Sport on TV: See no greys, See More Business, see no sense

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The Independent Online
"He's been off his grub for the last 24 hours," Mick Fitzgerald said of Rough Quest, his mount in the big race on Boxing Day, which to judge by the red and chubby faces pressed six deep around the paddock must have put the steeplechaser in a minority of one. And as ever, the crowd at Kempton for the King George VI Chase was in festive mood, which is a polite way of saying that almost everyone looked both plastered and irritable. The triumph of Channel 4's coverage of the afternoon was to convey not just a taste of the atmosphere, but also a strong suspicion that six feet away on a sofa was the safest distance from which to experience it.

Down in the betting ring, the characters surrounding John McCririck were even tastier than usual, so much so that it was hard not to feel a twinge of sympathy for him (only hard, mind you, not impossible). Back in the paddock, meanwhile, Derek Thompson tackled the perennial problem of what to do in the yawning gaps between races by conducting a vox pop on the identity of the King George winner. The first person he asked tipped a horse in a different race entirely and then collapsed into a giggling fit, which pretty much set the tone for the afternoon.

In all, Thommo must have canvassed almost two dozen punters, but not one of them managed to name See More Business, who popped up at 10-1 with a 16-1 chance second and the three grey horses who had been the focus of pre-race attention nowhere to be seen. This seemed to have rather scuppered the line about a "grey day at Kempton" which you just knew Graham Goode, Channel 4's commentator, had lovingly prepared beforehand, but like the pro he is, Goode refused to concede defeat. "It's a grey day... for the greys," he said at last. Now that's class.

And class is something that Channel 4 racing has plenty of; it is just concentrated in well-defined pockets. Brough Scott is as composed and informed an anchorman as you will find, while John Francome and Lord Oaksey (still going strong, bless him, as he must be all of 103) are sharp, witty and, above all, well aware of what it is the armchair punter wants to know - is it fit, will it act, and so on.

McCririck, on the other hand, has always seemed to believe that people are switching on primarily to watch him, and that the information he is relaying from the ring is thus of secondary importance. This approach seemed annoying 20 years ago, and is in serious need of attention now. At the very least, perhaps, they could hire the inebriate who stood behind McCririck's right shoulder throughout the afternoon, frequently doffing his trilby to the camera with a smile that both disarmed the viewer and somehow diminished the force of the rant taking place in front of him.

Booze and horses were the combination later in the evening, too, as a fly-on-a-dry-stone-wall camera team spent a season with The Hunt (BBC2). The result was extraordinary, not least because it had been made with the willing - indeed, almost desperate - co-operation of the Ludlow hunt, but still revealed the most unpleasant cast of characters ever assembled in a television documentary (with the possible exception of Sylvania Waters).

There were, for instance, the terriermen, digging out a fox which had gone to ground with the help of a terrier fitted with an electronic tracking device (very traditional, don't you think?). Man pits his wits against beast armed only with the latest electronic gadgetry and a handgun. It was not a pretty sight. And one can only imagine how a nation of dog-lovers greeted the sight of a kennelman shooting one of his hounds, for no other reason than that it was too old to keep up with the pack. He gave it a little kiss, lobbed its body into the offal incinerator and then went back to polishing the riding boots. If the cause of hunting was not already dead, it surely perished along with that unfortunate hound.

As anyone who had watched the Kempton coverage was more than aware, falling from a moving horse can be extremely dangerous, and potentially even fatal. Yet still there will have been tens of thousands of quiet, unseasonal cheers in living-rooms across the land whenever a hunter hits the frosty dirt.

But what, you may ask, does fox-hunting have to do with proper sport? Only this: the fact that there are many people in horse racing who are eager to link the two pursuits in the public consciousness. After The Hunt, this is clearly not just illogical - in 100 minutes of film, racing was not mentioned once - but also disastrous PR of Ratneresque proportions. Yet still it is a strategy which various Channel 4 presenters, among others, have in the past seemed keen to pursue. In view of the images which will have etched themselves permanently into so many minds - young ones especially - on Friday evening, it might be better to treat hunting in future like the mad aunt in the attic that no one ever mentions.

Oh, and on the subject of poor, defenceless creatures, did anyone catch the Tottenham match on Sky?

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