Jockeys get a taste of the 'persuader'

BOOK OF THE WEEK; The Race of My Life Edited by Sean Magee (Headline, pounds 18.99) Publication date: 19 September
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To get a horse really running for you, the professionals tell us, it is necessary to sit still and quietly, then coax and cajole, kick and push before wielding some encouragement. To get a jockey really talking sometimes requires the same techniques, you just have to kick that much harder.

Whatever method Sean Magee employed in persuading 30 top jockeys to describe the greatest race they ever rode certainly worked - with the carrot of royalties from the sale of this book going to the Injured Jockeys' Fund probably proving more effective than use of the stick.

So, a posse of riders reminisce about how wonderful they were, furlong by furlong, blow by blow. The possibilities for tedium arrive at the gallop - but in this volume disappear over the horizon just as quickly.

Sure, the races are recounted, but not in the gasping, run-of-the-mill way as told to the press pack in the winners' enclosure. As Graham McCourt recalls: "Winning the Champion Hurdle [on Royal Gait] and Gold Cup [on Norton's Coin] were great thrills, but with all the press men waiting outside the shower there was no time to enjoy the sensation".

This time round the sensations are savoured and hindsight has added clarity. Best of all, the need for diplomacy, for preserving reputations and stud values, has passed.

Frankie Dettori is brilliant on Lammtarra, talking about him that is; Adrian Maguire and Tony McCoy, the only jockeys to pick the same horse, produce powerful words about Viking Flagship and Willie Carson, as the manner of his outspoken autobiography would suggest, is frank about his Derby win on Erhaab.

"When we reach the seven-furlong marker I'm beginning to panic," Carson relates. "I'm thinking: We gotta get outa here. I should be doing something about this but I'm stuck, one off the rail on the inside. I can't go round because that would take me six horses wide. I'm in the shit!"

Joe Mercer and Pat Eddery both choose the 1975 King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes as their most memorable contest, reinforcing its position as the Race of the Century, at least among those able to remember only the last third of those hundred years.

Grundy and Bustino gave all for Eddery and Mercer that day, and, as Eddery recounts: "Four or five strides after the line Grundy wobbled to a halt. He was an amazingly tough racehorse but that race bottomed him and he was so tired that I thought I'd have to get off him to enable him to walk into the unsaddling enclosure."

Those who remember that fierce fight to the line that caused a premature end to the careers of both horses will not need Peter Scudamore's reminder that: "In any event, it's not your greatest race - it's the horse's."

John Cobb