By Tony Stafford
Do you like the new Tony McCoy? He’s Mr Nice Guy, about whom nobody ever says an unkind word. The man who signs all the race cards thrust in his face as he travels from weighing room to paddock. The man who always seems happy to talk to Luke Harvey? That’s where credibility starts to weaken.
Like most jockeys on their way to the sort of elevated glory his decades of unstinting effort and attainment have given him, he actually seemed for much of the 20 years of his career, a pretty grumpy character. Ask the group of people that went into the paddock for a race at Fakenham a few years back and when asked what he’d said, replied that he’d completely ignored them.
But like the old private pension schemes, in which what one earned over the last few years determined your final payout – don’t worry my ex-wife took all mine, so I’ve no idea what I might have been enjoying – AP has played the late benevolent game.
He’s so nice nowadays that he has publicly anointed his successor as champion. That’s right, Richard Johnson, the man who has sat in the weighing room for all these years wondering when the iron man would decide to bugger off, has officially got the gig.
I wonder if the BBC, the organisation which has not only given up racing, but football, cricket and pretty much everything else, will be quite so interested in the sport now that McCoy is going. That sounds – on re-reading - an oxymoron, but they still latch on to certain elements of the sports that have gone the way of Sky.
So Manchester United have to be on telly when the last vestige of their coverage, the FA Cup, comes round. I’m so pleased therefore that the Man U – Arsenal tie must clash next Monday night with the Bedfordshire Racing Club pre-Cheltenham evening. Cheers BBC.
I had a similar experience when driving up to Bridlington for another preview evening a few years back. That clashed with a Champions League match when the Gunners were eliminated after a game but ultimately vain attempt to overturn a poor situation caused by an inept first leg. That’s to come, too, in a couple of weeks. Promise I’ll try not to be distracted.
I believe Richard Johnson, who has magically become Dickie over the past few years, almost single-handedly by dint of the said Harvey, will still need to be lucky to get a first title, anointed or not. Like Adrian Maguire, who had an injury-induced slump in winners the year McCoy won for the first time all those years ago, Johnson will have to sharpen even more the characteristics of determination and hard work his nemesis has always had in abundance.
McCoy’s public mellowing has probably been the result of a happy home life with marriage and children, and Johnson is similarly well grounded, but it will be hard, not far short of his 40’s, to maintain the drive. McCoy put down much of the incentive for his relentless pursuit of the title every year, to Johnson’s presence waiting for a slip. Will Johnson have someone or something to keep up his enthusiasm?
I didn’t stay up for all of the England - Sri Lanka cricket World Cup game overnight. I just agonised over England’s tactics, knowing 309 (decent enough in 1999) would be insufficient. The four and a half hours in between were spent in a pessimism-induced semi-conscious state, dreaming possible outcomes, but I never expected us to lose well before time by nine wickets.
Jimmy Anderson was regarded before the competition as one of the best bowlers in the world when the ball is swinging. In four games – ignominious thrashings by Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka and a single defeat of pub team Scotland – Jimmy has collected just two wickets, both against the Scots, while plenty of other teams’ bowlers have made it go round corners. Yet we’ve never changed the team once. Hales is there, collecting sun tan on the boundary, while Stokes is nowhere to be seen.
We’re nowhere near good enough, like on last week’s evidence, most of the Premier League teams when they get to the latter stages of European action. While as for Andy Murray and Rory McIlroy, what were they doing this week?
I had a nice afternoon at Newbury on Friday. The going didn’t help many horses and the new car park situation – temporary, while the last of Newbury’s 3,000 new apartments are getting finished – resulted in my car being the last to make it into a place just near enough not to charter a minibus to get to the entrance.
The races were the second part of a Newmarket gallops, Newbury double header and quite early in the game, I bailed out of a repeat, fulfilling the A11 part of the equation, but leaving viewing the Newbury bumper to the trainer, Mr Morrison.
Like many over the two days, Hughie found the going unsuited to man (especially in the gluey paddock after Friday night’s rain) and beast and for the second day the boss’s representative struggled home.
Luckily, having realised that staying after the last - always a chore when there was a proper car park – might bring about a tardy departure, the ultimate recollection on this last day of February will be events in the morning rather than deflation in the afternoon.
Have you got your Cheltenham bets in line? I’m actually going to be there for at least the first three days with possibly Lingfield the Friday alternative with a runner lined up. Before the Bedfordshire next week, I’ll be scrutinising the handicaps. After all, there’s nothing clever in backing all the Willie Mullins winners is there?