Punters usually need little excuse to feel hard-done-by. Often they have reason. And sometimes they don’t. Champion jockey Davy Russell catches his fair share of punter flak and his odds-on defeat on Midnight Game in a three-horse race at Navan at the weekend generated more on the basis he was too quiet on the horse. Which just shows how appearances can be deceptive.
The argument goes that if Russell kicked sooner than he did he would have secured enough of a lead to hold any rally by Cause Of Causes. As it was, Russell started to niggle approaching the last and after a ding-dong struggle Cause Of Causes won by a short head.
In some quarters, Russell’s ride was referred to as tender, a loaded phrase in itself, and fuel for a school of thought that suggests most things in a race can be solved by another slap of the whip.
It was interesting then to read Pat Eddery’s comments last week about his notorious Epsom Derby defeat on El Gran Senor in 1984, possibly the most famous example of “if only he’d kicked earlier.”
Cleary the short head defeat by Secreto still rankles with the great jockey, but not in the way most critics might think. Because Eddery doesn’t beat himself up about not kicking early but kicking too soon.
“I asked him to run over a furlong out but if I’d have hung on, I’d have won…I should have waited until five strides from the line and then kicked him,” one of the great all-time jockeys said.
It’s impossible to generalise when it comes to horses. There is every chance that if Russell kicked sooner at Navan, Midnight Game would have curled up underneath him. We are talking about a horse by Montjeu who looked ultra-promising at one stage last season but whose form tailed off dramatically and has appeared, for want of a better phrase, a trifle sensitive sometimes. We are not talking about another Brave Inca here.
Russell’s critics will point out how Midnight Game was coming back at Cause Of Causes in the final strides which in terms of optics does the rider little favours. But it can also be argued that final desperate lunge was a last throw of the dice that wouldn’t have had any chance of success had Russell asked for the maximum much earlier.
Clearly it’s all opinion. No one can know for certain. And for such a talented jockey, Russell is capable of throwing in a real stinker sometimes. But it wasn’t this time.
The word tender is one example of language’s flexibility. Other examples abound when it comes to the area of political correctness.
Russell’s old pal John McCririck’s ageist law-suit has provoked plenty of comment, much of it centred on the old boy’s boorishness and sexism as valid enough reasons for Channel 4 ditching him overboard.
But it’s fascinating to see so many of the right-on resorting to condemnatory language that can be regarded as questionable as anything the old boor has ever used.
For instance, his weight is apparently fair game – “Lard of the Ring.” What’s that got to do with anything? Apparently he’s rude too, calls people waving behind him “prats.” I can think of tougher descriptions myself. And then there’s the sexism angle. McCririck calls Tanya Stevenson “The Female” and his wife “The Booby.”
Appalling of course: except that Stevenson has, as far as I can tell, only ever been hugely complimentary about her colleague. And from memory wasn’t the “female” thing a handy rhyme with “e-mail?”
As for what a husband and wife call each other, hands up those who’ve never referred to their other halves in far more industrial language than booby.
This is no apology for McCririck, as shameless a self-publicist as has ever peered through a side-burn, and capable of uttering the most moronic of statements. But behind all the posturing, he did serve a function. Does pummelling someone in the same sort of intemperate terms you’re criticising them for serve any function?
Trainer Denis Quinn and jockey Roger Loughran got pulled on the non-trier rules for the run of Gallant Oscar at Punchestown which is fair enough on its own terms. Loughran didn’t appear to be over-strenuous in the closing stages and the horse ran on well.
But we are talking about a 50-1 shot in a Beginners Chase, handled by a less than high-profile trainer. Was the run really that much worse than stuff that regularly goes on with horses who it could be said are better connected?