There are, I admit, times when I’m standing in the pouring rain, on a wet Monday afternoon with a couple of hundred other racegoers when I wonder why I bother following this sport of horse racing.
Then again there are days, like last Saturday, when I know there is nowhere in the world I would rather be.
I’m referring, of course, to British Champion’s Day at Ascot last Saturday, where I experienced one of the best atmospheres at a racecourse ever. For one it seemed over 90% of those present were actually there for the racing.
Although there were five championship races most were there to see the one race, indeed the one horse, the mighty Frankel who was there to make his last appearance on a racecourse.
However it almost didn’t happen as the wet weather threatened the horses participation in the race and was dependent on connections walking the course on Saturday morning.
As Racing For Change’s Rod Street put it to me afterwards it was “squeaky bum time” – imagine the sense of anti-climax has Frankel not run.
Both the pre-parade ring and parade ring were surrounded by massive crowds wanting to get a glimpse of the unbeaten wonder horse, something that added another irony to the day.
The race before Frankel’s was the Queen Elizabeth Stakes over the mile, the very race Frankel won last year and it was won in devastating style by the horse who has lived in Frankel’s shadow, Excelebration. A brilliant, gutsy horse in his own right who would have been an undoubted superstar had he not been of the same generation as the once in a lifetime horse.
Even on Saturday, the day he wasn’t racing against Frankel he still managed to be overshadowed and many at Ascot missed the brilliant turn of foot, reminiscent of Sea The Stars in his Arc run, which salvaged the race from a seemingly impossible position.
As Frankel entered the parade ring he was greeted by applause, not unprecedented at Ascot, what was unprecedented was the cheers and applause as he came out onto the track, although there was an amusing moment when some racegoers applauded his brother Bullet Train as he led the runners out in the second colours of the owner.
After the parade the runners set off to the start, all apart from Frankel who held back and slowly cantered past the packed stands to milk the appreciation of the fans, it was almost as if he was doing a lap of honour before the race.
Of course the race itself was heart stopping as Frankel almost fell out of the stalls, giving four to five lengths to his rivals and Ian Mongan on Bullet Train, supposedly in as the pacesetter, had to do som quick thinking to drop back and find his stablemate.
Of course the worries were unfounded and the roar of the crowd told you what was happening as he pulled upsides the defending champion Cirrus Des Aigles before edging clear to make it 14 wins from 14 races.
The crowds went mad, looking from my high vantage point you could see people running towards the rails so they could get a glimpse of the superstar.
One thing I really like though was the second and third, Cirrus Des Aigles and Nathaniel were both given a rapturous welcome back from the crowd, who appreciated what good horses they were and their contribution in making it a competitive race.
It was a brilliant atmosphere, it’s a shame it cannot be bottled.
Channel Four have finally announced their presentation team for next year, a mixed bag with some surprises.
It is, of course, no surprise Nick Luck will be there as a main presenter alongside Clare Balding. There were some surprises in the “supporting” team.
The biggest surprise for me was the inclusion of Emma Spencer, who for me is the most lightweight member of the team, both physically and as a presenter. I’m told by many that she is considered pretty and “eye-candy” although that is something I fail to see, as the saying goes beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Graham Cunningham was the surprise inclusion in the team, he’s an astute analyst not afraid to have an opinion and I can envisage some chippy exchanges with Jim McGrath and Mick Fitzgerald who will be the other paddock commentators.
The dropping of John McCririck has sparked some debate but it cannot really be a major surprise, he really is past his sell-by date and, unfortunately he has become a caricature of himself. His rant at being omitted from the line-up exemplifies why he was omitted.
Three of the other droppings from the team are more questionable.
Alastair Down isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, like an avuncular Uncle, sometimes tetchy he wasn’t really a TV natural but his way with words and his passion for national hunt racing was unsurpassed.
Mike Cattermole is a very accomplished presenter and a very decent chap, as demonstrated by his very graceful reaction to his not being included in the line-up (Take note McCririck) and I think his omission is a mistake especially when Spencer is being retained.
The dropping of Derek Thompson is also something of a mystery, yes he is a Marmite man, but from a TV producers perspective he is an absolute Godsend. He will do the interviews nobody else wants to, he can get across the atmosphere and work the crowd and, most importantly from a TV production perspective if you need somebody to fill for 23 seconds he will give you exactly 23 seconds, not a second more, not a second less.
This brings us onto the other Marmite character, Matt Chapman – who isn’t in the team. This may come as a surprise but I am slightly disappointed by this. Yes I know I have been Matt’s biggest critic over the years but a “tamed” Matt would have been a good addition to the team.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, when he plays it straight Matt is one of the best interviewers we have in the sport, he can get even the most reluctant of trainers to open up.
However Matt is his own worse enemy in that he tries to be controversial, he always denies this, but he does and it is so frustrating. If he could just calm himself, reign himself in, he would have been a shoe-in for a Channel Four role and a great addition to the team – it’s a terrible waste.
It’s good to see Simon Holt and Richard Hoiles will continue to be in the team, Richard once again showed why he is head and shoulders our best commentator with his excellent call of Frankel’s race as Ascot.
I'm also disappointed there seems not to be a role for Stewart Machin in the new team.