Unkind cut brings victory after Korea change

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The Independent Online
GELDED racehorses, by definition, have very little to look forward to once their hard day's work is done: they get their oats only in a non- metaphorical sense. So watching the sweating animals straining up the hill during the Cheltenham Festival (Channel 4) one wondered where their motivation came from.

For owners, trainers and jockeys there are trophies, champagne, money. For the horses, a pat on the neck. But at Cheltenham there is an extra perk. On the presentation table next to the goodies for the hu-mans stood a catering-size pack of extra-strong mints, and you could see the nostrils of the winners dilate still further as they walked into the enclosure. A sweet touch.

Channel 4's coverage got off to a sticky start when Brough Scott was interrupted by a rough Scot. The smooth interviewer had just started to quiz the jockey Norman Williamson when a ceremonial bagpiper went off at full blast right behind him. Brough plugged on for a minute or two, but eventually conceded defeat: Scottish windbag 1, windbag Scott 0.

Actually, that is not quite fair on Channel 4's front man. Like all their presenters, he knows what he is talking about, having ridden around Cheltenham a good few times himself. And at least he has a reasonably restrained dress sense, which is a great deal more than can be said for his substantial colleague John McCririck.

It is not unusual for denizens of the betting ring to wear camel-hair coats. McCririck did: a fine example, with burgundy velvet lapels and epaulettes. But he went further, and wore an entire animal on his head. Not a camel, to be sure, but something pretty substantial. Raccoon? Muskrat? Gloucestershire squirrel? Or maybe something edible? McCririck makes plenty of predictions - one day he may have to eat his hat.

Old beaver-bonce did not take kindly to anyone interrupting his spiel, which was unfortunate because the betting ring at Cheltenham is not a solitary spot. "Don't be stupid," he admonished a grinning racegoer. "Grow up!" He might have added: "I'm the only one allowed to look stupid around here."

Every day of the Festival featured game old stayers plugging away up the notorious hill. The Queen Mother was one, and Fergie Sutherland, the wooden-legged trainer of the Gold Cup winner Imperial Call, another. Sutherland is a figure from another age: stone-faced, patrician, snorting like one of his equine charges. As Lord Oaksey warm-heartedly observed: "Sutherland, who lost a leg in Korea, knows a thing or two about battles."

So does Steve Redgrave, whose preparations for the Atlanta Olympics were featured on Sportsnight (BBC1). Redgrave is pursuing his fourth successive Olympic gold, and it is a painful process, as he explained after a strenuous session on the rowing machine. "Argh," he said. "Argh, argh, argh." He then fell over on to the floor, adding: "Argh, argh, argh . . . argh, argh, argh." You recall that scene in When Harry Met Sally? Very similar.

More grunting and groaning in A Bloody Art (BBC2), an examination by the veteran boxing journalist John Rodda of the crisis facing his beloved sport. Rodda's thesis was that the increase in injuries and fatalities that has so damaged boxing is attributable to greater body strength in fighters and higher technology in their equipment, and to a decline in the skills of counter-punching, body-punching and defence. Those arts are essential to the amateur but are not given the same value in the professional game, where the knock-out punch is all-important.

Rodda called eloquent witnesses in Henry Cooper and Naseem Hamed's trainer, Brendan Ingle, and he chose his archive footage with care. But there was an air of resigned nostalgia about the programme. The glory days of the Forties and Fifties, when amateur boxing was regularly televised and the clubs were turning down would-be boxers, will not return.

Television, the willing servant of the amateur sport in the bygone days that Rodda recalled so wistfully, has now become the greedy master. Instead of nurturing the sport at the grass roots, television now demands only the biggest stars with the biggest punches fighting for the biggest purses, and the station chiefs want knock-outs, not clever technical wins on points. Rodda cited Naseem Hamed as an example of finely honed technique and craft. Ironically, he is also the epitome of the television dream, the more-bangs- for-your-buck boxer. To take Rodda's argument to its logical extreme: if Naseem wins, boxing loses. But try telling that to the viewers.

They Think It's All Over (BBC1) is back, and as risque as ever. Ian Wright was guesting on Gary Lineker's team last week, and contributed a personal view on England's controversial was-it-over-the-line-or-not goal in the 1966 World Cup Final. "If Roger Hunt had followed the ball in," he said, "we wouldn't have had all this bollocks for years."

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