It was fascinating to watch the recent media circus surrounding Fabio Capello, Harry Redknapp and Luis Suarez, three men involved in various scandals and controversies in the football world.
They say any publicity is good publicity but when the issues in the spotlight include allegations of serious fraud and racism, there must be few people, if any, who feel that the ‘beautiful game’ has emerged with much credit from its recent spell on the front pages.
Certainly, of the trio above, only Mr Redknapp enjoyed a happy outcome. How racing would love to gain a successful verdict in its own offshore battle! Looking at the bigger picture, I wonder if a growing disenchantment with our national sport could leave the door open for others?
We often hear how horseracing has “lost its relevance” with people in this country. In his column last month, Tony Morris, who has followed thoroughbreds since the 1950s, pointed to the Sport of Kings losing out in the popularity stakes to other sports and pastimes in which it is easier to participate, claiming it is “a minority-interest sport and inevitably so when most people are brought up in towns, where they never see a horse”.
The betting industry, meanwhile, is united – not a phrase you’ll hear too often – in its assertion that racing’s share of the market is rapidly dwindling.
So it’s all doom and gloom – or is it? Racing may be starting towards the back of a competitive field in the overall sports race, but it can start to gain ground against flagging rivals.
Perhaps some editors will start to realise that people are bored of reading stories about overpaid, under-performing footballers who lack integrity. How many times does anyone want to read about a non-handshake? Match of the Day broadcast slow motion replays of the incident, from different angles. The pundits argued about who was to blame. And I changed the channel.
If the mainstream media decides it may be worth covering some real sport, it should look no further than Cheltenham, for the stars on show at the Festival will be giving their all on the field of play, human and equine. No handshakes needed here.
Two trainers heading to Prestbury Park with big hopes are Colin Tizzard and Martin Keighley, both in charge of burgeoning strings and harbouring real contenders for the major prizes.
For Tizzard, who talks to Alan Lee about his unique set-up, it is very much a family affair, with son Joe riding the horses. Cue Card, winner of the Champion Bumper in 2010 and fourth in last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, is the stable star and heading straight for the Arkle Trophy after a slight knock ruled him out of a prep run.
Martin Keighley also relies on his nearest and dearest to help his operation run smoothly; wife Belinda does most of the administration and entries and also deals with owners, not to mention caring for the couple’s two young children.
Having spent his youth working for the late, great David Nicholson, who sent out 17 winners at the Cheltenham Festival, Keighley explains to Tim Richards what it would mean to get his first winner at jump racing’s Olympics, and what it was like to work for ‘The Duke’.
“I learnt so many things from him, but manners and turnout stand out,” Keighley recalls. “He bollocked you when you needed it but then moved on and the next minute was grand. I admired him for that.”
Another man who enjoyed plenty of big days at Cheltenham was Josh Gifford, who sadly passed away in February.
Whilst I never had the privilege of meeting Mr Gifford, I recall some of his many big winners, including Deep Sensation, Bradbury Star and Brief Gale.