James Lawton: Give McCririck credit where credit is due

Tuesday 09 March 2004 01:00

Picking up the cudgels on behalf of John McCririck is perhaps not one of life's more natural responses, not like holding a door open for Sophia Loren or engaging Peter Ustinov in light banter. But duty calls. McCririck is well able to look after himself, no doubt, but did he deserve to be be dismissed as merely the author of serial over-reaction when he cried out for a six-month ban on champion jockey Kieren Fallon?

Clare Balding, the celebrity columnist, thought he did when discussing Fallon's ride on Ballinger Ridge, a horse trained by her brother Andrew. She said that at the time it did indeed seem that McCririck had over-reacted, "something he does well", but that was before a News of the World hit squad had taped the jockey telling what he thought were well-heeled punters that his horse would not win.

This, Ms Balding conceded, clouded the picture somewhat. What everybody had to accept, of course, was that if the greenest apprentice had decided to throw a race he couldn't have produced the appearance of it more haplessly than Fallon, an acknowledged master of his difficult trade.

Something Andrew Balding said was perhaps not the best advised reaction: "As if the champion jockey was going to risk his career for the sake of a class H regional race. It's just crazy."

What did the class of the race have to do with it? Anyway, it was no crazier than his sister's assertion that if someone much less famous than Fallon had been on board Ballinger Ridge when a certain victory was so ineptly surrendered the story would have merited little or no attention.

Due process is now under way at the Jockey Club. We should perhaps give McCririck some credit. Whatever the truth of this case, racing quite often needs all the indignation it can get, however carefully rehearsed.

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