Oh What A Circus

This is a slightly modified version of an article I originally published last Thursday, which produced a curious reaction to say the least, more on that anon.

There is a song in the musical Evita which begins with the words,

Oh What A Circus,

Oh What A Show

In the show the lyrics refer to the reaction to the death of Eva Peron.

The words, however, equally apply to the brouhaha surrounding AP McCoy’s quest to reach 4,000 winners.

Let me say from the outset there is probably no bigger admirer of McCoy and what he has achieved in his career than me.

Anyone who reads my reports will know they frequently include plaudits aplenty for McCoy and his ability to win with horses which by any sane measure should have lost.

He is a master of his profession, without equal and he is the greatest jump jockey and probably the greatest jockey ever.

Although, numerically, he is nowhere near the greatest in the world, many riders have ridden in excess of 4,000 winners and McCoy isn’t even half way to matching the 9,530 winners of Laffit Pincay but racing is incredibly parochial.

What has irked me is the media circus surrounding the build up.

Unsurprisingly Great British Racing has been orchestrating the coverage, after all they will try any gimmick to garner publicity for the sport, although I concede the McCoy 4,000 is probably one of the more blindingly obvious ones.

Who can forget the debacle that was The Filly Factor, where not even the best person won but very much the “right” person won as far as they were concerned – whatever did happen to Miss Moore’s commentating career?

Alastair Down is a far better wordsmith than I will ever be and his summation of the impact marketeers, accountants and their ilk have on the sport was summed up perfectly in his article about Future Champions Day.

This is an extract of what he wrote in the Racing Post,

“There is something Orwellian about the new order that chills. You only have to watch our rulers on the racecourse to be struck by the introspection of their ideology. They club together for warmth speaking only to those who swallow the new orthodoxy and never engaging anyone who dares point out that the Emperor's new clothes are kind of embarrassing because he ain't got nothing on.

“Accountants, peddlers of marketing spin and public relations' conjurors hold sway now. Knowledge of horseracing, insight based on experience and the long learning of centuries about the animal at the heart of the sport count for nothing - indeed, such things are perceived as being backward-looking and an obstacle to the great god, progress.”

It was many years ago that McCoy became the most winning UK / Ireland jockey, that was his big achievement.

What is so special about the 4,000th win that sets it aside from any other – it’s just a random number that just happens to end in three zeros, that happens to fit in with some form of numerical OCD.

Very soon he will be the first UK / Ireland jockey to ride 4,010 winners – that has a zero on the end but I suspect it will not have the same ejaculatory response from racings acolytes.

Of course most of the racing and general media fall for the hyperbole, hook line and sinker – mainly because most of the racing media are so well house trained they do as they are told and the non-racing media gladly accept being spoon fed their copy. So we are greeted by the sight of hoards of journalists descending on courses which are ill equipped to cope with the influx.

Sat-navs must have been working overtime as many of the great and good of the British racing media had to visit courses they may have heard of in the dim and distant past but probably have never visited before and will probably never visit again. Welcome to the real world of cramped press rooms and curled up sandwiches.

Add in the snappers who will eat up all the wi-fi bandwidth and we have a recipe for disaster.

I found it highly ironic the roadshow ended up at Towcester, this is a course where the wi-fi can barely (indeed often doesn’t) cope with the four of us who usually attend their meetings.

Even if one chose not to follow the circus, ones inbox is inundated with a constant barrage of e-mails about the on-going saga. The most annoying one (which arrived three or four times a day in various forms) was the one from GBR explaining the process should McCoy do it the following day. There were two basic mails one for RUK and one for ATR courses with the only thing changing being the course name.

Moderation is something GBR seems to have trouble with. It’s all well and good publicising the sport and accentuating the positives and that is, of course, their raison d’être but constant bombardment of in-boxes is, in my view, counter productive and will result in alienation.

There was great mirth at Warwick on Wednesday afternoon as in the press room all our e-mail boxes pinged at the same time and sure enough it was the latest from GBR and the plans for Towcester.

I have been deliberately avoiding courses where McCoy has been pursuing his 4,000th winner and I was accused of being in a minority in my disdain at the fuss – I would say amongst those who go and cover racing most days, as opposed to the glory boys who only show up at the big meetings, the feeling amongst the press was we all wanted to avoid those meetings like a plague.

You could see the depression of those who had been allocated meetings where McCoy was going to ride, countered by the delight of those who realised they were avoiding it.

Anyway it’s over now, McCoy has ridden winner number 4,000.

McCoy has been the greatest jump jockey in terms of ability and statistically for many years now, today was, in truth, just another day but a day which has been ridiculously hijacked and overhyped.

Undoubtedly it is good racing is appearing on the front pages of the newspapers for the right reasons, heavens above racing needs some positive news.

However I think the importance of it being front page news is being grossly inflated. As the old saying used to say “today’s front page news is tomorrow’s fish and chip wrapper.” (well it was in the pre Health and Safety days when our fish and chips used to be wrapped in old newspapers – and they tasted better then as well :-) )

Do the marketeers really and honestly think newcomers will come flocking through the gates because of McCoy’s 4,000th?

Yes, racing has made the news pages, people may pay some passing interest but those with no interest in racing will probably react in the same way I do when there is news about football, in which I have no interest, i.e treat it as an irrelevance.

As I drove back from Kelso yesterday the big news story (I think it an irrelevant news story – certainly not bigger than the Typhoon) was BT paying £900m to show some European football tournaments. I was aware of the news but would I go to any football match because of it – of course not. I have no interest in the sport and I have little doubt non-racing fans feel exactly the same about the McCoy story.

Yes it’s a big news story for those who follow racing but a story of very limited interest to those who don’t, something those in the world of racing find difficult to accept.

Racing is an incredibly parochial sport and it has an inflated sense of its own self-importance in the wider world. Football and rugby are games that can be played by anyone who has the physical ability to do so. The nearest the great unwashed can get to racing is as a spectator or more likely as a gambler.

Just how many newcomers do GBR think will be attracted to the sport?

How would a newcomer have reacted had they gone to Warwick as their first meeting on Wednesday?

A horse breaks a leg and another has an horrific fall at the final flight in front of the stands in the opening race. A jockey is taken from the track on a spinal board in a later race and the final race is run in near darkness.   

Do you think they would be likely to return – it’s all well and good highlight the positive exceptions – how do they intend selling the reality?

Or how about a newcomer going to a Saturday meeting as a first time experience?

Too many Saturday meetings are now becoming no-go areas for genuine racing fans as hen and stag parties or groups simply out on the lash, become more fashionable.

Maybe these are the sort of people racing want to attract. After all it ticks the boxes for GBR as they can say there are more bums on seats (we have the numbers, sod the quality – see we’ve done a great job) and it certainly suits the tracks as alcohol is one of the biggest earners for the courses.

So let’s make it clear where I stand, although I’m probably wasting my time as most people see what they want to see not what is actually written – too many people’s brains cannot cope with more than a bite sized snippet.

  • McCoys career is exceptional and what he has achieved in unprecedented in the UK and Ireland and is a good thing for racing.
  • Racing appearing in the news bulletins and on the front pages for the right reasons is a good thing.
  • However “racing” has an over inflated view of the significance outside its own insular world.
  • There is such a thing as overkill and that can do more harm than good.

Finally let me turn to the reaction, or should I say crass overreaction, to my original article.

I concede I could have been more temperate in my phraseology that’s the danger of writing something topical in the heat of the moment.

However some of the reaction was frankly ludicrous and sometimes worrying.

Needless to say the most offensive responses came from those who chose to remain anonymous, frankly they don’t bother me as I have nothing but contempt for those cowards and they will soon crawl back under the stones from whence they came.

I have no particular problem with people criticising me, it’s like water off a ducks back, I’ve always been used to that.

I remember one fraught week in a previous job when I managed to upset some oversensitive fellow employees of the organisation I was working for, including a senior board member. I recall my boss saying to me “…..remember I don’t pay you to be popular or liked. When you stop ruffling feathers I’ll worry you aren’t doing your job properly.”

What really annoys me is what I consider unjustified personal attacks.

A couple of people have said I write nothing positive about racing. That is completely untrue and not borne out by the facts.

In an average week I write between 10,000 and 15,000 words about racing, the overwhelming amount of which is either neutral or positive.

The one time I am negative is when I write my opinion piece, about 1,500 words every couple of weeks, which I also reproduce as my blog.

The whole idea of those articles it to be critical and, yes, provoke discussion.

Someone from the press room actually had the temerity to tell me I had no right to bite the hand that feeds me. That is complete, utter, unmitigated bollocks.

That single, asinine, comment underlines precisely what is wrong with racing.

With a couple of notable exceptions the racing media are not prepared to be critical of what they see. Even worse they’re guilty of total hypocrisy because they will privately criticise the way the sport is run but will not (or are not allowed to by their editors) say anything detrimental publicly.

So I will continue to “bite the hand that feeds me” when I feel it is necessary and I make no apology for doing so.

Contrary to popular belief I actually loved and cared about the sport, if I didn’t care I wouldn’t bother wasting my time saying anything.

For those who don’t like what I right, tough, perhaps it’s a case of the truth hurting. If I’m “constantly criticising” and “predictable” then why bother reading what I write?

If yo disagree then great-  let’s have a debate, I love a good debate.

I’m always happy to debate what I write, I’m also open minded enough to view the other side and yes, even be convinced to change my mind.

I only have two “ground rules” as it were. I won’t respond to anonymous criticism and I won’t respond to unjustified personal criticism – I don’t think that’s too much to ask.



  Return to The Beast Home