People were always like that, just not so widely accessible/comnunicable
Without a doubt one of the greatest ever Sports journalists
A taste of the genius if you have five minutes …
A tragedy that the likes of Michael Doherty and Ew@n McKenna can label themselves (as journalists) similar to the likes of McIlvanney.
McIlvanney is the journalist Pugman thinks he is
A giant of his profession. My Dad, Lord Rest Him, introduced me to his work and I loved his writing on Arkle. I have a number of them saved and I would often read them and I don’t mind telling you I would get a wee bit melancholic as my Dad loved the horses and would have talked about Arkle in revered tones, and it would also fill me with pride, as Arkle was one of our own.
His recollection of the 1964 Gold Cup Win
His thoughts on the argument that Desert Orchid was the equal of Arkle
Over-the-top celebration of a glorious sporting career should probably be welcomed as a harmless expression of positive emotions in a world that is never short of negatives. So it seems almost offensive to confess to feeling queasy last week when the death of Desert Orchid at the age of 27 evoked some printed tributes that threatened to set new records for obituarial hyperbole.
Dessie was a national treasure, a swashbuckling steeplechaser whose front-running exploits delivered far more than the thrills and exhilaration that are basic to the appeal of jump racing. It was nothing short of joy that was created by the sight of the grey, almost white gelding in full aggressive flow, majestically dominating a herd of pursuers, treating fences as if they were live opponents that had to be belittled, and millions developed a warmly personal identification with an animal who appeared to have a heroic sense of himself. By the time all of that had been enriched with biographical narrative and the vivid tales of derring-do in which the old warrior’s life story abounds, the most ardent eulogisers might have considered their subject suitably honoured.
But several were determined to go much further and, as they reached for increasingly fantastic heights of acclaim, the wings of imagination melted and their fall was pure bathos. How else can we describe the calls for a state funeral for Desert Orchid or the assertion by one writer that he was discussing the greatest racehorse of all time? Subjectivity is fine but too much of it renders debate impossible. If a mother says she has the best son on the planet, argument isn’t going to dilute her conviction. Anybody who insists Desert Orchid is the greatest racehorse in history is, like the mother, applying criteria that should be answered not with logic but with a kindly smile. The irrational sweep of the assessment (did Flat champions get a mention?) could be regarded as slighting so many equine immortals that to dignify it with a detailed response would be to compound the crazy insult.
Fortunately, the maker of the case for Dessie as nonpareil simplified reaction by isolating the comparison that he presumably saw as proving his point. Arkle, he said, was the better horse but Desert Orchid was the greater. That, we must suppose, means Arkle had more ability but Dessie had more character, more personality, more charisma. Arkle, we were told, was a machine. “But Desert Orchid was one of us. Arkle was invincible. But Desert Orchid was human…”
And that made him greater than Arkle, did it? It strikes me as a distinction that is pretty patronising to both of them. Wouldn’t Desert Orchid have preferred to be judged as the hard-as-bell-metal competitor he was, rather than as a cuddly pet of the nation or an object of human empathy because his triumphs were punctuated by revelations of vulnerability? But, whoa! That dreaded anthropomorphism can be catching. Let’s leave it to those whose anxiety to promote a cause makes them keen to obfuscate the gap in class separating two wonderful steeplechasers.
The discrepancy is stark in the list of the top 30 steeplechasers from the period between 1900 and 1999 contained in A Century of Champions, a book drawing huge authority from extensive use of the Timeform system of universal handicap ratings that expresses racing merit in pounds. Arkle is, naturally, at the head of the rankings with a figure of 212 and the only horse close to him is his contemporary and stablemate (in the Irish yard of Tom Dreaper), Flyingbolt, who is allotted 210. The third horse, Easter Hero from the 1920s, is on 190 and Desert Orchid, at fifth on the list, has 187. When those ratings are fleshed out by any form of race-by-race scrutiny and interpretation of the careers of Arkle (27 victories in 35 races between December 1961 and December 1966) and Desert Orchid (34 wins in 72 outings between January 1983 and December 1991) the inescapable conclusion is that one was splendidly exceptional and the other was a historic phenomenon.
Brilliantly trained by David Elsworth, Desert Orchid was the best steeplechaser seen since the days of Arkle and Flyingbolt, and he is left with towering status when it is agreed he was appreciably inferior to both.
Suggestions that there might be a charisma factor operating in favour of Desert Orchid are likely to come only from people who never experienced, first-hand, the impact of Arkle on the public in his incomparable prime.
Those of us who frequently had the privilege will never forget it. The Irish referred to their wonder as Himself and on this side of the water, too, his uniqueness captivated a multitude who wouldn’t normally have given racing a glance. Without the advantage of an attention-nailing colour, he had a presence, an aura, befitting his talent. Our supreme writer on the Turf, John Oaksey, inevitably said it best: “… striding eagerly round the paddock, his long ears proudly cocked, he had the air, as always, of a kindly monarch come to accept the homage of his subjects”.
But sometimes he had to turn street-fighter. Oaksey again, chronicling one of Arkle’s rare defeats, when he finished a length behind Flying Wild and Buona Notte with 12st 10lb on his back in the Massey-Ferguson Gold Cup of 1964: “Head low, dog-tired, giving 32lb to one rival and 26lb to the other, Arkle gained ground up the Cheltenham hill. With everything against him, he never for one moment thought of giving up and even now, shutting my eyes, I can see the angle of his out-thrust neck with every nerve and sinew strained to the limit and beyond.”
No, Arkle wasn’t a machine. He was just a miracle
The end of an era.
Rest In Peace
Brilliant post, @Rufus_T_Firefly. It really highlights the dearth in quality across all fields of journalism.
Comedian Jeremy Hardy
Hyacinth’s husband kicked the Bucket
Aw, poor Richard.
Whatever will the neighbours think?
Was he a friend?!
Confirmation of the body found in the English channel being Emiliano Sala. Some closure for the family. Hopefully the pilots body can be recovered soon
I suppose that hungry shower have been on the phone already.
God rest the man.
God rest him
His poor dog
Just in reply to that brilliant piece posted on Arkle , I’m reminded of a conversation I had recently when I said the current generation don’t know how to tell a joke , now a punchline is different, I described how I’d play ball 30 years ago and retire to the pub afterwards, some of the older lads would take time to tell a joke , we’d all listen in silence as he wove his tale , slowly pulling us in and then with the timing of comic genius the punchline and the inevitable crescendo of laughter , story tellers as much as jokers , today everything has to be fast instant to the point , which is why we don’t have the great sports writer anymore, RIP Hugh
Nostalgia is a thing of the past Damo!
But yeah - long jokes and story telling - by the right lads were priceless. As were the lads who absolutely fcuked up punchlines. A good mate of mine used to always tell the ‘what’s the difference between Batman and a Northsider’ joke … the punchline being that Batman can go out without robbing! One night he told it and the gang all laughed. Later in the night after a good few newcomers had arrived, a Cork lad (and good guy) piped up with the joke ‘what’s the difference between Batman and a Northsider’ … but he completely fcuked up the punchline to … Batman can go out without stealing! And still some people laughed - you can’t beat the gargle!