Friday 20 October 2017

Rachel Wyse: Touch of Class

Rachel Wyse

For sports people being the absolute best in their field is what life is all about. How do we define who is or who has been the best? Regardless of the sport we continue to compare and contrast individuals and teams from different eras in an effort to definitively state who has been the best.

Shefflin or Ring? McCoy or Dunwoody? Tyson or Ali? Pele or Maradona? It's human nature and a labour of love to process the merits and argue respective cases. It's one of the many reasons people are passionate about their sport.

Last Saturday 30,000 plus people filed through the gates of Ascot racecourse. They came to see a champion. He carried the mantle of the best racehorse in the history of the sport. To the delight of an expectant crowd, Frankel duly delivered. He was a champion at two, three, and four-years-old. He raced 14 times, 10 at Group One level and remained unbeaten.

Frankel was capable of stirring emotions and creating a buzz very rarely experienced or seen on a race track.

New pastures now await the phenomenon as he assumes the mantle of leading stallion at his owner's breeding operation in Newmarket and the equine world will await Frankel's offspring with huge anticipation.

Hallowed

In the hallowed winner's enclosure at Ascot, Frankel's trainer Henry Cecil said: "He's the best I've ever had, the best I've ever seen."

Cecil's whispered tones did not lessen the significance of his words. Both in his professional career and personal life, Cecil has experienced dizzy heights and depressing lows since he took out a training licence 1969. It has been a journey that qualifies him to make absolute judgments on Frankel's ability.

I had the pleasure of meeting Henry at the 2010 Cheltenham Festival when he was guest of honour for the charity race I rode in. He had a runner in the race, Plato, and unsurprisingly the great man found himself in familiar territory standing at the No 1 spot in the winner's enclosure as Plato and jockey Lorna Fowler led the field home.

Ten times champion Flat trainer in the UK, 25 UK Classic winners and over 70 winners at Royal Ascot give a glimpse of his achievements to date. With an endless list of winners, he has long been a friend to punters, but the affection people have for Cecil is born out of far more than monetary gains.

The public's sense of affection and warmth for Cecil has much to do with his genuine nature and ability to walk among those who love the racing game. He always has time to acknowledge the racing public and, when interviewed, he speaks in a refreshingly insightful, honest, sometimes mischievous, but never condescending manner. His ability to afford people respect has never been diminished by his achievements.

And, in the autumn of his career, while bravely fighting stomach cancer, he was entrusted with the task of maximising the talent that was Frankel. And what a job he made of it as he displayed his genius once more. For sure, Frankel was a colt of immense potential, but the task was never straightforward.

Top-class horses pose a different test for their handlers. Indeed, after winning the English 2,000 Guineas, Channel 4's John Francome and Jim McGrath suggested Frankel's willingness to gallop and the style of his victory was so exuberant that they feared it would leave its mark and lessen his ability to perform in future races.

Their rationale was based on the belief that a horse can deliver a finite number of performances laced with such brilliance.

Cecil guided and nurtured. He never rushed the horse, never asked questions that were beyond his mental or physical capabilities. Never over the top or short of work, the horse was sufficiently ready relative to the challenge he faced, and always ready to peak on the days that mattered most.

The trainer continually did what was in the best interests of his horse.

Strange as it may seem with a talent such as Frankel's, the margin between making a mess of the task at hand and doing the job with absolute perfection are probably very small.

To do so while undergoing cancer treatment is absolutely indescribable.

Just like Frankel, Cecil displayed and continues to display endless class.

In concluding his post-race interview last Saturday he said of Frankel: "I'd be very surprised if there's ever been better."

Surely these words are also true of the man himself.

Lennon’s men honourable exception to a bad week

THIS week's round of Champions League fixtures threw up a rather unusual set of results for the five British clubs -- four losses (for Chelsea, Celtic, Arsenal and Manchester City) and just the one win for Manchester United.

Indeed, with the honourable exception of Celtic -- whose players were heroic for Neil Lennon in their heartbreaking defeat to Barcelona -- it was a really indifferent third round as United also struggled, before coming from two goals down to beat Portuguese side Braga.

Conceding early goals has become a (bad) habit for United and even Alex Ferguson (pictured) is at a loss to explain why his side have been forced to come from behind in eight of their 12 games this season.

On Wednesday night, I paid a visit to the Emirates where Arsenal were bereft of attacking ideas against Schalke.

The Germans looked the better side throughout -- closing down the Gunners' midfield at every available opportunity -- and moving the ball quickly on the break.

Injuries haven't helped Arsene Wenger, but the 2-0 loss is a first defeat in a home Champions League group game for his side and with only a single shot on target (and that coming in the 92nd minute!), there was a tangible air of gloom hanging over the stadium as supporters headed for the exits.



Hectic schedule - but it's worth it

Having worked at Sky Sports News for the last two years, I've been lucky enough to be a part of the coverage of some of the biggest breaking news stories that have gripped sports fans on both sides of the Irish Sea.

There's nothing more fulfilling, work-wise, than coming off air after a hectic five-hour shift with plenty of breaking news, live sport and interesting guests.

But, behind the scenes, I can tell you that it's a massive operation with a quality team to make sure everything runs as smoothly as possible. Without doubt, there are certain pressures that come with the job, but the highs far outweigh the lows.

Working at our studio in Stratford for the two weeks of the London Olympics has been my most memorable experience so far. The 2.30am starts can be difficult, but what makes it all worth it is when you meet and interview some of the world's greatest athletes.

Irish Independent

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