Monday 16 December 2019

Trends may change but class never goes out of fashion

The shtyle? Oh. My. God. The shtyle! The hats. The frocks. The fillies. The fake tans. Fabilus. Just fabilus.

It was that time of year again. How quickly they come round, the Galway Races. It seems like only yesterday since Marietta Doran, that veritable butterfly of the turf, was describing the fashion as "incredible". Last week it was "unbelievable". (This old thing? Oh it's nothing Marietta, I just threw it together at the last minute.)

Ballybrit was a sea of exotic headpieces. In fact the unsuspecting punter was in danger of having his eye taken out by a stray feather while laying on his tenner with the track-side bookmakers.

Then again, according to Doran on RTE, the men weren't complaining. Tracy Piggott: "I believe you asked a gentleman today if he was enjoying his day?" "Yeah, and you know what he said back to me? 'Ah Marietta,' he said, 'sure any man with a pulse would enjoy today!'"

Yes, these were the temptations and distractions lurking around every corner for the serious racing man. But, with a dedication to the job that bordered on monastic, Robert Hall and Ted Walsh brought us faithfully the runners and riders, and the ups and downs, of every race. They would not be deterred. They were joined by Ruby, master jockey, son of Ted, who was once again sidelined with injury, and wearing a neck brace for his pains. ("Yah, crushed the C7 vertebra in my neck. Looks a lot worse than it is -- and I've been in worse contraptions in my time.") Brian Gleeson meanwhile was down in the betting ring keeping an eye on the market.

In other words the best broadcasting team in RTE Sport was, as it were, back in the saddle again. Come to think of it, they are arguably the best television team in British or Irish sport. They are fluent talkers -- the words come easy. But it's more to do with personality than verbal skill. They are excellent company; genial, natural, humorous. They don't use the medium to set themselves apart from the viewer. They are experts but they wear their expertise lightly. They analyse but it doesn't feel like analysis. They talk as if the camera isn't there. Which makes the viewer forget he's even watching television. It's a human quality, ultimately, that makes them so watchable.

And it seems to have dawned on them that there is a need to explain their sport to a wider audience. Ted has become something of a teacher in recent years, enlightening viewers on the many mysteries of his trade. The apple hasn't fallen far from the tree because Ruby is a brilliant communicator too. On Wednesday, he walked the track with a cameraman and spoke about the Galway Plate from a jockey's point of view; it was a fascinating insider's account, and a masterful exposition.

On Monday, Ted went down to the parade ring before the 6.10 to impart his horseman's ancient knowledge. Each animal was scrutinised and summed up in seconds.

Number 3, Fight: "A real two-year-old. He's levelled off well, not high behind and slack in front. Good big wide backside on him. Not an oil painting now, good hardy sort of horse." Number 5, Learn: "He's a flashy sort of horse, big white face on him, he's by Galileo, his father was a bit flashy as well. He's got what we call a flaxen tail to him, he's got white hairs coming through his tail. Not totally unlike his dad who was a great walker, this horse has a great walk as well, puts his hind leg well above his front one.

Number 6, Mad For Road: "Now he's totally different. By Galileo as well but this fella could be by anything. He's a plainish kind of horse, plain old head on him, and a right bit of sweat between the cheeks of his backside there. The occasion -- he's thinking about it. When you see suds up between the cheeks of his arse like that, it's usually a sign that he's thinking about it all. If you were a paddock judge now, you wouldn't be mad about him."

Ted, you're an education.

And so is Marietta, in her own way. But, you're always learning, and on Thursday she talked to a man who put her right on a few things. In 1978, Tommy Kinane

won the Cheltenham Champion Hurdle on Monksfield. Now 77, he was keeping an eye on the fashion as well as the ponies. On Thursday, Ms Doran was wearing on top of her head what can only be described as 'a yoke'. It was a lace sort of a job, about a foot square, and it wouldn't have kept out much rain. But Kinane assured her it'd be good for "netting rabbits", if nothing else. He knew this because he used to go "ferreting" when he was a young buck in Tipperary.

Ferreting aside, Marietta then went after Tommy's inner Gok Wan. What about the hats today? "I saw a few beautiful hats, and I saw a few there that I wouldn't put on a bloody horse." Mentioning no one in particular, like. "And what about the dresses? What about lengths?" "Aw, knee-length (is) perfect. That's it. I don't like seeing them any shorter. They give lads wrong ideas."

Hmmm. Not sure about that, Tommy: long or short, they'd have the wrong idea anyway.

Sunday Indo Sport

The Left Wing: John Cooney on Ulster's European run and bouncing back from World Cup disappointment

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport