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That's Them Off The Telly- Rishi Persad: Stepping to the beat with the year's big catch.

Byline: Seb Vance

IT'S been a pretty good year for Rishi Persad. Not only is he the leading presenter on Attheraces, he was earlier this spring the subject of a drawn-out tug-of-war between the BBC and Channel 4, writes Seb Vance.

And, to cap it all, he can now count his boyhood hero, the legendary West Indian fast bowler Michael Holding, as one of his friends.

"I met Michael when I had gone down to interview Sir Michael Stoute for the BBC," Trinidad-born Persad recalls.

"He got a lift with me to the gallops. I was playing a calypso song in the car, and we both started singing along. There is one by David Rudder, which was about the West Indies cricket team, at a time when they were losing.

"There was a line which says, `Michael Holding folds in the heat of battle, an angry brother shouts Michael should have left long time'. I couldn't believe it, I was singing a calypso with the man who it was actually written about!"

Around 15 months ago, singing a calypso with the paceman must have seemed as far off as a series victory over Australia. Persad, 30, was a relative unknown, working for Laurie Brannan's SportsGuide PR company, but it was thanks to his boss, who forwarded his name to Attheraces for a screen test, that he now finds himself as one of the hottest properties in racing broadcasting.

"I'd gone in to the screen test without a script or Racing Post, and just did it all ad-lib, which I think they were impressed with. I wasn't expecting anything so there was no pressure," he says.

His knowledgeable and easy laid-back presence on screen emerged immediately, and after only nine months on Attheraces, the BBC and Channel 4 went head to head for his signature.

After much soulsearching, numerous meetings and phone calls between the two parties, the BBC won out and since then Persad has easily settled into his new role. In particular, he enjoyed some lively banter with Holiday presenter Craig Doyle at Epsom and Royal Ascot. "I was hoping I wouldn't like him, he is obviously a good-looking guy, has a great job and the ladies love him and his Irish charm," Persad says, "but much to my disgust, he was also a really nice bloke."

However, it appears Doyle may have a rival for the ladies' affections. Persad, who is rumoured to be the subject of more than one advance from a fellow presenter, has earned himself the title of `Dishy Rishi' following his appearances on the BBC.

"I'm no Craig Doyle but there were one or two girls who asked for my number when I was off-air - but I was far too busy to get involved," he says with a smile. Being on the television has other perks for the young presenter, who was recently invited to take part in a charity golf tournament next March.

PERSAD, whose parents owned and bred racehorses in Trinidad, is clearly proud of his heritage - he even slips back into a Carribean drawl on meeting the local William Hill betting shop manager - but it also nearly prevented him making it in the racing industry.

"In an Indian family, you have to do something professionally," he says. "My great grandfather worked in the fields, his son became a salesman, he worked hard for my dad to become a lawyer, and then it was up to me to be a professional. "I'd studied law but I remember when I had to tell my parents I didn't want to do it anymore, my mum was aghast and didn't talk to me for a week, I still remember the look on her face. But in the end my mum was fine about it and it was actually her who got me in touch with Laurie."

In time, we could see Persad fronting other sports, in particular cricket, which plays a huge part in his life. "It's the hardest thing to watch the West Indies get beat, It actually takes days to recover, I just can't take it. But I think the corner's been turned now," he says.

A potential winning cricket team, duetting with Michael Holding, and a contract with the BBC (but not necessarily in that order) - no wonder Persad has a permanent smile on his face.

q & A:

Best day's racing Dubai World Cup night 2003

Worst day's racing When One Man was killed at Aintree

Flat or jumps? Enjoy both

Favourite racecourse Goodwood. The Glorious meeting is so relaxed and when the sun is shining the course is a tremendous sight

Least favourite racecourse Rowley Mile. Simply because my parents took me racing there a lot as a kid and I could never see what was going on and always had to ask what had just happened. I admit it has got better since

Favourite racing event Royal Ascot. I had a fantastic time at this year's meeting and it's still fresh in my mind

Best tip or advice you ever had My parents have always told me to try to do the right thing - if not pray you get lucky

And the worst Treat them mean, keep them keen - that's rubbish

Is there any racing subject you don't feel qualified to discuss? More than I am probably aware of

Most embarrassing moment on air Clare Balding mentioned that she thrashed me at golf

Person to whom you owe most in life There are quite a few who I'm indebted to - but my parents and brother are at the top of the list

Pet hates Very cold winters and any defeat for the West Indies cricket team

Main interests outside racing Cricket, golf and films

Alternative career I really wanted to be a West Indies test cricketer

Are you superstitious? I have one or two superstitions but I'd rather keep those quiet

Politics Indifferent

Newspaper (other than Racing Post) The Times and The Daily Telegraph

Food Very fond of ice creams

Drink Champagne

Wheels BMW 316 - but would love to get my hands on a Mercedes SL 500

Holidays I've never been to Australia but I would love to go and I'd like to incorporate the Melbourne Cup at the same time

Hotel The Emirates Tower in Dubai is probably the best I've stayed in, it was all paid for so that's probably why I enjoyed it

Music Camino Palmero by The Calling and I love calypsoes from back home

Desert island disc The best of David Rudder - he is the king of calypsoes

TV Smallville and The Simpsons

Films Lots - Meet the Parents, Eddie Murphy's good stuff from the 1980s, Donnie Brasco, Lord of the Rings, Gladiator, Jerry Maguire

Books Sporting autobiographies, I've just started on Michael Atherton's

CAPTION(S):

Rishi Persad: nicknamed `Dishy Rishi' after capturing the affections of a number of the opposite sex, but he's "far too busy" to get involved
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Jul 13, 2003
Words:1154
Previous Article:Five For Fun.
Next Article:Letters: Vain attempt to have a `classic' winner at Bangor; Owner John Layden with a spot of highbrow humour.


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