Disaster waits around corner in crowded winner's circle.
YOU need to take a raincoat with you to the July meeting - and not necessarily for the rain. One year I needed it to cover a body. Like this month, there had been some showers about that July, but the real trouble came from a downpour of quite another dimension. There was a boxing promotion in the town which proved a bit too popular for its own good, and among `the fancy' down from London were members of rival criminal gangs. And as I hustled through from paddock to the members' enclosure, two of them were into `showtime'.
Suddenly the normally rather well-bred chatter and shoving was bust apart as one huge thug reeled bloodily back from a blow from another equally un-Jockey Club looking creature, gathered himself and then not only felled his opponent with a mighty bare-fisted pile-driver but proceeded to kick the hulking body once it hit the floor.
As happens on these occasions, the crowd cleared as quickly as a saloon bar in a western. Except for your correspondent who, distracted by TV duties, suddenly found himself right in the middle of things.
In a laughable attempt to halt the attack, I threw my raincoat over the recumbent punch bag, turned to his attacker and, in a somewhat piping public school voice, said: "Don't do that."
Time stood still. The first thug loomed towards me, blood seeping from his right eye. An equally large `friend' appeared from somewhere and thrust a massive gold-ringed fist in front of me with the none-too-civil admonishment: "Hey shortie, stay out of this." It was a scene from a movie but I could not get from the screen to the seats.
In the crowd I could see former world middleweight champion Alan Minter and former army boxing king Robert Sangster, both too stunned to come forward and slug it out for my rescue.
This looked like an uncomfortable place to die. But something happened. Maybe it was the first calypso bars of Ivan and The Terribles or even the impending arrival of that well-known disciplinarian and stewards' secretary Rachel Tonks, but a fourth thug appeared, dragged the body to its feet, shooed away the others and the whole thumping and bloody cameo disappeared.
What was stressed that day was the need for crowd control. After that unruly summer when one racegoer was actually stabbed to death in the car park, we all grew up and accepted that security men were a lot better way of stopping brawls than weedy TV people throwing their macks around.
But inside a racetrack the most dangerous thing I have ever seen was also perpetrated at the July meeting, and the lessons have still to be learned. To all our shame this was some 20 years ago and the law of averages must make a repetition of a similar incident come closer every day.
The thug in question this time had four legs not two, but he would have had my two friends for breakfast. Indeed, man-eating was what Steve Nesbitt's brilliant but tooth-happy sprinter Ubedizzy was all about.
On this day, hay nets were not enough. As Ubedizzy stood in the winner's circle, he suddenly knocked his lad to the ground and began to savage him. It was a hideous demonstration of how powerful and
danger-ous an unhinged thoroughbred can be. Somehow Nesbitt's team beat Ubedizzy back upright, several impending heart attacks were avoided and most people went off to the bar, and the implications of what happened have ever since been lost in the froth. These are not so much from savaging, which nowadays is mercifully rare, but from any sort of plunging and kicking in the continued and quite ludicrous overcrowding of the unsaddling enclosure.
How can health and safety rules insist upon all sorts of white railings to separate horses and the public at places like Sandown, and yet allow the July course unsaddling enclosure (and it is far from alone - have a look at Chester) to be filled with everyone who ever had a press badge or some sort of ongoing relationship with a trainer or jockey?
Over three decades trying to manoeuvre a Channel 4 microphone towards the winning connections, the problem got worse and, despite complaints, nothing was done. Stressed-out horses and crowded, often heedless, hangers-on must not be crammed into a small space. Remember Mutafaweq throwing himself about after the 1999 St Leger? If Doncaster had not used its main paddock as the unsaddling enclosure, it would have been carnage. On the July course we would have a death on our hands.
That is a disaster Newmarket's three happiest days do not deserve. They offer the purest pleasure the racing fan can find - Classic quality without the stuffiness, horses beneath the beech trees, battle royals on the track, Pimms in the glass. For me, the three biggest thrills have always been the Princess of Wales's Stakes with the three-year-olds proving themselves against the older horses, the maiden races with that first thrilling glimpse of real two-year-old talent, and, best of all, the July Cup.
In 1985, Channel 4 cameras caught a shot of Never So Bold in full winning gallop, which remains the finest ever image of the unique power of the thoroughbred racehorse at full stretch. But it was two years later, after Ajdal's July Cup, that Michael Stoute, his trainer, came up with the race's best winner's enclosure comment.
"Third in the Guineas and fourth in the Derby, and now winning the July Cup," I gushed, "that is some training achievement." Stoute, allowing candour to break in on his normal professional reticence, replied: "I have a good horse, and it has taken me until the July of his three-year-old season to discover that his best distance is six furlongs, not a mile and a half. No, I am not very proud of that."
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|Publication:||The Racing Post (London, England)|
|Date:||Jul 9, 2002|
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