Showing posts from 2011


My daughters’ kids paper First News plopped onto the mat this week and proclaimed in banner headlines, “2011. The Year When A Lot Happened”. What this rather unspecific statement lacks in journalistic sharpness, it adequately compensates for in catch-all accuracy. A lot did happen: The Arab Spring and North African civil wars; assassinations of Bin Laden and Gaddafi; deaths of Steve Jobs, Kim Jong-Il and Cheetah; a Japanese earthquake; enduring economic misery; newspaper phone hacking; a royal wedding; domestic riots; and the speed of light got faster. Horseracing usually beats to its own drum and rarely troubles the consciousness of the wider world. Outside the red-letter days of the Grand National and Royal Ascot, the sport rumbles along in a parallel universe. But this year, I observed about half a dozen stories that spilled over into the mainstream, to one degree or another. Inevitably, some were negative, others bitter-sweet, and best of all a couple of shiny positive nug

Festive fortunes

‘Got on a lucky one. Came in eighteen to one’ The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl, Fairytale of New York Shane MacGowan had the right idea. Never mind the Christmas orthodoxy. Sniff out the value amongst a turkey-free feast of top quality racing this festive season. Boxing Day features 12 fixtures in Britain and Ireland. So here’s the first gift of Christmas: a punting guide to some of the best of the day’s action. King George VI Gold Cup, Kempton, 3.10pm Highlight of the Boxing Day Card, this race has seen some great champions down the years. I’m going to swallow hard and not launch into yet another eulogy about Desert Orchid. Because these days it is as much Kauto Star’s race as Dessie’s. Kauto had picked up four of these on the bounce until 2009 amongst a haul of 15 Grade 1s and counting. He returns here a fully-fledged hero after stunning the punters in Haydock’s Betfair Chase with an exhilarating round of exuberant jumping and front running. It gave Paul Nicholls his b

Posh weekend

It felt a bit like Christmas came early last weekend. Ascot’s Long Walk Hurdle meeting always seems to mark the start of festivities – the lads had our Christmas drink-up at the Friday of this meeting a few years ago. It was nice to see the race back at its traditional home though. The weather had put paid this fixture the last twice when The Long Walk was saved and moved to Newbury. Pundits had Big Buck’s’ form under the microscope, searching for chinks in the armour. Could swinging away right-handed for the first time unnerve the juggernaut? Maybe a sharp pace could fatally expose his regular mid-race flatspot? Had Team Pipe found another Grands Crus to shake up the champ in the shape of Dynaste? These were merely half-hearted, if respectable, attempts to generate a betting proposition. Nobody really expected this machine (© Mr R. Walsh, circa 2001 and ever since about any horse he’s ever won on) to be beaten. And even when Ruby momentarily got after Big Buck’s to pick up off tha


Great racing at Cheltenham on Saturday and a couple of decent televised events at Doncaster too. It reminded me that I haven’t reported back on a cracking day out at Sandown last Friday for the first day of the Tingle Creek meeting. It was my seasonal debut. That’s a travesty. Because from the moment I strode into the grandstand betting hall I felt a little warm glow and a tingle of thrill in the pit of my stomach. I felt back home. Is that terribly sad to admit? I was still feeling chipper by the time I struck my first bet on a debutant hurdler called Zamina in the first. I spotted the price I wanted offered by a demure looking lady in the second rank of bookies. “H oho” I beamed, as I fished out some pound coins for a conservative bet in this trappy encounter. “It's only the first race and I'm using up my change already!” *Ting*. I flashed my winning Colgate smile. But greeted merely by derision. I should know better than to banter with a bookie. There, as ever, w

Finding a voice

This post is a departure from the usual escapist guff that is the meat and drink of my blog. I’ve done this before, when the mood takes me. But I’ve never wanted to write about my work before. I guess this is the exception that proves the rule. Because I’ve spent the last couple of months working on one of the most topical, interesting and challenging projects of my career. Pause there. I’m not talking about hatching Palestine-Israeli peace before lunch and then solving the Eurozone debt crisis whilst waiting for Countdown to start.  But in the process-heavy, sometimes dusty world of social research and programme evaluation, working on a project to understand the riots that swept England last August has felt more immediate, more high priority and more, well, front-line by comparison. Little did I anticipate that when I wrote a blog at the  time of the riots  asking why it was wrong to ask ‘why’, that I would soon be part of a team asking ‘why’. (Are you still with me?) It’


I was fortunate enough to get a quick tour around Wembley Stadium today. I’m doing some work with the FA’s Learning Zone and after our meeting, we got chance to have a nose round. The arena itself is deeply impressive. I thought I’d better take a ‘look where I am, kids!’ photo for the girls. It didn’t work. I wasn’t quite striking the right pose when Charlie fired off the shutter!  Not yet Charlie, this isn't my best side....! I felt like a little kid myself, gazing out onto that arena from one of the executive suites. But the infrastructure behind the pitch and banks of seating is equally huge. Offices, meeting rooms, tours….I was surprised how busy the place was. The evocative Champions League gallery is really well put together and I loved the 1966 World Cup final crossbar outside the Atrium restaurant. We were with some Americans and I made ham-fisted attempt at trying to explain the significance of this now-twisted piece of metalware. “So did the ball cause that kink

An ethical bookmaker

I saw some interesting research published the other day about how betting companies are targeting poor areas and are “driving families further into poverty”. It’s not often that the substance of my day job runs head long into the escapist thread of this blog. But there we are. No blog is an island. The issue has taxed me before. This  report  by NatCen,  the Government-funded centre for independent research  and the Responsible Gambling Fund ,  concludes that slot machine arcades are taking over vacant shopping centre and leisure outlets in places that have been worst hit by the recession. We are not talking about gambling on horse racing specifically, but more the general proliferation of ‘hi gh density machine zones’ and gaming arcades that are thriving as the economic downturn forces the closure of shops and leisure outlets. But bookies contribute significantly to this as well: fixed-odds betting terminals (in effect ‘casino’ machines) and virtual sport betting are on the risin

'Head Honcho

Motorhead coming home to the Hammersmith Apollo on Saturday had been in doubt since Monday when Lemmy injured his hand. That night’s gig at Bristol had been cancelled. The cause of the injury to rock n roll’s ultimate anti-hero remains a mystery. I’m guessing it wasn’t a bizarre nail bar incident (“Would you like starburst pink cuticles with boar’s-head transfers, Mr Kilmister?”). But whatever its nature and extent, the outing in Norwich was also cancelled on Friday. So as I was savouring an electrifying afternoon’s racing from Cheltenham, there was doubt about whether I’d get an electrifying evening to go with it. But not to fear. The Twitter-feed all clear came by mid-afternoon. The famous Odeon. Or Apollo, possibly.  Next crisis. What to wear? I had finally thrown away my vintage green collectors’ item Motorhead England t-shirt back in the Summer. The underarms, bleached and bobbly, hung down past my moobs; the fraying seams flapped past my nobbly knees. It was a touch