Robin Oakley

In praise of trainer Dan Skelton

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I’m not sure how the BBC would have taken it in my Nine O’Clock News days if after a tough interview I had embraced a disconsolate politician (though I can guess and it wouldn’t have been to the corporation’s credit). It was, though, the best moment in the ITV coverage of last Saturday’s racing, when presenter Alice Plunkett put her arms around Laura Morgan and hugged the tearful trainer who had just lost her star horse. Earlier in the programme, Alice – who seems to be friends with everyone in racing, from the merest muck-shoveller to owners campaigning £200,000 jumpers – had interviewed Laura following the success of her stable’s J’Ai Froid at the same day’s Warwick meeting.

The ups and downs of the sport could hardly have been more starkly illustrated when, in the Silviniaco Conti Chase at Kempton, her three-time winner Notlongtillmay was fatally injured in a last fence fall. His trainer deserves the utmost respect for asking to come back on air once more to announce the death and to say how much her stable star would be missed: ‘It’s absolutely horrendous. He didn’t deserve that. It’ll leave an absolutely massive hole in the yard every day. He was such a character. We brought him here with a little pony called Ernie who always goes racing with him…’ We should also respect the ITV team for agreeing. Horses do sometimes die and racing has to be honest and open about the downside of our uniquely thrilling sport. The ITV team give us polished broadcasting, a real sense of drama and unparalleled tactical analysis but simple humanity is their best quality.

Horses do sometimes die and racing has to be open about the downside of our uniquely thrilling sport

I had been tempted to go to Warwick, where there are six races with more than eight runners compared with only two at Kempton.

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