Magazine article The Spectator

Talking Dirty

Magazine article The Spectator

Talking Dirty

Article excerpt

At Christmas a friend from CNN sent me the story of a US officer on a European train. Searching for a seat, he found one occupied by a miniature poodle and asked its French female owner if she would put the dog on her lap. She not only refused but also remarked loudly as he moved on, 'God spare us from these bloody Americans who think they own the whole world.'

Ten minutes later, the visibly weary American returned to say that there was no seat vacant on the entire train. Again he requested politely that madame move her dog.

Again she refused, this time snarling, 'Won't somebody protect me from this boorish foreigner?' At this point, with the train slowing, the American seized the dog and hurled it through the window on to a grassy bank. As its owner shrieked her fury, an Englishman sitting opposite spoke for the first time. 'Oh dear, oh dear, ' he said. 'You Americans never get it quite right, do you? You hold your fork in the wrong hand, you drive on the wrong side of the road and now you have thrown the wrong bitch out of the window.'

England's drubbing in the Ashes series already had me thinking about national characteristics: the Australians not only played much better cricket than our boys, they also seem to be altogether more proficient at the art of 'sledging', verbally destroying their opponents' morale even before they have faced their first ball. Friends have asked if the same happens in racing.

Not in quite the same way. There is not too much time for verbals when you are driving half a ton of horse across two dozen obstacles, although occasionally, when a jockey's call for racing room is ignored by a rival, it can lead to choice words afterwards, occasionally to changing-room fisticuffs. Jump jockey Timmy Murphy has just returned from a nine-day suspension after he and Dominic Elsworth scrapped in the Newbury weighing room. In Murphy's case, injury was added to the perceived insult: throwing a punch at Elsworth, he dislocated his shoulder.

Jockeys do talk to each other during races. The day after he won the Cheltenham Gold Cup on The Dikler and celebrated into the early hours, a badly hungover Ron Barry only won a race at Uttoxeter thanks to two fellow jockeys shouting a warning to him and his mount every time they approached a hurdle. There is kidology too. When David 'The Duke' Nicholson was riding Mill House in the Whitbread Gold Cup at Sandown, his less experienced fellow jockey John Buckingham loomed up beside him around the final bend on San Angelo. …

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