Tuesday 22 January 2019

Voice of experience McCoy remains difficult to beat in a driving finish

The Couch

AP McCoy. Photo: Getty Images
AP McCoy. Photo: Getty Images

Tommy Conlon

National Hunt racing is a rough game and a hard business, so not even the protocols of live television can fully sanitise its rustic appetite for plain talking.

Which is why nobody on ITV batted an eyelid last week when AP McCoy described a colleague, live on air at the Cheltenham Festival, as a "clown". You wouldn't get it on a Sky Sports Super Sunday, or Saturday or Monday either. In the otherwise tightly controlled world of corporate sport, racing provides this subversive pleasure to the viewer on a regular basis.

Of course, we've heard salty language and pungent grumbling for many a year too from the likes of Ted Walsh on RTé's racing coverage. But it sounded a little more bracing on English TV, where generally the discourse is a tad more polite, if not downright bland.

The supreme irony at the heart of this particular skirmish, however, was that McCoy and his fellow pundit Luke Harvey were being accused, in so many words, of pulling their punches. The man making the insinuation was Matt Chapman, a reporter and presenter on racing television who has made a name for himself at the panto end of the market. He is brash and loud and partial to comedic antics - basically a ham with a microphone.

ITV presumably believe he's good for the ratings as much as the racing. McCoy, with all his prestige and knowledge, was effectively leading their coverage as the pre-eminent voice of authority.

One would've thought that his stature as the greatest jump jockey of all time might have insulated him from cheap shots from anyone, never mind from a broadcasting colleague, never mind live on air. But Chapman was taking no prisoners.

Since retiring three years ago from the saddle, with his 4,357 winners and a host of other records that they say will never be broken, McCoy has maintained his close personal and professional friendship with JP McManus. As rider and owner they were an all-conquering partnership. They still work together in the managing of McManus's equine empire.

On Thursday the Limerick Croesus had four horses running in the Pertemps Handicap Hurdle, among them Glenloe and Protek Des Flos. As the ITV team were previewing the day's racing at the start of their afternoon show, Chapman, down in the betting ring and playing to the gallery, goaded the champ with a few blows that were well below the belt.

"You know," he began, "McCoy used to ride for the Pipe team (the legendary trainer Martin Pipe). They had a bloke called Chester Barnes, he used to carry Pipey's bags, clean his shoes - now McCoy does that for JP McManus. That's what he does. But not a mention from McCoy of the big McManus gamble of the day, Glenloe in the Pertemps (and) Protek Des Flos. Now, shoe-cleaner, which one has JP lumped on?" (At this stage McCoy hadn't even been asked who he fancied in the Pertemps.)

The television director cut straight from Chapman to a close-up of McCoy, standing in ITV's makeshift studio beside the winner's enclosure. The great man's face was a mask of stone as his colleagues, Harvey, Francesca Cumani and presenter Ed Chamberlin sniggered nervously. "I'll tell you one thing, Ed," he replied, "being JP's shoe-cleaner is a lot better than working with Chapman. I can give you that much."

Glenloe was beaten by a nostril under Barry Geraghty in a neck-and-neck duel to the line with Delta Work, the mount of Davy Russell owned by Michael O'Leary. Glenloe had made a mistake at the last hurdle. The consensus among the cognoscenti was that the mistake had cost him the race. But was it his mistake, or the jockey's? And could Geraghty not have kicked for home earlier, given that Glenloe seemed to have loads of gas left in the tank? McCoy and Harvey, also a former jockey, exonerated the pilot in their post-race analysis. It is a common refrain among punters that jockeys, current or former, will generally protect their own. If so, they're not unique, in the punditry game, or among sundry other professions. It was George Bernard Shaw who famously coined the phrase over a hundred years ago that "all professions are conspiracies against the laity".

In any event Chapman, the self-proclaimed punters' friend, wasn't buying it. "Come on AP and Luke," he challenged, "every punter watching that race will have said, 'If Barry Geraghty didn't sit like he did he would have won'. Now it's all very well sitting like that if you don't make a mistake at the last. But the only thing that beat Glenloe there was the mistake at the final hurdle. Without that mistake he would, categorically, have won."

Straight back to the lads. "That's absolute drivel," retorted Harvey, who insisted that horses coming down to the last, going at this speed in such a competitive race, will make mistakes. McCoy sounded less convincing when explaining why Geraghty hadn't produced the horse earlier. Glenloe was "relatively inexperienced" and if he'd hit the front too soon he mightn't have kept going all the way to the line.

(Geraghty afterwards described the horse as "a big baby. He just looked around and lost a bit of momentum." Glenloe is a seven-year-old, Delta Work five.)

McCoy had the final word. Riled by this uppity challenge to his version of events in the Pertemps, he was evidently still smarting from Chapman's snide remarks some 70 minutes earlier. "Barry Geraghty's ridden a lot more winners," he concluded, "than the clown who just asked the question."

It was presumably a close-run thing too, but thankfully on this occasion neither Chapman nor McCoy were suspended by the stewards for excessive use of the whip.


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