Sunday Supplement: At home at the races…

Sunday Supplement

Sunday Supplement

Sunday supplement

By Tony Stafford

Yesterday I had one of my best ever days at the races. No, not “at the races” or even watching Attheraces, except for the odd minute I snatched in between Aintree coverage and news from the afternoon soccer. No, it was in my living room, in splendid isolation save the occasional wifely or Yorkshire terrierly intervention.

People ask me “What do you think of the new Channel 4 coverage of racing?” I can honestly say that my viewing of it is restricted to samples – until I get tired of it – of the Morning Line, and Saturday’s offering got off to a sorry start, when it didn’t start at all until 9.30, 90, no 95 minutes late.

We got Graham on the roof, Nick (Clare must have been doing a bit of hotel waitressing in the town or one of her dozen other jobs), Mick Fitz, I just love that accent, and Jim, not Aussie, ex-Timeform. They did a spot telling us that in one hotel they serve lots of bacon, sausages and eggs – “And all the ladies (sic) dress up”. Liverpool differs from the rest of the country, then, no black pudding.

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No, sorry, the all new, but slightly old wouldn’t ya say, Channel Four still has a long way to go to get my dial off Racing UK. In the morning, Stuart and the hefty young man with the northern accent who seems to know quite a bit – no, not Peter Naughton thankfully – did their stuff, and then the stage was set for Lydia to take over.

And take over she did, not quite a la Balding, but with just as much authority, and a real sense that above all she’s a racing fan and knowledgeable too. She had with her, for most of the day, three doyens of the station’s regular coverage, Tom O’Ryan, who had a Yorkshire triumph to celebrate and those two veterans of the press rooms of the south’s smaller racetracks, Steve Mellish and Jonathan Neesom.

In the days about a decade or so ago when it seemed only me and Jeremy Noseda ever used to get to Lingfield’s smaller winter afternoons – he for an almost routine winner, me for somewhere to go – Steve and Jonathan were standing dishes. What I love about Racing UK, they don’t worry too much about gloss and glamour, although Olly Bell is pressing Mr Luck in that department, but content, and all four of Saturday’s team has knowledge and enthusiasm in abundance.

It made for great viewing, despite the fact that I couldn’t help wishing that Punjabi had been saved to run on Saturday rather than in such a tough two and a half miler the day before when I simply couldn’t get there. As the years go by, my strike rate of Grand Nationals seen live diminishes but it still exceeds 70 per cent over the last 40 years, so I’ve done my bit up the M6.

The best thing was not even Sue Smith – not very Yorkshire, is she? Surprised Harvey of the two fingers gave her a second look with her Southern softie accent – winning with an unheralded, except by the brilliant Colin Russell in the Racing Post, 11-year-old called Auroras Encore.

That seemed a hard one to find, but there must have been a few Auroras, as I think it was Dale Tempest of Skybet told Olly Bell – who himself had a share in a runner, one of the first to depart, sadly – of a granddaughter with Aurora as her middle name. Five clairvoyants got the one-two-three in the Trifecta, although second and third were well up in the betting.

No, the best thing clearly was the absence of injury, let alone death, to horse or jockey, and the sight of the entire field of 40 intact over Becher’s first time round was a source of wonder, not just in terms of extravagant improbability, but also testimony to the effectiveness of the modifications to the course and restraint of the jockeys, contrary to general expectation.

It made it no less exciting for that. Most horses had clear runs round, and while the fact that they could brush through the fence tops soon taught them to do just that every time, the plastic innards of the obstacles were forgiving to the betterment of the spectacle.

If anything it made it more of a lottery, with so many getting round, but I bet there were some owners wishing they’d allowed horses with possible winning chances to take a shot at the half-a-million-plus first prize.

This was a day of unrestrained joy. Old Harvey Smith finally won his National, 70 years after he dreamed it. And Lydia Hislop and her cohorts kept it straight and simple and provided hours that Lord Reith of the old BBC would have applauded as they informed, educated and entertained in equal measure.  Thanks a bunch, guys.

- Tony

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7 replies
  1. Avatar
    Sheila Stern says:

    My son went for Aurora Encore ew as an afterthought – and now can afford to sub us! I wouldn’t mind – I studied form for hours and OK, broke even, but not a great result for me! Still, my family between us do very nicely out of the National and I was chuffed that nobody seriously hurt.

  2. Avatar
    Dion says:

    Unlike Denis I got the same info from Nick and backed the two he put up Chiago Grey and Balthazar King but ignored Aurora as it was trading at 120 on the exchange. Just shows so I am not a happy bunny today but its my own fauly and well done to Nick and all who backed it.

  3. Avatar
    mike oliver says:

    I agree with your comments about channel 4’s new coverage and more. 20 minutes into last week’s Morning Line a horse had been barely mentioned, let alone any prices or the state of the going. Much the same can be said about the afternoon coverage. All hype and no substance or, as they say up north, all fur coat and no knickers. Tania’s companion in the betting ring this week was no replacement for Big Mac – bring hime back!!!!!!’

  4. Avatar
    ianf0ster says:

    Some other tipster also gave Auroras , I know because I had 2 ew bets on it the more substantial one from Nick Pullen’s tip, the other just small one to see how it went – trouble is I backed so many that way I can’t remember where the tip came from.

    For me the highlights of the 3 days were Battle Group winning very well both on Thursday and on Saturday – what a horse! And the incomparable Sprinter Sacre, whom I bet to even higher stakes than I used to put on Frankel. Will I ever get 1.3 again on him.

  5. Avatar
    Debs says:

    Well, I’m happy with the result. I got Auroras Encore in the Sweepstake at work [ a lesson there about ‘never giving up’ – I was mortified when I drew the name out of the hat…..] but I digress. My reason for posting is about Channel 4’s coverage. I work shifts and so usually have to record Saturday racing, and that is what I did yesterday.

    Having now watched the entire Channel 4 programming this morning, I have to say that I found it dire. Yes, I so agree with Mike Oliver above regarding the Morning Line. What happened to me was that I was so intent on recording the racing that I initial forgot to set the timer for the ML. Playing it back today, I don’t know why I was worried about recording it – there was little to be gleaned from it: indeed, watching the ML live must have been a most frustrating experience for anyone looking for pointers about the race…..what’s the point of a ‘preview programme’ it it doesn’t get around to any useful ‘preview information’ for what seemed an age…..?

    As to the actual Grand National coverage itself – words fail me…. seconds before the ‘Off’ where were the cameras? Focused on the start? Ha ha, FAR too obvious! Of course not!! The cameras had switched to Commentary Box….only to have to speedily switch back to the track, where the race had JUST STARTED… The producer’s knowledge of racing – or even live sports-programming come to that – must equate to that of a guinea pig’s…… Sir, if a LIVE event is about to start, then THAT is what you should be transmitting, because THAT is what your viewing public wants to see….It’s hardly rocket science? Or is it? What’s the point of the reputed multi-million pound investment in the Grand National programming and all these extra cameras that Channel 4 are apparently now using to cover the race, if the viewer isn’t going to derive any benefit from these changes?

    The other trouble seems to be that Channel 4 thinks it has worked out beforehand what is going to happen, and then sticks to this line regardless of what actually does happen. In the Channel 4 script, the race was going to be ‘won by a Walsh’, and so that was what Channel 4 was concentrating on…..the problem is, you can’t make predictions and expect to think to them – you have to be prepared for the unexpected…

    Ask my dear old 90 year-old neighbour, who doesn’t follow racing with any real depth of knowledge at all [yes, she bets on ‘pretty coloured silks’, anything owned by the Queen, and anything with a ‘nice tail’] yet even she knows that the National is probably the most obvious example of ‘a race where ANYTHING can happen and often DOES’ and so you’ve GOT to be prepared for that. If the producer doesn’t know that, or if he temporarily forgets, there’s even a fence to remind him that the unexpected does happen – Foinavon. So why wasn’t the producer ready to show Auroras Encore taking the lead? Answer: because the transmitting cameras were focusing on what was going on ‘behind’ rather that ‘at the front’. Why? [Or was the producer vainly looking for a Walsh resurrection?]

    I’m sorry, but Channel 4 racing is starting to grate with me. They’ve apparently thrown the baby out with the bathwater. The camera work seems a poor imitation of what Channel 4 and the BBC had before and the presenters, even with St Clare there to link it together, don’t seem to to be as good as what we had before…..[And tell me, how come Rishi Persad is still on the team? They’d be better off with my 90 year old neighbour….]

  6. Avatar
    herbie says:

    My future daughter in law Sheena picked that with three other big priced ones,our James phoned me to ask how i was and mentioned these horses and said sheena had Phoned him as she was away for the weekend to put them on. He told me he thought they had no chance so wouldnt bother.So lucky for him i placed the bet for her. So kept harmony in the house

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