Taking a day off racing to enjoy Joe Root’s regal 180 not out against India on the third day of the England-India Test — tranquillity interrupted only by a call from home to say that Flat-coated Retriever Damson had eaten the TV controller — I was struck by the amount of ‘gardening’ indulged in by batters. After any ball that has beaten them they stroll down the pitch, glare malevolently at an innocent patch of turf and prod back into inoffensive conformity the infinitesimal protrusion on the surface which they have assured themselves was responsible for the ball whipping past their hung-out bat. Excuse accepted. Mental confidence restored.
Confidence is crucial too in the battle for the Jockeys Championship which this year, thanks partly to Covid, will produce the most genuine holder of the title we have seen in years. One measure to combat the pandemic has been the introduction of the rule restricting jockeys to riding at a single meeting every day. In the past the title has sometimes been a reward not just for talent in the saddle but for a hair-shirted willingness to incur the biggest petrol bill in the weighing room by flogging from afternoon meetings to evening fixtures in search of any ride a workaholic agent can drum up. That aspect alone has ensured that some champion jockeys have decided after winning the title never to challenge for it again.
As Steve Cauthen reflected after his epic battle with Pat Eddery in 1987 when he won with 197 victories to 195: ‘I was “cooked”, absolutely knackered. I’d literally lived horses 24 hours a day seven days a week for eight months and, however much you enjoy it, too much of a good thing can be bad for you.’