Monday, 17 November 2014

This sporting life

A fistful of facts and truths I learned this weekend:
1. Under the right circumstances, the amount of sport I can soak up from my settee is only limited by the hours in the day.  
The circumstances do have to be right, however. The lovely Mrs A is away this weekend, visiting her lovely sister in Tenerife. That’s one contributory factor: an invitingly clear diary. It’s hot in the Canaries apparently. It is wet, dank, dark and gloopy here. That’s another explainer: why go out?
I was clear on Friday and so could devote myself, guilt-free, to the three-day feast of televised action from Cheltenham’s Open meeting. Punchestown was a more than decent side dish. The raft of footie European quarter-finals were timely snacks littered through the weekend. Autumn rugby internationals the thick icing on a cartwheel of Victoria sponge the cake. ATP tennis action a mere amuse-bouche amongst the main ingredients. Topless darts on Eurosport at 1am on Saturday night was probably a weffur theen meent too far.
Potential Olympic sport?
2. TV football commentators are massively more positive than their radio counterparts.
Take the England game on Saturday. Danny Mills and Alan Green were ripping ‘tedious’ England apart in the second half – which, curiously, was when all the goals occurred and contained the only real quality of the game.  I watched the first half on the telly, where the ITV commentators were unduly sympathetic to England’s ragged industry. Why is this? Do the telly folk see themselves marketing guys for the product? Convincing us that we should be buying in to an unrivalled entertainment package? Maybe. And if so, does this mean 5 Live are fulfilling a counter-balancing gritty, honest, warts-and-all analysis? Danny Mills was so full of criticism about tempo and fluency that I thought his bile duct would split. Alan Green’s coruscating criticism is becoming increasingly unguided and wearing thin. Bring back Fanzone. OK, maybe not. 
Green: gobby
3. The Open meeting has put my season back on the tracks. 
The three day fixture remains one of absolute quality - that’s hardly news – and one that has proved a relatively happy hunting ground for me over the years. Nevertheless, I can’t remember the last time I watched and bet on all the principal races across the entire party. In doing so, I was also able to establish these nuggets:
  • Wins for Champagne West, Uxizandre and Garde La Victoire from my 40 to follow list put me back in profit after a poor early season.
  • Sausalito Sunrise and Blue Heron from the same list ran encouragingly well in defeat and are feeding my fragile optimism.
  • An above average number of front-runners bagged big decent wins, mostly accounted for by dictating a slow pace on bad ground. These circumstances show the admirable Dickie Johnson to good effect because he doesn’t have to worry too much about other more subtle tactics.
  • Simon Claisse is a prat. Dolling off four fences in Friday’s staying novice chase was questionable enough – looking at the shadows across Prestbury Park, I’d wager that the alignment of sun and fences didn’t warrant such action. (I’d like to know if it was the jockeys that demanded this action. I suspect not.) He then introduced a heavy dose of incompetence by trying to get the time of the following day’s showpiece event changed less than 24 hours before its start. The chaotic, farcical incident was stutteringly and unconvincingly reported live by the otherwise excellent Lydia Hislop and sidekicks at RUK, handicapped by disjointed and incomplete information. Not the game’s finest hour.
Johnson aboard Garde La Victoire: drive
4. Dessie Hughes will be missed. 
I caught a whiff of the seriousness of his plight when his son Richard Hughes collected the Flat Jockey Championship gong last week. In paying tribute to connections, friends and inspirations, he could barely speak when prompted to mention his father. Hughes Jnr was simply too choked and quickly moved on with a quip and a forced smile. 
I don’t remember Dessie Hughes’ exploits as a jockey very well, but landing the Gold Cup/Champion Hurdle double is a pretty special achievement. He surely surpassed that in training feats with the wonderful Hardy Eustace. A three time Festival winner, Eustace won the first of his Champion Hurdles at 33-1 in 2004. I backed him that year. For the Stayers…! His victory the following year when chinning Harchibald still goes down as one of the most remarkable Champion Hurdles of recent years. Harchibald, all over the winner, found nothing in the shadow of the post after a ride of extreme patience from Paul Carberry. 
Hughes should have been able to enjoy the achievements of another of great talent in Our Conor. This special looking horse won the Triumph in 2013 but was tragically put down in last season’s Champion Hurdle after a fall. Our Conor’s jockey, Bryan Cooper said Hughes was "one of the greatest trainers that we've ever seen and by far the best mentor and friend anyone could ever ask for". Amen.   
Dessie Hughes
5. Science is wonderful. 
I’ve been following the unfolding exploits of the Rosetta satellite and the Philae lander with the enthusiasm and wonder of a small child.  I’ve been looking for updates more regularly than changes to the Paddy Power ante-post market. I’ve been staggered by the vision of a programme that was conceived 15 years ago, launched 10 years ago and delivered almost exactly as planned from last Wednesday.  
This is one of those pinch-yourself moments.  With technology getting on for a generation old, this satellite blasted 510 million km to track a lump of ice and rock hurtling round the outer orbit of Venus. It then jettisoned a small spindly-legged probe to land the right way up on the spinning comet 67P, send back some breathtakingly beautiful photos and enough data to rewrite a library of science books.  Epic. Almost on a par with the finish of the Paddy Power. 
Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko

And now Monday is unfolding and I am feeling trepiditious about emerging from my cocoon to blink into the half-light of a new week. Roll on the weekend. Already.



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