Robin Oakley

The turf | 22 June 2017

To what extent must our top sportsmen be touchy-feely in order to win public approval?

The turf | 22 June 2017
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Back on the political beat with CNN for the general election, I was reminded how politics is now dominated by personality, or the lack of it. Led by the media, we want our politicians to be authoritative enough to dominate an EU summit yet ‘normal’ enough to know what’s topping the pop charts or who’s in the final of Strictly Come Dancing. It has led to idiocies such as Gordon Brown pretending he listened to the Arctic Monkeys or an ingratiating David Cameron claiming to have voted for Will Young on X Factor at his daughter’s insistence when Young was actually on Pop Idol, which he won before Cameron’s daughter was born. Ever since the death of Princess Diana, and through into our terrorised times, our politicians have been required to be able to emote, to hug and hold and to share the tears of the traumatised and bereaved. Forced by traffic gridlock to listen to nearly four hours of vitriolic phone-ins en route to Sandown Park on Saturday, it became obvious to me that politicians incapable of displaying emotion publicly must now seek other careers.

To what extent, though, must our sports stars, too, be touchy-feely to win public favour? It used to be fashionable for much of the media to moan about Ryan Moore, a jockey whose supreme talent in timing a racetrack swoop or delivering big-race victories with ice-cool aplomb seemed to be matched only by his failure to communicate any sense of enjoyment or deliver cheery one-liners after doing so. At Sandown on Saturday such criticisms could not have been wider of the mark. As he rode into the winner’s enclosure on trainer Henry Candy’s Greenside, a tongue-in-cheek Candy urged him: ‘Give us a flying dismount then, Ryan.’ There were no Frankie Dettori-style acrobatics as he dismounted from the 13–8 favourite — and it was probably just as well that neither of us could hear Ryan’s reply — but the grinning jockey could not have been more obviously enjoying himself.

My travel misery had caused me to miss the winner of the first race, Rio Ronaldo, but the form-book sage, who is my regular racing companion, counselled, ‘Worry not. Just back Ryan’s mounts for the rest of the day.’ As I had fancied most of them, too, I went with his advice. After Ryan’s mount Fashion Queen had failed to oblige at 9–2, and the 5–4 favourite Battered he partnered had managed only third, my confidence wavered a little, only for Ryan then to give us the perfect demonstration of his talents on the six-year-old Greenside. Greenside was overkeen early on but two furlongs out, just as I was losing faith, Ryan found a gap and burst through to win convincingly. What Henry Candy called ‘a lovely ride’ was a triumph for Greenside’s trainer, and for his patient owners too. The gelding, by Dubawi out of Katrina, was originally purchased for 47,000 guineas but was sent to the sales after suffering every kind of problem — ‘Feet, knees, the lot’. He was, though, repurchased by his canny trainer, who is famous for his bargain buys, for 43,000 guineas less. Greenside was contesting only his eighth race but he has clearly been worth waiting for. As his trainer noted, ‘There aren’t too many Dubawis around for only four grand.’

Earlier, Henry had given me an example of the not-often-witnessed Ryan Moore sense of humour. The jockey scored several times for him on Corrybrough, usually waiting behind and coming with a run. One day Henry had told him in the weighing room to employ the usual tactics, only to change his mind in the parade ring when he noted how some of his opponents were likely to run their races. He planned to tell the jockey to lie up closer than usual to the leaders. Unfortunately, grabbed by a TV interviewer just before legging up Ryan, he didn’t have time to detail the change of plan and that day Corrybrough failed to win. The next time he met Moore, the trainer apologised, saying, ‘I’m sorry I fucked up on the tactics last time.’ ‘Oh no you didn’t,’ said Ryan with a grin: ‘I was the one who fucked up, by listening to you in the first place!’ Confidence is everything.

After Greenside, another Ryan Moore-ridden favourite went down in the shape of Jeremy Noseda’s Intrepidly, who was given every chance by his jockey but proved a little one-paced. That left us with two more races for a master-class. In the maiden Ryan used the experience of the event’s favourite Bristol Missile to strike early and see off the promising Musaahim. Finally came Machine Learner, whom I had mentioned to readers after a recent visit to Joe Tuite’s yard, knowing that his trainer sees some real staying potential in him. In as smooth an operation as you could hope for, Ryan had him close up behind the leaders two out, came through smoothly and snatched victory from the long-time leader on the line. Stick with Machine Learner. And with Ryan.