Racing commentator John Hunt gives you his views on issues in the sport.
Whilst enjoying my monthly escape from lectures about the kitchen taps/washing machine/driveway/cat/kids by commentating in Paris for three days this week, I nearly choked on my cafe au lait when reading the most unbelievable quote of the weekend.
In Monday's Guardian, Birmingham City manager Alex McLeish, having just watched his Birmingham City side net a late winner against Watford was asked his thoughts on the upcoming Monday night game between Burnley and Sheffield United. "I won’t be watching. I'll probably take the wife out for a meal instead." Pardon Alex?
Here are Birmingham City, automatic promotion apparently between them and Sheffield United and a key end of season game approaches and the Blues manager is not going to watch! "Mon Dieu" , I whispered to myself. "What a lot of old.. merde...".
Even if McLeish did take his wife out for a ruby, the meal cannot have been any better than watching the match would have been, through Brummie Blue glasses. Sheffield United were really poor. They appeared to have lost their attacking desire, a big side was picked to match Burnley's brawn and how it backfired. The Blades never had a worthwhile shot. Anyway, McLeish could have gone for a KFC afterwards couldn't he? I bet he was glued to it.
It all begs the question, who the hell will go up through the playoffs? Sheffield United, according to punters at Sheffield dogs on Tuesday night, had just played their worst game of the season, Burnley themselves don't look good enough, Cardiff are wobbling after a six nil hammering and Reading have spent much of the last two months treading water although, in fairness to them, they seem to have enjoyed a resurgence of late. Who would be a football backer eh?
I thought of the Blues manager when settling down to watch the Novices Chase at Perth on Wednesday afternoon. I so didn't fancy Lodge Lane. The same Lodge Lane who had taken every fence by the root at Cheltenham the week beforehand, before almost lying down at the last fence. He looked like he hated the game. And here he was against the likes of Pop, The Market Man and Jaunty Flight. A good little race.
I was marooned in the commentator’s booth at Equidia on a trading estate about ten miles to the North of Paris. It could well have been Bolton. Apart from the baguettes. I had a TV showing the English action and the phone was fully charged. For an hour or so, my thoughts were dominated by Lodge Lane. Dodge Lane. Dodge Lay. Ching ching.
After an age, I decided that I didn't have the Kahunas to lay him at 4/1 (how many times in a small field have the challengers dropped away only for me to lose by default?) You know what’s coming don't you. 6/4 the place lay and the transaction was completed. You know what happened don't you but try seeing things from my point of view. Here was I, having to commentate on a trotting race at Toulouse during the Perth race which carried a significant investment. You can guess which race took my attention, at which point I should apologise to all my listeners in Scandinavia and Morocco and all points west.
The Toulouse commentary was not very accurate/exciting/informative. It was in fact, the only trotting race where "they come on down towards the ditch!" If you didn't see the Perth race, Lodge Lane was one of the first to be squeezed along. Two out there were three going better than he then disaster; Silver By Nature falls, The Market Man begins to empty but happily Jaunty Flight comes clear. So far clear that she is the only one in camera shot at the last. When the others went out of vision, The Market Man had just got back in front of Lodge Lane and the next few seconds felt like a whole day as the camera on the line remained locked and Jaunty Flight disappeared to the winner’s enclosure. Who would appear next? Come on The Market Man, be second. You were in front two out. Come on. Bugger.
Jack Doyle has probably given a beaten horse one of the rides of the season to get up for the £4,000 second prize. And I think number two won at Toulouse. I was soooooo pissed off. I'm a bad loser. Always have been and for that moment, I resolved to give up gambling. Until I recalled all of those lovely eye-catchers that will make me a fortune over the next few weeks.
Last week at Newmarket I thought there were four good eye-catchers for the future. Saa'ida was one we discussed last week but others to add to the list include Harbinger who ran a race brim full of promise to finish second in the Wood Ditton. Sometimes this race turns out to be a poor pointer but I really feel this year will be an exception; Harbinger will certainly win races. He is hardly a dark one so I'll throw in Nicholas Pocock and Dunes Queen who both should reward support in the near future.
Nicholas Pocock drifted to a very big price having his first run of the year for Sir Michael Stoute and given the market weakness, he performed with credit to finished 6th to Infiraad in the Alex Scott Maiden. Whilst the world went crazy about Fantasia in the Nell Gwyn, my eye was drawn back to Dunes Queen, who finished fifth. I recalled that she had been all the rage for her debut last backend but was staggered to see she had been sent off odds on for her Newbury debut. She then won her maiden easily at Kempton and this Nell Gwyn run was only her third start. I felt Tony Culhane just set her slightly too much to do and when she first tried to improve, she got held up a little behind Brian Smart's Summer Fete. Switched to the stands side, she finished pretty well. I'm certain there are races to won with her, albeit she may have to set her sights lower than this.
At a much lower level, Maidtorun caught the eye in the race won by Frattelino at Beverley last week. From a poor draw, it was a good effort to finish fifth but just tread carefully. Whilst you would have been delighted if you owned it, there is every chance that the race was a pretty poor one; watch how the form is tested over the next few weeks.
Finally, a Ripon eye-catcher going by the name of Zouk. He ran in a mile maiden and was given a very sympathetic time in the saddle by Adam Kirby, not at all knocked around to finish 4th to Mister Dee Bee. I reckon a mile is as far as he wants to go being out of a sprinter, Annette Vallon, by Zilzal. A drop in trip will make him of betting interest before too long. And Lodge Lane is still a dog.
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