At least, dear reader, at last! Horse racing, in the form of AP McCoy, received recognition in the wider sports arena last night, as the brilliant Ulsterman repelled what might well have been the best shortlist for the award ever.
There were no ice skaters (with apologies to ice dance fans), there were no royals (with apologies to sporting royalists), and there were no footballers up for the main gong (no apology required) either.
But there were nine true sports stars, with robust credentials to be on the podium. Just whisking through the list doesn’t really give enough context to the depth of the competition last night. Graeme Swann, England’s spin doctor, was tenth of the ten candidates, which says a lot.
The remaining octet comprised three time young spoty (or should that be spotty?), Tom Daley, who continues to develop to be the best in his game since Greg Louganis. Who? Check this out…
And if you think this is a sport for wooses, you’re only part right! Check this out, especially the second one… (!)
Then there was the golfing duo, one of whom has usurped Tiger Woods as the World Number One (in fairness, largely due to Tiger spending too much time making other kinds of stroke), and the other who won the US Open and sunk a really tough putt to win the Ryder Cup, when it all came down to that putt. No pressure. Ahem. Hats off to both Lee Westwood and Graeme McDowell.
What about the new British heavyweight champion of the world, who talks the talk and walks the walk? Or the brilliant Manxman cyclist who ‘only’ won FIVE stages of this year’s Tour de France, including the one most coveted by sprinters, on the Champs Elysee in Paris?
Then there were the ladies, fantastic in both form and achievement. Jess Ennis is a brilliant heptathlete, a true gold prospect for 2012, and a lovely down to earth lass; Amy slides down toboggan runs face first at ninety miles an hour, trains on concrete in a West country park… and is the Olympic gold medalist. There’s a book and a film in that girl!
And of course there’s the inimitable and, in his own way, equally brilliant Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor, a man who has as many championships in his sport as McCoy does in racing. He was the one guy on the night who came across as having a hugeÂ personality, and just generally being a nice bloke.
But then, I think these were all nice blokes and blokesses. Like I say, aside from the inclusion of Zara presenting an award, and William reading off an autocue for Beckham’s lifetime achievement (I love the man, but lifetime achievement?), it was bereft of the usual BBC luvvies and niche elitist sports… with the exception of the skeleton bob!
Anyway, the above is to highlight what was a truly deserving field. The man who polled the fewest votes, probably because he didn’t turn up, was David Haye, and he’d have been a worthy enough winner. Next in was Graeme Swann, also absent due to some unfinished business down under, and he too could have had a case made for victory (though not the most robust case, in truth).
From position eight to position two in the votes – Amy Williams, Mark Cavendish, Tom Daley, Graeme McDowell, Lee Westwood, Jessica Ennis and Phil Taylor – there was real class at every turn. Real class.
But get this. Phil Taylor’s second place polled 72,095 votes. AP McCoy’s win polled over FOUR TIMES as many, with 293,152 votes. That’s right on 42% of the total votes cast went to our man.
So, we did it! (And we could have mostly saved ourselves 15p).
Geegeez, and I’m sure all of its readers, sends Tony their heartiest congratulations. The key here is that, knowing a tiny inkling of the man, he probably didn’t want to do this for himself, but rather for the sport. It’s my contention that he was actually the figurehead here for a massive PR coup by Racing For Change (well done, RFC, I never thought I’d say that!)
They put him forward. They put him through all the PR videos, the interviews, and so on. They, helped by the fact that business is too skint to, sponsored races with names like ‘Vote AP for SPotY’ selling stakes. And they pulled off, as I say, a well executed coup.
The political animal in me (it’s only very small, more a political amoeba really) is concerned about where RFC goes next, as the fact that it was so easy for them to get races named in McCoy’s honour speaks volumes for the number of unsponsored races, which in turns illustrates the dwindling numbers of racecourse visitors.
And… I never thought I’d say this, because I’m just thrilled to be involved in any kind of racehorse ownership, but… Prize money is currently a massive issue.
In other words, we have a worthy champion, in a sport that is rapidly falling apart. All of the grit and grace of our top equine and human pugilists can only veneer so much of the inherent issues lurking a strip of paper beneath the surface.
Racing needs to change infrastructurally, and fundamentally. I’ll post on that in the New Year more comprehensively most likely, but for now I’ll say this.
There is too much racing (ironic I know, given that all of it has been called off for a few days!). And there is too much low grade racing only hosted to keep betting shops open.
That betting shops are a borderline anachronism with the massive influence of online and telephone betting (and the parallel rise of the roulette machines responsible for most of the revenues in betting shops themselves now).
They, the betting shops, don’t need live racing any more. And we do have way too many tracks. The simple rules of supply and demand are at play here and, like the greyhound racing circuit (though hopefully not to the same extent), horse racing needs to rationalise. To, god help me, downsize.
Enough for now. Unless you have a view… in which case leave a comment below.