Frankel pulled me back a little from the brink yesterday. I don’t mind saying I shed a tear or two, not when the race was won, but a little way into that wide verdant straight; at the point when Frankel indicated he was ready to go on from his pacemaker, Bullet Train. It seemed to me as if the horse was saying, with a slight nod of the head, to the man on board, Tom Queally, ‘Come on mate, let’s go.’ And they did. And I thought to myself, ‘Fuck me, it’s Pegasus’ and he doesn’t even know it, he just is.
That’s why I believe in Frankel, because he will do his best, regardless. He won’t fall out with the owner, the trainer, the lad, or even the jockey – he’ll just put his head down and get on with it, in his own remarkable, mythical style. One day, perhaps, Frankel won’t win. I don’t want to ever see it, but if I do, I’ll still believe because I’ve seen the essence of the horse.
That’s where I have a problem with Chelsea. I can’t ever get to the spirit of the side. They remind me alternately of a bunch of mercenaries with no loyalty, except to the self, or a cadre of the worst kind of public service union members who work to rule, to the detriment of their service. There is one exception to this: Didier Drogba, whose gradual transformation from habitual box dropper and tantrum thrower to staunch goal-scoring servant, shines brightly enough to cast many of his team mates demeanours into sharp relief. Drogba, of course, looks like he may have played his last game, and Di Matteo, whose main attribute seems to have been that he is not Andre Villas Boas, is uncertain of his future.
And that sums up why I can’t believe in Chelsea, a club that is run at the top by a plutocrat, and on the pitch by the whims and moods of the dressing room. Di Matteo has done well they say, and why should they not, given the 2012 silverware, but haven’t the recalcitrant squad of AVB’s reign merely consented to play since the caretaker manager came in? On their finest night, instead of being able to fully enjoy the scenes of celebration, a neutral looks at the assemblage and sees a lot of luck, not much soul, and not nearly enough of whatever it is that Frankel and Drogba have got.
This post was partly inspired by a conversation with a Chelsea fan not long after AVB had departed. A lifelong fan, his disappointed and pained recognition of the pumped-up egos in the Stamford Bridge dressing room was palpable. This morning I imagine he has a well-deserved headache and a hoarse throat and natually all the previous suffering is instantly forgiven. Football fans have strong stomachs, suffering goes with the territory, no joy without pain. That’s all fine and understood, but I can’t quite forget the head-shaking of earlier this year and the expression of the fact that his team wilfully and frequently just chose not to turn up at the game.
Once upon I time, I followed racing closely: I read all the form, checked all the results, knew the going across the country, who was hot, who was not, and who might have a little bit in hand of the handicapper.
I could never imagine a day when I would no longer do any of the above, but it came, and my life is the poorer for it. On Saturdays, especially Saturdays such as today, I used to smell the expectation in the air. Not just for racing either, for events like West Ham -v- Blackpool and Bayern Munich -v- Chelsea. I even wrote a poem about the Champions League Final once…
Now, these things pass before my eyes and I don’t seem to care. And I want to get back to the place in me that does care, even if it’s only a little bit more than not at all, because that feels more like me. So, if Frankel in the Lockinge in the town of my birth can’t raise the heartbeat a little this afternoon, I may as well give myself the sporting last rites and take up wood turning, or something.
Today’s Lockinge Stakes at Newbury is being considerately run at 3.45 so, providing they get on with it at Wembley and there’s no pesky added time, the race will be run as they blow the whistle for half-time in the FA Cup Final; perfect for people who can be at neither event.
Truth be told, I would love to see Dick Turpin and Canford Cliffs in the flesh – it is on my list of stuff for this year. Whether it is just those two that battle it out with Twice Over today, as the market has it, or if it involves other good horses that have been overlooked in the hype it is definitely a must-see race.
Canford is the favourite, available at 10/11 on as I write, Dick follows at 10/3 and Twice Over is knocking about at around 15/2, from 8 earlier. Despite the clear market message making Canford the clear favourite because he has that hallmark of quality in his turn of foot that devastates fields as he comes late, because jockey Richard Hughes waxes lyrical about him and because of the esteem his trainer obviously holds the horse in, I would not steam into him. The facts are that, in two out of three meetings, Dick has actually come home ahead of Canford and last season the latter had a couple of races before he hit his undeniably brilliant stride. Dick has had a prep run (win) in a Group 2 at Sandown and although I have heard it said he may prefer a bit more cushioning underfoot than there will be at Newbury today, he gives the impression to me that all ground comes alike.
Twice Over? Well I have been once, twice and thrice through the mill with that animal and you never know how he is going to run. I don’t know if he is a moody sort, or what, but I just cannot trust him entirely. I do back him sometimes, but however much he wins I will never get back the faith that slipped away as he failed to pass Raven’s Pass in the Craven a few years ago. Apart from that, one wonders if the mile is his trip.
So, it all adds up to one thing. I have to back the Turpin and some of that will be money that loves how he runs a tough and honest race. Yes his flashier compadre Canford could come more eye-catchingly late on but Dick Turpin’s runs are all heart and that is how I like it.
That’s what I will be doing this morning: I’ll be accosting strangers and giving them a task to try in a shopping centre. It’s to celebrate Adult Learners’ Week, not an attempt by me to spread the good news of commas and apostrophes across the land. Actually, I’d rather stay home and consider Lord Shanakill’s chance against the Boy in the Lockinge.
In any event, I will be doing numeracy- not, I might add, dressed as an actual gorilla and definitely minus the bandana and firearm.