Spectator sport

Should Many Clouds have been racing last Saturday?

4 February 2017

9:00 AM

4 February 2017

9:00 AM

Few things in sport are more thrilling than a great racehorse giving its all. That’s why the death of that noble steeplechaser Many Clouds on Saturday was so sad, so epic too. Courage is an over-used world in sport, but Many Clouds really was very brave indeed. He won the Grand National on strength-sapping ground in 2015, and at the weekend fought back to beat the best chaser of the present day, Thistlecrack, by a head. Seconds after crossing the line in the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham, this most magnificent of horses collapsed and died. It was a pulmonary haemorr-hage. Many Clouds had literally given his all. Now his ashes will be scattered in the Isle of Man where he spent his summer holidays. Someone, please make a film of this extraordinary story.

But there are issues for the sport here, too. The anti-racing lobby was out of the blocks quicker than Usain Bolt, and castigating the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) for allowing Many Clouds to race in view of past breathing problems. His trainer Oliver Sherwood defended the decision as an operation had apparently sorted the problem out. Racing will close ranks, but was this a step too far for Many Clouds? Exciting though it is, the sport should examine itself without blinkers or blocked ears. Of course it is very rare for a horse to drop dead, though a fair number do have fatal falls at hurdles and fences. Whatever the truth, we should never have lost Many Clouds.

Ever since Alan Hansen decided to spend more time with his golf clubs, Alan Shearer has become an increasingly authoritative pundit. But he was talking through his expensively betrousered rear end the other day with an attack on clubs in the Premier League and the Championship for fielding weakened teams in the FA Cup. Fans were being ‘cheated’, said Gosforth’s finest son. Well, I have news for you, Al. I was at the Kassam stadium on Saturday when lowly Oxford United walloped Newcastle 3-0. Newcastle had made a few changes certainly, but they are still a Premier League club in all but name, with one of the most experienced managers in European club football. And there wouldn’t have been a single member of Michael Appleton’s yellow-and-blue army who felt cheated. We were delirious, in fact. Now there’s a trip to Middlesbrough in the next round. Let’s hope Boro field their reserves too: I promise we won’t feel cheated.

It was alarming to see Eddie Jones’s expressive features disfigured by some colossal bruises and soothing bandages when he appeared at the launch of the Six Nations last week. What started out being described as a pavement-related injury in icy conditions later transformed into a bathroom-based incident. Perhaps we will never know. It’s all very rum, but rugby is full of dark arts. I hope to see more of them on Saturday when England take on France in the opener at Twickenham.

It’s an evening kick-of,f which raises the distressing prospect that the Twickers crowd will have had an even longer time to get totally legless. Quite why it’s thought impossible to enjoy sport without being more or less insensible through drink is beyond me. Twickenham tickets are not cheap (most are well over £100) and even the most mild-mannered among us can get extraordinarily irritated at the continual procession of spectators heading for the bars and loos. The match is only 80 minutes after all, and as Sir Clive Woodward pointed out in a forthright piece recently, Twickenham is not primarily a public bar. It’s an elite sports stadium.

Without wishing to sound like a spokesman for the Salvation Army, it would be nice to think that the majority of the 80,000 who will be there on Saturday will treat it like that. Fat chance, though.

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