Magazine article The Spectator

Tactless Questions

Magazine article The Spectator

Tactless Questions

Article excerpt

My award for racing's public relations achievement of the week goes to jockey Richard Johnson. As the riders returned after the Mitsubishi Shogun Game Spirit Chase at Newbury one breathless punter asked about his mount Nipper Reed: 'Did he give you a good ride?' Since Nipper Reed had firmly planted himself at the start and refused to jump off and join the others in the contest the punter had clearly been watching the race in the bottom of a glass. His crass inquiry came well within the adding-insult-to-injury category. But the jockey contented himself with muttering: 'Yeah. Though we didn't get very far.' The punter beamed and disappeared, no doubt to go home and ask his wife after a washing-machine flood, a prang with the family car and the dog being sick on the sofa if she had had a good day otherwise.

Mind you, I didn't do much better myself after the last race on the card, one of those proper bumpers, a flat race restricted to horses which had only run under National Hunt rules. As I headed for the winner's enclosure I encountered Lambourn trainer Noel Chance and remarked to him that I hoped Mark Pitman's Patriarch would keep the race after the steward's inquiry which had just been announced. Mark has an outstanding record with bumper horses and you don't often get the chance to back one at 7-1 as I had done on this occasion. Noel smiled with all his usual charm. And when, belatedly, I inquired how his own 33-1 shot Ready to Rumble had fared in the race, he replied: 'Second, though we might yet get it on the objection!' Oops. Two anxious clusters stood round the steaming horses in the unsaddling enclosure. From the serious look on the face of Patriarch's jockey Norman Williamson and the head-wagging that went on before we joined Mark and owner Malcolm Denmark I feared the worst. Especially when Norman declined a photographer's request for a picture with the horse, saying, 'We haven't won yet.' But when I asked Mark if he would keep the race he was robust: 'I bloody well hope so. I hate being second.' Although he conceded that Patriarch had run a little green on his racecourse debut he insisted that Norman had kept a straight course when the other fellow came to challenge.

In the end Patriarch did keep the race. Sorry, Noel. And it is worth noting that it was the race in which Mark's outstanding prospect Monsignor had finished fourth to Golden Alpha the year before. It was the presence of the odds-on Pipe entry Lannkar which had extended Patriarch's price and it looked like another top-class contest. Patriarch being only four, Mark is not certain whether he will run him at Cheltenham, although Norman Williamson is encouraging him to have a go. But Mark reckons the gelding, by Alphabatim out of Strong Language and a purchase from the famed Costellos, to be a very nice horse. …

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