Horse laughter in the whinny enclosure

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The Independent Online
There was a time when all that sportsmen and women had to worry about was their opponents. Now they have to run the gauntlet of television interviewers who loom ever closer to the action, hugging the touchline at football and rugby matches, loitering in the pitlane at grands prix. Until recently jockeys could consider themselves safe until they reached the winner's enclosure, but no more. For the Cheltenham Festival, Channel 4 borrowed an idea from American television, and employed Lesley Graham to lurk at the winning post on horseback and grill the winner on the way in.

For the most part all that this innovation delivered was an earlier dose of platitudes, the exception being when Graham forgot herself and planted a smacker on Rodney Farrant after he won the Queen Mother Champion Chase on Martha's Son - she either had a crush on him or a bet on him, and the latter seems more likely.

Where Channel 4 missed out was by failing to provide subtitles for the interviews that really mattered: those conducted telepathically between Graham's horse, Gallantie, and the winning animals. Such information is too important to miss, and judicious distribution of Polo mints in the Lambourn area has procured for us a transcript of the exchange between Gallantie and Mr Mulligan after the latter had triumphed in the Gold Cup.

Gallantie: "Wotcha."

Mr Mulligan: (Puff, pant) "Hello mate."

Gallantie: "Congratulations. You must be delighted."

Mr M: (Puff, snort) "Oh yes, it's a big day and no mistake, mate. I mean, I've run round in circles and jumped over things quicker than other horses before, but today is the first time that I've run round in circles and jumped over things and then run up a hill quicker than other horses. It's big thrill and to be honest I'm just delighted for the lads."

Gallantie: "Yes, it's a great day for your trainer and owner."

Mr M: "Bollocks to them. I mean the lads - the ones who bring me my food."

Gallantie: "Of course. Silly of me. Well, I suppose there'll be a bit of a celebration back home tonight?"

Mr M: "No question about it. I'll have a few waters with the boys and - who knows? - maybe a roll in the hay."

Gallantie: "I thought you were a gelding?"

Mr M: "I meant it literally."

Gallantie: "Oh, right. What about future plans - are you going to run in the Grand National?"

Mr M: "I bloody hope not. Strictly between you and me, I'm going to give myself some time off. You know the form - if you go without breakfast for a couple of days they put you on the easy list for a fortnight."

Gallantie: "Very cunning. Do you think success in the Gold Cup will change your life?"

Mr M: "Well, I'm looking forward to the nice new blanket that I'll be given in the winner's enclosure in a minute, but I'll try to make sure that things don't go to my head. It's a shame that breeding is out of the question, but old Dessie tells me there are plenty of Polos in the old supermarket-opening racket, so that will be fun. To be honest, what I really fancy is a career in television. Any pointers?"

Gallantie: "Sure. Keep your coat shiny, look straight at the camera, and don't kick the producer."

Mr M: "Ta. Well, here we go into the unsaddling bit. Nice talking to you."

Gallantie: "Thanks. And congratulations again."

Mr M: "Cheers."

Well, it beats listening to John McCririck, doesn't it?

The National Hunt stars were not the only thoroughbreds on screen last week. In the latest of his excellent series of televisual essays, Even Further Abroad (BBC2), Jonathan Meades visited Newmarket, where the Jockey Club allowed him unlimited access to the facilities of "Headquarters". They must be kicking themselves.

Meades' thesis, with which few who have ever spent a great deal of time in the town will disagree, was that Newmarket is an unnatural environment for some pretty unnatural pastimes, "where horses created by artifice inhabit a landscape created by artifice".

"The Sport of Kings," Meades ringingly declared, "is the industry of chancers." In a nutshell, he's not a fan. The Jockey Club are "as omnipotent as money" and furthermore the paintings in their offices are crummy. Apart from Epsom, he reckoned, racing's public is greeted with "an unashamed display of sod-you-ism".

He didn't feel very sorry for the horses, either, loitering at a stud farm in his suit and shades to observe a mating, a Blues Brother going green with envy. "They're chaperoned," he noted. "But none the less they do get to go the whole way on the first date."

It was mercilessly entertaining stuff, even if, as Meades sadly noted, "You don't often hear of horses going to raves, selling the story of their drug habit and going into recovery." Have a word with Gallantie, Jonathan. You might learn a thing or two.