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Tuesday, 20 November, 2018

Why Russell’s anger is based on Fawlty logic

The Thursday column

Davy Russell is unhappy with media coverage of the Kings Dolly incident
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There is a scene in Fawlty Towers where Basil arrives back at the hotel to find some disastrous structural changes have been made, for which Polly, who has been left in temporary charge, attempts to pin the blame on Basil himself.

It was, until Tuesday, the most brazen attempt of all time to deflect culpability for something. But then Davy Russell decided the fuss that has engulfed Irish racing for the past few weeks was the fault of the media.

The video I watched showed Russell clench his fist and punch his mount Kings Dolly without any evidence that a journalist was holding his wrist and forcing it towards the horse’s neck and that seemed to be the verdict of the appeals board who banned the jockey for five days but deducted a day for the “strain and pressure” that had been put on him.

It was unclear whether that referred to the media coverage the incident caused or the Turf Club’s initial botched attempt to bring the case to a close when Russell was given a woefully inadequate caution. Or a combination of both.

Regardless, we now have an outcome that is far more reflective of the nature of the offence, and the punishment looks spot-on based on the modern gauge of provoking roughly equal quantities of outraged tweets and approving tweets.

I have been intrigued by how polarised opinion is on this regrettable incident.

More by Bruce Millington

Image of racing suffers as Russell incident is allowed to drag on

On one hand there is a hardcore of Russell supporters who are adamant he did nothing wrong, did not hurt the horse one jot and has been the victim of a media witch hunt, and on the other there are people, incensed at what they see as an unacceptable act of heavy-handedness on an animal, who feel that nothing but a lifetime ban would do.

Very few people who have offered an opinion sit far away from either camp.

I find it disappointing that Russell has been so eager to jab his finger firmly in the direction of the media. What sort of reaction did he expect?

Are he and his supporters so detached from how the world outside the racing bubble views issues such as animal welfare that they cannot believe punching a horse was going to cause a storm?

It would have been a more satisfactory conclusion for Russell to have accepted he did wrong and say he was going to serve his ban and ensure there would never be a repeat, instead of shooting the messenger.

Hopefully we all move on now (although I suspect the features editor can cross ‘Davy Russell interview’ off her list of potential future articles) and the Racing Post can focus on what we love most – to evangelise about racing and its many virtues.

There are one or two people who have fooled themselves into believing the Racing Post is anti-racing which, as well as being untrue, would be a pretty suicidal commercial strategy.

We cannot wave our pom-poms all the time and will continue to challenge and expose areas of the sport we feel need to be improved or investigated, but we do not relish clouds appearing in the sport’s sky.

And we now enter a special period of the racing year in which the action under both codes heats up, hopefully enabling us to focus on the action on the track and the human and equine stars involved.

The next four months feature barely a single weak Saturday, with Irish Champions Weekend kicking off a long period of superb meetings and races that will bring an admittedly tepid Flat season to what will hopefully be an uplifting climax before the spotlight switches to the jumpers.

Nothing would give us greater pleasure than to be able to bring you the stories behind the big races and tributes to a string of sizzling performances.

But, if there is bad news to be reported on, we will not shy away from it – and if we do it won’t be our fault any more than the filled-in kitchen door in Fawlty Towers was Basil’s fault.

Fans having a Blast should inspire racing 

When it comes to sport and fun I have assumed for the best part of two decades that nothing can touch a night at the darts for sheer silly, harmless enjoyment.

Whether you are at the Ally Pally, the Winter Gardens or any of the Premier League venues, an evening of lager, basic food, singing and scrawling ‘I’m a 19-stone sex machine’ on a sponsored placard and waving it at a TV camera takes the world of beating.

But on Saturday I spent most of the hours of daylight on the sofa flicking from sport to sport, but mostly finding myself drawn to Sky Sports Smashing or whatever the relevant channel is called these days where the T20 Blast Finals Day was being broadcast.

Not only is T20 the sporting invention of the 21st century, but Finals Day is the perfect way of staging it. Four counties, three matches, two finalists, one fantastic day.

And what a show Edgbaston put on. Things started reasonably sedately but by the time the final started everyone seemed to be at that jovial level of drunk, with tuneless singing helping to create a cracking atmosphere.

More by Bruce Millington

Wonderful Windies show up TV's flawed prediction model

For the first time in my life I even warmed to the concept of fancy dress, something I have always been averse to ever since I watched Birmingham fans run amok at Selhurst Park in all sorts of incongruous outfits.

The sight of people dressed as nuns and clowns viciously punching strangers was a bizarrely haunting one.

But in Birmingham on Saturday the good side of dressing up in costume was there for all to see. Half a dozen lads kitted out like Bob The Builder with pints in hand here, a gang of bishops there, and everywhere people laughing at the general daftness of the whole thing. It was great and I vowed to go next year, albeit dressed as a dull middle-aged bloke.

So is there an opening for a race meeting to be staged that is unashamedly about pandering to a group of people hell-bent on having a good time that does not involve tweed, RPRs or binoculars?

There will be those traditionalists who say most Saturday fixtures and those evening meetings that combine selling handicaps with the Thompson Twins are already quite bawdy enough thank you but, while racecourse marketing wizards have done a fine job exploiting every kind of theme from tea party to beer festival to bake-off, a day of fancy dress and racing might just work.

You would promote it in such a way that nobody with a serious interest in racing would feel the slightest inclination to go, but for those who want to have a day on the lash, a right good laugh and the odd bet in an atmosphere where you are obliged to leave your dignity at the entrance, it could be a lot of fun.

Throw in a darts tournament before racing that pits Ryan Moore and Michael van Gerwen against Frankie Dettori (or ‘Dartori’) and Phil Taylor. Have music on the go all day, put on a high-street fashion competition and bands as night falls. And make sure you have enough security just in case.

It has to be worth a try because there is a group of people who want harmless fun with no menacing edge and a fancy-dress day at the races could be right up their street.

Video replays try patience of spectators

On Saturday I watched London Irish score one of the finest tries I have seen, a magnificent passing move involving a clever crossfield kick, shimmies, an outrageous offload and a fine pass to set the scorer free.

It was magnificent. Until, that is, the camera panned on to the ref, who looked around for a few seconds and then, rather than point to the ground to confirm the try, made the invisible square gesture previously seen only during Christmas Day games of charades.

And so began the painful process to check everything was within the rules, and I mean everything.

The first piece of footage the video referee reviewed was so old I half-expected JPR Williams appear on screen. It involved forensic, slo-mo replays to ascertain whether the ball had touched the fingertip of a player, thus creating a knock-on.

Then the officials played a nice long game of ‘was anyone offside from the kick?’ and finally the try was given.

It was ridiculous. And hopefully the people who still think the VAR would be good for football watched it and realised we are letting ourselves in for enormous damage if we introduce it to the national game.

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In Birmingham on Saturday the good side of dressing up in costume was there for all to see
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