`A recent survey shows that three-quarters of those who give directions to blind men lean down and give instructions to the guide dog'
Monday 24 March 1997
The Maktoum family, hell bent on turning their patch of Emirate sand into a tourist resort and world-class venue for thoroughbred racing, are hosts to Saturday's 10-furlong international, with more than pounds 1m to the winner.
To persuade the best horses and their owner, trainer and jockey to go nowhere else at the weekend, the Dubai package includes free transport for selected horses, first-class air fare, hotel suites, stretch limousines and every little thing to make "connections" happy.
I was invited last year: to ensure favourable media coverage, hacks were treated to a week of milk and honey, with long-distance phone calls, dry- cleaning, vintage champagne for breakfast and massage sessions in the health club thrown in.
Why, then, am I sitting in the dining-room of a hotel near Dublin, wondering whether they have microwaved the egg, bacon, sausage and tomato, and would I have been better off with a kipper?
I was not asked to Dubai this year. That's why. In thanking my hosts for last year's extravagance, I referred to the visit as "the mother of all freebies".
Rather as my erstwhile colleagues at Westminster would have told me, "when there is bounty to be had, grab hold of it and keep your mouth shut".
In 1996, Sheik Mohammed's nightmare scenario had been success for his own horses: a Maktoum one, two and three would have finished off Dubai's ambitions to attract the best horses in the universe to run in the world's richest race. As it was, the Californian Cigar won; two American horses followed him home and the Sheik beamed. This meeting will run and run.
If you want to bet on Saturday's race, it might be wise to ignore anything from Europe (turf horses have difficulties with the triangular track and the soft dirt surface), but the Japanese Hokuto Vega at 33-1 represents fair each-way value.
The publication of useless statistics is with us once more, and will flourish as readers search for subject matters away from politics. From a psychological magazine: "In an average week the average man now has a 60 per cent likelihood of having a below average time." From Pets and Pet Owners: "A recent survey shows that out of 100 blind men who ask people to direct them, three quarters of those they approach lean down and give instructions to the guide dog."
From the Aer Lingus in-flight magazine, an in-depth piece on cabbages states: "The real monstrousness of the cabbages' cussed nature is not just the stink, but the fact that the more you cook it, the more the stench increases. The amount of hydrogen sulphide produced in boiled cabbage doubles between the 5th and 7th minute of cooking."
On the subject of gastronomy, in which cabbage cooked for seven minutes plays no part, Dublin food seems tired where London's sparkles. Dublin is still into garnishes of limp lettuce and wilted shrimp. The plates are too hot, the coffee too weak, the wine waiter too grand. At the Bon Appetit in Malahide they serve mashed potatoes into which strips of bacon and fresh herbs sizzled in olive oil are incorporated: a really good dish; pity about the tarte Tatin.
Do not miss McIlvanney on Busby, Stein and Shankly (see left) and as you watch, shed a tear for the supporters of the many journeymen football clubs whose supporters don't have a lot to remember and hardly anything to look forward to. The economics of today's professional game mean that if a club has a centrally situated ground, a good manager or a good team, some or all of these are sold, for insufficient money to replace any of the three assets.
Plymouth Argyle, from whom we expected so much, are a case in point. A crowd of 5,468 saw them beaten at home, which put paid to lingering hopes of finishing in the top half of their modest division, which might have enabled them to change their strip and merchandise their way out of trouble. Beryl Cooke lives in Plymouth; she is even richer than Delia Smith, who lives in East Anglia and became a director of Norwich. Cooke should buy Home Park.
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