This weekend’s thrilling climax to the UK Trainers’ Championship is the talk of the town (except in Newmarket town, but more of that later). The battle between defending champ Paul Nicholls and the Irish invader Willie Mullins is going down to the wire at Sandown, with Nicholls refusing to go down without a fight and Mullins bringing everything bar the kitchen sink to Perth and Esher this week in a bold bid at the title.
It’s a terrific story and somewhat understandably there’s a real swell of interest from anyone who cares about National Hunt racing. But one guy who might afford himself a wry smile is Richard Johnson. Sixteen times runner-up to a certain AP McCoy in the jockeys’ championship, Dickie Johnson has emerged from the shadows and this Saturday he will be finally be crowned champion jockey. I saw Johnson at Alan Lee’s memorial service yesterday and he is fine spirits. It will, however, be an absolute travesty if the Mullins-Nicholls head-to-head deprives Johnson of his day in the sun this Saturday.
What Johnson has achieved is outstanding and in any other era other than that which McCoy dominated we’d be talking about one of the greatest jockeys of our time. I’m sure Nicholls and Mullins will absolutely agree too that — whichever one of them takes the trainers’ title — the real star of the show this Saturday is Richard Johnson.
Another jockey in the news this week is Barry Geraghty. Geraghty was clobbered with a 30-day ban for his riding of Noble Emperor in Ireland earlier this month, ruling him out of next week’s Punchestown Festival. On Monday night, his appeal was heard and the good humour of racing folk on Twitter was in full force. As Geraghty’s lawyers were working their magic at the Turf Club, the thrilling climax of The People vs OJ Simpson was nearing its end on TV. The parallels were too much for some wags to avoid and Channel 4’s Graham Cunningham took to social media: “He looked bang to rights but a sharp legal team helped clear him of a very grave offence indeed.” Cunningham left it at that — and Geraghty is free to ride at Punchestown next week.
The mother of all storms (in a teacup) has descended on Newmarket following the Racing Post’s publication of an award-winning young journalist’s article on the perils facing the East Anglian town. Drugs, drink and gambling addiction are rife, suggested the Post article.
The Mayor of Newmarket (who trains racehorses, of course) wasn’t happy. He took to his blog and hit out at the Post, primarily, and their coverage of the article. The Post hit back, the journo hit back. The Mayor/trainer hit back at those who had hit back at him hitting back over the hit out in the original article. A few of us were faintly amused but hopefully we can swiftly move on from all the hitting sooner rather than later.
We lost last Saturday’s card at Newbury on account of the recent deluge in Berkshire and authorities moved swiftly to shift it to Chelmsford in Essex. It wasn’t ideal and there has been no shortage of folk seemingly happy to pick holes in the process.
I couldn’t disagree with them any more. I fully recognise that it was done at the 11th-hour and the Chelmsford card and set-up was imperfect, scrambled and lacking in depth. But at least it was on, and it was on Channel 4 on Saturday. Too often we choose not to do things, we only act if we’re sure of a reaction, and when we move uncertainly we see shadows behind every stable door. But for a million or so viewers on Saturday they got their fix of our sport, and that will do for me. My glass is half full this week!
Time to check the empty half of the glass this week with a tip which I hereby acknowledge is ground-dependent. I have lost bundles on Paint The Clouds in the past couple of years but if we miss the rain, I think he can take the big one at Saturday for Warren Greatrex. He needs good ground so forget it if the rain comes, but the horse is full of ability, will relish the trip and deserves a big pot. If I stay sunny and the weather mirrors my mood, I’ll be going in once again!