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Andy Murray: step into the light

This would hardly be a self-respecting blog if it didn’t follow a zillion other bloggers and write about Andy Murray’s scintillating and nail-biting victory at Wimbledon today. I’ll keep it brief – you know the pack drill.

I have only ever warmed to four Wimbledon champions – Boris Becker is much better for me as a commentator, apart from when he adopts that husky Teutonic tone which reminds me only of the legend about a broom cupboard at Nobu and makes me wince. The champions I refer to then are: Bjorn Borg, Pat Cash, Goran Ivanisevic and, now, Andy Murray. In my mind the Swede with the crossed-eye will always carry all before him – that’s because I was young, it was the seventies, he wore a head band and it fitted with the ABBA zeigeist. Not to mention that he had that gripping rivalry with the American brat John McEnroe, who is an amazing commentator – better than Boris and very mellow now as well. Then the Australian: the hair, the good looks, the guitar. The first one to clamber into the crowd. Nuff said. Ivanisevic, the ninety foot Croatian was a man with a vision – and many years after he first dreamed the dream of Wimbledon he defied the odds to win. I stuck his picture up in the kitchen at the time, to remind me never to give up on dreams.

And now we have Andy. I have never been a Murray-knocker, so I may allow myself a moment of quiet satisfaction now.

I made a comment earlier elsewhere on tinternet, in praise of the Scottish one, and I don’t think I can say better than that here, so I will just replicate it. I can only add, of course, that I am a tiny bit Scottish too (quite a lot in fact on days like these) and I am, therefore, biased. Today, as it does once a decade, the bias worked out well.

Well, what a match. And it is today, of all days, that those who have always had Andy’s back can feel a momentary frisson of, dare I say it, smugness. It has been a pleasure to watch him mature and it has been of equal pleasure to note that he has not entirely lost that hint of gawk that people so criticised when he was younger. It is what makes him, him. Along with all that steely determination, persistence, hard graft and also, belief.

I have not enjoyed a Wimbledon winner so much as when Goran Ivanisevic won. He was a man with a dimming dream. Andy reminds me more of a man who has got there through sheer cussed conviction that there was always a light at the end of the tunnel. Today, he has stepped into it. Long may it shine.

The Saltire on horseback

Trap 4

Jamie, a friend and contributor on the comments here, asked me yesterday about the English Greyhound Derby which starts this Friday night at Wimbledon. Specifically, he wanted, not unreasonably, a dog or two to have an interest in through the competition.

Well that got me thinking a bit. First I thought: I have absolutely no idea. Then I thought: how did that happen?

Used to be, I followed the dogs properly. One New Year the Racing Post’s dog man Jim Cremin sent me a bottle of champagne for a short piece I wrote proposing Spiridon Louis as the 2007 Greyhound of the Year. The six-bend Spiridon Louis went on to take the title over four-bend sensation Barnfield on Air. That was four years ago for goodness sake. Where has the time gone, I wonder? Now I can’t even come up with one vaguely hopeful ante-post dog!

Spiridon Louis

Back in the day I went to Wimbledon to see the great Westmead Hawk in the preliminary heats, before he took his second Derby title in 2006. Going to the dogs at the Plough Lane track is a proper cage fighting atmosphere, nothing like the much-missed art deco class of the Stow. Now I have watched this victory plenty enough, it might even have been on the blog before, but watching it again I still cannot get over how the dog reads his way through the race.

Drawing Trap 4, as Westmead Hawk had, is simply asking for trouble. If you want to back a skimpily priced favourite in a dog race (The Hawk was 4/7F for this gig) you would want to take the Red Jacket, Trap 1 on the rail. You would be backing the One Dog to ping the lid, grab the rail, job done. Or, you might take the Stripes of a Wide Runner to at least stay out of the potential for general scrummaging on the bends and then pick up off the last. You would not, unless you were backing Westmead Hawk, especially want the Trap 4 where all kinds of squeezing, bumping, baulking and checking of runs awaits the Mid runners.

Westmead Hawk

And then you watch this race and he sets my heart in motion every time.

The Hawk traps fast, about level, then he comes into the rail, but no he’s back out wide, and then he makes his move and blasts his run through the middle of the Orange and Blue Jackets to win by three-quarters of a length on the line. And the last bit is my favourite, not on the line, but the bit where he powers into that nearly non-existent gap between two tightly-packed greyhounds, and then there is nothing else but the hulk of his shoulders devouring the track until he noses through the laser beam, certain in the knowledge that he is the fastest dog in the land.

Ah, I was gone for a moment there… When I was lucky enough to see Westmead Hawk a few weeks before this final, he made it even tighter on the line, but he was still there when it counted. And now I have my own dog who runs in the belief that he is the fastest dog in the park, but is so nervous that when gets tired he, rather than fronting up to his invited pursuer, hides in a shrubbery and waits for me to rescue him.

So Joe, I ain’t got no dogs just yet for you but, when I do, there is a good chance their dad will be this lad…

The Tyranny of Grass

I spent a peaceful hour in a shady library garden yesterday, primarily waiting for a face to be painted (not mine) and had a browse of one of those books that it is interesting to read, but not so interesting that you might buy it. Except maybe second-hand on Amazon for a few pence if you ever remembered to. These are a few things I jotted down, the “lawn” being one of my permanent preoccupations.

A grass blade’s no easier to make than an oak.
James Russell Lowell (1819-1891)

Nothing is more pleasant to the eye than green grass kept finely shorn.
Francis Bacon (Of Gardens 1625)

Forests decay, harvests perish, flowers vanish, but grass is immortal.
John Ingalls (Speech in the US Senate 1874)

A lawn is nature under totalitarian rule.
Michael Pollan (Second Nature 1991)

One of the side-effects of drinking all that ale with the Devon Home Cook was that I was prevailed upon to mow my rather clumpy and long, but lush grass that I knew was hiding a multitude of sins – rather like a bald bloke’s combover.

This was the result.

As woeful as Argentina

One very good reason to stay indoors this afternoon

and look at Wimbledon’s lawn

in the absence of any live televised South African turf.

 And not forgetting I could watch the green grass of

Chantilly where Dick Turpin will attempt

to overcome the very impressive Lope de Vega

 at the awkward French time of 2.42 p.m.

Alternatively I could go outside and pave over the lot,

                                                                                         but there is something about a patch of green,

                                                                                    however small and pathetic,

                                                                                   that speaks to me.

Great Sporting Weekend

The Tour de France started, there was some motorbike racing, Roger Federer completed his 15th Grand Slam title in nerve-shredding fashion and Sea the Stars became the fifth horse to complete the Guineas, Derby and Eclipse treble in his three year old season.  The latter was not even mentioned on the BBC news at 10 (or whatever time it rocks up on Saturdays) which mildly enraged me.

I, on the other hand, was to be found desperately trying to cycle the Southend end of Essex, be with the family, exercise the dog and not kill all the plants in the garden during the heatwave.  That’s the problem with great sporting weekends, 4 and 7 year old kids (not to mention dogs) don’t care and demand service as usual.  So I managed to catch the Eclipse with my bike in the bookies, some of the 2nd, 3rd and 5th sets at Wimbledon yesterday and not much else.  That meant I missed the delightful Speightstown colt Lord Shanakill’s win in the Prix Jean Prat in France.  His first Group 1 win and the first for his trainer.  I liked the horse a lot last year, I have mentioned him before and I thought he might struggle this season having been raced 8 times as a 2yo, at a high level and having been very genuine in so doing.

Not so.  He won at 11/1 and had I had time to read the Racing Post in my possession before the race I would have been swayed by the piece of information “thriving on work is a family trait” in the Bloodstock world page.  Then there was the trainer comment “I think he has come on for his run in the St James’ Palace”.  I form my views as the season unfolds and then these are the nuggets of info (along with his liking for fast ground) that inform final opinion and staking on the day.  Unfortunately, on the day, the Post was in the footwell of the car (unread apart from admiring the photo of Sea the Stars) and I was prancing around dog agility (dog) and archery (kids) at a country show.

That is the conflict of the punting life.  You can’t afford to let up on studying and keeping in touch otherwise you will miss something, on the other hand you can’t afford to spend your children’s lives with your nose stuck in form and the Post.  That’s why I like Group races during the week – I can pay attention to the form and not entirely neglect my motherly duties!  Hurray for Ascot, the July meeting and Glorious Goodwood. 🙂 

I can report that agility is not my lurcher’s metier, but notwithstanding dangling from the A-frame and refusing to entertain the tunnel he did the rest ok and got a certificate.  The scurry went less well (retrieval).  He amused those nearby by doing a good “time trial at Crayford” impression (tight bends) and then had to be practically handed the retrieve thingummyjig which he sort of tossed in the air to break its neck properly.  On the upside he deigned to be caught quite easily which would have never happened but a year ago.  I think, once this bike ride is done, we will have to seek out some lurchering events for him to enjoy.  After all,  it’s no good trying to put a round peg in a square hole.

Dog & Daughter with no Racing Post in sight!

Dog & Daughter with no Racing Post in sight!

Fear Zafonic to win the Greyhound Derby tonight

Ballymac Ruso is the main danger IMO.  Tissue prices have Ballymac Ruso fav as he has played such a blinder through the heats and his consistency deserves nothing less.  However Fear Zafonic has finally got his favoured red jacket by the rails.  Although this is statistically disastrous box for Derby finalists he has been inconvenienced throughout the competition by not being in T1.  Tonight he can make it pay and I think as the evening wears on and people think on Charlie Lister’s ability to get his dogs peaking and pinging on the big nights, he might start favourite.

Ballymac Ruso, drawn next door in T2, also has ferocious early pace but as he is predicted to take the middle line my money is on Fear Zafonic to hug the rails, lead up to the first and then nothing should catch him…

Of course if it was always that straightforward I would be blogging this from a yacht somewhere so we won’t really know until 10.12 tonight, but I am happy to nail my red jacket to the mast now 🙂

Red comes home in front

Red comes home in front

Two things – cycling and greyhound racing (Derby)

Both involve going pretty damn fast and although I am well used to the canine velocity, me on a skinny-wheeled hybrid going about 20 miles an hour is a new (and somewhat alarming) experience.

If you have delved in this blog more than once you may know I am cycling with The Big Issue Foundation to Paris this July over three days.  That’s the theory anyway.  To date, in order to stand half a chance of completing the feat, I have been training on the existing bike, an urban number with intermediate tyres.  I have now upgraded to a Chris Boardman comp hybrid which is a lighter frame, narrower tyres and a harder ride.  All of a sudden I am coming upon things in the road a lot quicker.  My reaction times have to be the equivalent of a drivers, without the protective encasing of hard metal.  All I have between me and the menacing tarmac (sorry Graham Greene it is an adjective :-() is my cycle helmet and an awful lot of thin air rushing past.

Yes I feel vulnerable.  I consider it like this though, if there were 5 other bikes upsides, all plotting an oval course at speed then the chances for carnage would be far higher.  Which brings me to the dogs plotting their way round Plough Lane in the Derby.  A dog which can trap fast and avoid trouble i.e. use its noggin, is what we want in a Derby dog.  Alternatively you can have a dog with no early pace, which avoids all the first bend squishing and then can roast the others down the back straight and off the last bend, but again to do that, they need a noggin on them.  So, yes, we are looking for not just raw speed but canine intelligence, the sort that saw the devastating Westmead Hawk win three Derbys in the most spectacular of fashions.

I must admit I’ve not seen enough of this year’s remaining Derby contenders to make any kind of educated judgement but I have noted a few dogs and am looking forward to tonight’s heats which sees the a/p favourite Fear Zafonic (T3) in a hot heat with Dotland Hit Man (T6) and Barnfield on Air (T2) @ 9.30 pm.  Tactically we will see what Fear is made of, he’s not in his usual 2 berth and being the in the 3 trap means he is going to have to be super-quick to get across to the rail.  Barney on his left and in his way is coming back slowly and has not been showing his own super-early of late so I am just going to cross my fingers and hope they can sort it out amicably (after you sir) and that we avoid any messy business at the first bend.  If there are shenanigans the most likely to benefit is Dotlands Hit Man who could glide round seamlessly in the stripes.

Last night’s heats were cracking by the sound of it.  In the oldsters heat Toosey Blue beat Lenson Express and it is great that those two are through to the next round.  Charlie Lister’s Bandicoot Tipoki is incredibly young to be doing what he is doing right now and so damn fast too.  I really wonder if he can go all the way, no doubt he is an incredible raw talent but he may need a bit more experience before he can truly read a race and avoid trouble.  Boherna Best also scorched home as did Wise Thought.  So most of my little Westmead Hawk lads have been eliminated but not to worry, this year’s Derby is shaping up to be very interesting indeed.

Given that Loyal Honcho couldn’t win last year (due to his advanced age), but did anyway, who would entirely discount those lads Lenson Express and Toosey Blue, both whelped in April 2005, to at least continue their march towards the final?