Racing uncertainty delivers a win double

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The Independent Online
AFTER the flatulent fall-out from last week's edition of Greg Dyke's Fair Game (Channel 4), sports authorities must have hoped that he would be unable to "get lucky" two shows in a row. And, in normal circumstances, last Thursday's victims of "A Good Bet?" - horse- racing and bookmakers - would have been able to laugh off a catalogue of familiar accusations that have been screamingly obvious to those who follow the nags.

Broadly, these were: that the bookmakers make too much money helped, in part, by their practice of shortening the odds on heroes by ploughing their own money into the betting ring; that anyone claiming to be a telephone tipster with inside information is almost certainly qualified for membership of an RFU Committee; that a few jockeys, under pressure from a trainer or owner, will not give their horse as enterprising a ride as it needs.

Dyke was initially filmed at the extra day's racing tagged on to this year's Cheltenham Festival, smacking his tenner - roughly 0.0001 per cent of the golden-handcuff deal he won from London Weekend Television - on to a horse appropriately named Allegation. Unlike the single-shot snipe at rugby union, Dyke had a blunderbuss this time, so although he hit targets he caused only superficial damage. The most sustained fire came down on the subject of "non-triers" - horses held back in order to disguise their true form so they will start at a more attractive price next time they run.

With the aid of a camera patrol film and a steward's secretary, Dyke was able to show a prime example of a jockey doing everything but pulling out a gun and shooting his horse in order to prevent it winning. Meanwhile, an ex-rider with his voice disguised and filmed at an angle that suggested his grazing horse was actually doing the talking, listed other tricks of the trade. None of it was news to those who have suffered a thousand deaths in the betting wars.

But then, the previous day's Racing from Chester, also on Channel 4, had seemed to throw up a gross example of what the programme had been banging on about. The winner of the Chester Cup, Top Cees, had been spotted a month earlier at Newmarket apparently being denied a clear winning chance by his less than energetic jockey, Kieran Fallon.

A stewards' inquiry then had accepted the rider and trainer's explanations about the need to handle the horse carefully over 1 mile 6 furlongs, but now here was the horse at Chester running half a mile further and sprinting clear under a vigorous ride by Fallon. The fact that the horse had been a well-backed ante-post favourite for the race may have had something to do with it.

To their immense credit, the Channel 4 racing team, who had already stated the implications of the horse's win before the race, expressed their feelings openly. "Not a satisfactory result for racing," Lord Oaksey observed tersely, while the race-reader Graham Goode acidly remarked upon the muted reception for Top Cees in the winner's enclosure. The host Brough Scott signed off with the thought that the horse "had laughed at his rivals, and perhaps at the rules".

Not surprisingly, the debate continued on Thursday, with the broadcast now being book-ended by trailers for that night's, suddenly topical, finger- pointing Dyke. The Top Cees case may not stop there although the Jockey Club have shrugged off the affair. But, as in the short-sighted, and short- lived, decision to sack Will Carling from the England rugby captaincy, the people may yet decide otherwise.

The willingness of the Channel 4 team to tackle the incident enhanced their technical and editorial achievements in bringing us seven consecutive days of racing, from Newmarket via Kempton to Chester. Last Sunday's broadcast of the1,000 Guineas was terrific entertainment, and apart from striking a blow for armchair punters, the programme scored a little victory for feminism. Sir Colin Cowdrey, whose wife, Lady Herries, trains Celtic Swing, was invited to air his views on the colt's performance in the 2,000 Guineas. An on-screen caption referred to him as "Trainer's husband".

Meanwhile, ITV's main gamble in their coverage of the Arsenal v Real Zaragoza Cup-Winners' Cup Final was to include in their build-up a dangerously immodest sequence showing their own anchor-man, Bob Wilson, in his role as coach to the Arsenal keeper, David Seaman. The objective was clear - to claim a little credit for Seaman's heroic display against Sampdoria in the semi-final.

That this self-promotion rebounded on Wilson so spectacularly will be a familiar experience to most punters unwise enough to shout the odds about their selections only to see their horse fall on its nose.

"Forgive me if I find it hard to smile after what's happened with my goalkeeper," Wilson said with a puckered face after the man with no first- Nayim had beaten Seaman from 60 yards for Zaragoza's winner. After several minutes treading water, waiting for Arsenal interviewees too disappointed to appear, Wilson signed off with a little homily that "goalkeepers walk a tightrope", a remark that applied as much to himself as to the unfortunate Seaman.