Why do we struggle to say it straight in racing?

By Lewis Syddall on |



Why do we struggle to say it straight in racing? When a horse is beaten out of sight, why do we wait for the trainer, for example, to accept responsibility before we tentatively agree that an alternative plan should have been hatched?

Former England and Manchester United captain Ray Wilkins – gave me food for thought. He’s a lovely bloke but he’s not afraid to express an opinion.

It’s not like this in football. Yesterday I was playing golf at a WellChild charity event organised by Sky Sports’ Ed Chamberlin at Burhill Golf Club in Surrey and my playing partner – former England and Manchester United captain Ray Wilkins – gave me food for thought. He’s a lovely bloke but he’s not afraid to express an opinion.

If a player under-performs at Old Trafford, he tells viewers; if a goalkeeper is at fault for a winning goal, he points it at out. Very rarely do the players or managers who have been identified as under-performers bear grudges in the media. If they deliver the following week, guys like Ray heap praise on them.

Why then, when a hold-up jockey misjudges it, do we find excuses before we think of the punters who are tearing out what’s left of their hair back at home?

The answer lies somewhere between cowardice and good manners. Criticism for its own sake benefits nobody, but if we hope to hold our own in an entertainment business where opinions are required, we need our pundits to play a few shots.

Frankly, AP McCoy, who took six hours to get around the course (yes readers, golf is what ex-jockeys do in their spare time) should have been booted off Burhill for his slow play yesterday!

The sweaty old days

Ed Chamberlin is a great pal. He’s coming to my wedding later this year in Ireland and was the first bloke to give me a leg-up into working on channels such as Sky Sports News.

We’ve had some great laughs together in the past decade – mainly off-screen – and his recollections of his time working at Ladbrokes before his career went through the roof at Skyalways makes me smile.

Ed was an odds-compiler back in the days when judgements were put to the test, odds-comparison sites were scarcely available and exchanges were unheard of.

On Friday afternoons, a group of odds compilers had to publicly read out their odds to their colleagues for the races set to be advertised the next day. If Ed had to go first he would break out into hot sweats, terrified of labelling a horse a likely 7/2 chance when the rest of the department had a range of 33/1 to 40/1 between the six of them. Needless to say, Ed is a better broadcaster than he ever was an odds-compiler.

Was Tesio right?

Italian breeder Frederico Tesio famously said: “The Thorougbred exists because its selection exists not on experts, technicians or zoologists, but on a piece of wood: the winning post of the Epsom Derby”.

Colourful words, but is the Derby really as influential as it ever was? The growth of international racing has seen richer races outflank the Epsom Classic, and I will always hold fast to the belief that the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in October each year remains the greatest race of the Flat season.

There is no doubting, however, that the Derby has an appeal which strays into the mystical.

The course is unique, the funfair remain massive, the atmosphere utterly incomparable with any other day in racing where gypsies rub shoulders on the Downs with all the gents in their finery. It’s a helter-skelter race, there are always hard luck stories, but Derby winners more often than not compared to any other race stand the test of time down the years.

Tesio might have hammed it up a little bit, but he wasn’t a long way off the truth.

Week ahead

My cash this Saturday will be firmly with Duke Of Firenze in the Investec Dash on Derby Day. Currently 16/1 after a stone-last performance at the weekend, I think Epsom brings out the best in this Cheveley Park sprinter, the bookies have forgotten about him and he can be fancied to run into a place, at least, in what will be one of the fastest races of the entire season.

In the unlikely event of me bolstering my dwindling cash reserves this weekend, I might just be able to afford the bill this coming Monday at Claude Duval’s 70th birthday bash in Scotts.

Don’t be surprised if the blog doesn’t arrive until later in the week. It will not be for the faint-hearted or weak-livered.

Good luck!


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