Magazine article The Spectator

Watchability Factor

Magazine article The Spectator

Watchability Factor

Article excerpt

Arriving in Halifax, Nova Scotia the other night to join a cruise ship for after-dinner talks, I found I was sharing my hotel with 250 women, every one of them clad in eyejarring combinations of red and purple. It was the annual 'Hoot' of the Red Hat Society, an association of ladies of 50-plus devoted, several of them could not wait to tell me, to having a good time. Somewhat alarmed by the bedroom-door adornments (the one opposite mine was decorated with hearts and red chilli peppers), I chose discretion. I headed for a clam chowder at a harbourside restaurant and stayed out late.

It was probably the right choice. At the previous Hoot, one redoubtable matron related over the next breakfast table to mine, her friend had complained of a man in the next room who had snored so loudly that he could have sucked the wallpaper off the walls. Said the lady, 'I didn't like to tell her it was me.'

I have been wrestling with choice all year having been asked initially to choose and write about 'Britain's hundred greatest racehorses'. 'British' was a problem for a start. When Godolphin's Sakhee, trained in Britain, won the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe with Frankie Dettori riding they played 'God Save the Queen'. But Sakhee was bred by Americans, owned and trained by Arabs and ridden by an Italian.

The British and Irish racing worlds, too, are inextricably entwined. Many top horses trained in Ireland race sparingly on home territory but appear frequently this side of the Irish Sea: excluding them would make the collection meaningless. Nijinsky may have been prepared in Ireland but back in 1970 he was the last horse to win the British Triple Crown of the 2,000 Guineas, Derby and St Leger. You can hardly have more impact on the British racing public than that.

Continental-trained animals were easier to exclude or include. Some French horses have made a brief impact in Britain but haven't appeared here often enough to deserve a place, like Montjeu. I even thought of excluding the mighty Sea-Bird because only once in his eight-race career did he cross the Channel. But since that day he won the Derby with a majestic ease never experienced by racegoers before or since, excluding him would have been plain pernickety.

One complication in assessing the relative merits of horses from different decades is the internationalisation of racing. The King George, now the crucial mid-season European competition for middle-distance horses, was only instituted in 1951. The Breeders Cup series began in 1984, Dubai's World Cup only in 1996. A top European horse's racing programme may take a very different shape nowadays. …

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