up for the boys, isn't it, they stick up for their own. Ted Walsh knows in his heart that I'm right but he cannot come out and say it and condemn one of his fellow Irish riders. He can't do it. So for Irish consumption he has got to go along and say that I am wrong. (But) all the jockeys, the professionals know it. Do you have an inexperienced new professional on a horse that is a difficult ride or do you get a top pro? It's a no-brainer."

There seemed to be an element of the jockeys' union about the way they all rushed to defend O'Connell. But later on Wednesday Francome, seven times champion jockey in his day, broke ranks -- if only for a moment. The TV replays were showing Barry Geraghty's winning drive in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Geraghty used the whip seven times after the final fence, bringing it down from a height and leathering the horse's right flank. "Now I'm a Barry Geraghty fan," said Francome with some feeling, "(but) we all go on about use of the whip: I hate seeing horses hit down the rib cage like that."

The National Hunt Chase on Wednesday, for amateur riders, turned out to be something of a fairytale with the only two female jockeys in the race battling it out for first and second. Nina Carberry was pipped by her friend Katie Walsh, daughter of Ted. "I don't want to sound soft or anything," said a tearful Katie, "but this is definitely the best day of my life."

It's a man's world, racing, and neither jockey had shown any sign of softness as they flaked their horses in the push for the winning post. Both animals had gone four miles and were visibly wilting -- Carberry received a five-day ban for excessive use of the whip, Walsh four days.

On Thursday, Tony McCoy was trampled underfoot by two horses in the first race of the day. He limped away, hurting like hell -- and then was back in the saddle for the next. He won the Ryanair Chase on board Albertas Run and back in the winners' enclosure eased himself down off the horse like an old man. "I must admit," he said afterwards, "when I was on the ground the pain threshold was tested to the limit." Coming from McCoy, it meant he was in agony.

Then Song Of Songs sent him bouncing off the turf in the Byrne Group Plate. He hobbled away from that one too. "He wasn't born," said C4's Alastair Down, "he was quarried."

On Friday, McCoy was back for more punishment, gaunt and pale as ever.

Which left you thinking, if they're that hard on themselves, it's no wonder they're hard on the horses too.

thecouch@independent.ie

Sunday Independent

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