Basking in the feel good factor
Mike Deasy on a history making Grand National win, the Sun hitting the stupid button, the Times abandoning balanced journalism to attack Denise Coates, signing a great sponsorship deal and a trophy missing the mark
Rachel Blackmore was smiling, Henry De Bromhead was smiling, even AP McCoy was smiling. But above all, racing was smiling.
Thanks to Blackmore’s triumphs at the Cheltenham Festival, racing started to emerge from shaming negative publicity to demonstrate that it was still up there with the best that sport can offer. With its drama and spectacle, it proved it was capable of recovering from the crass actions of two people who had done so much damage.
But what it needed most was to maintain the momentum and that was achieved in the greatest and most viewed race of them all.
Twenty-one years on from Charlotte Brew being the first female jockey to ride in the Grand National, via Geraldine Rees completing the course in 1982 and Katie Walsh finishing third in 2012 on Seabass, Rachel Blackmore was the emphatic winning rider of the 2021 Grand National.
Just like her Festival victories, she gave her mount Minella Times a peach of a ride – tactically sound and perfectly judged. In practising her craft at the highest level, she demonstrated to millions what the racing fraternity already knew, she is one of the best if not the best jump jockey of our time.
The Grand National often throws up a story but this year it has produced one of sport’s greatest all-time stories. For the first time the Aintree spectacle has been won by a female jockey. That’s the last time these scribblings will refer to a rider’s gender.
What’s now required is to enjoy what has happened and simply record that the 2021 Grand National was won by Rachel Blackmore – jockey of the highest calibre.
Sun hits the stupid button
Social media has been awash with congratulatory messages for Rachel Blackmore but a tweet from the lame Sun Racing account hit the stupid button.
Seemingly, Piers Morgan led the praise for Rachel Blackmore. What tosh.
Hatchet job with a blunt edge
When you have an agenda, which The Times does with problem gambling, then anything which supports your cause is fair game.
So it was when the salary of bet365 founder and boss Denise Coates was made public.
Campaigning to eliminate problem gambling and its causes is what a newspaper should do – but balanced journalism should not be sacrificed.
Coates’ 2020 earnings of £421m was reported matter of factly. How Coates was able to command such a salary, having launched the highly successful online business from a caravan, and how its business is based in her native Stoke were all chronicled.
It was up to the reader to decide whether the money paid was obscene and if the suffering of problem gamblers contributes to the success of the business.
Next day, there was a follow-up piece. But this had an angle and the headline made it clear what stance was being taken: bet365 boss Denise Coates’ charity sitting on donations worth millions.
The first slant is references to “donations”. These are not from people giving money to the charity, but bequests from Coates herself.
Whilst the piece went to clarify that the charity’s reserves of £374m were down to her bequests, it queried why more had not been spent, stating that the Denise Coates Foundation received £85m in donations but only spend £9.9m in the financial year ending March 2020.
There were calls from people representing Clean-Up Gambling and the Addiction Policy Unit at the Centre for Social Justice for more money directed towards combatting gambling addiction.
What the piece to did not spell out was that, with a charity which receives bequests for a single source, it is established practice to build up a sizeable reserve, the earnings from which fund its chosen causes on an ongoing basis.
The bequests will not keep coming for ever so if the funds are diverted towards greater expenditure they are consequently destined to run out. But by maintaining the funds and using the earnings, the charitable spend can continue for many more years to come.
Matt Zarb-Cousin, of Clean-Up Gambling, was quoted saying bet365 “are just one operator in a sector that derives 60% of its profits from 5% of gamblers who experience harm.” Nothing was produced to substantiate the claim.
Reaction to this piece from over 400 reader comments included many who queried why the Times ran a piece attacking a person who had built up a legal and regulated business from scratch and turned it into a very successful enterprise, with taxes paid along the way and millions spent on good causes.
Why, someone asked, didn’t the Times direct its energy towards stiffer regulation for gaming companies rather than singling out one individual.
No room from snobbery
It may have been 1 April when the Jockey Club announced that the new headline sponsor of the Derby at Epsom was the online car retailer Cazoo, but it was no joke even if some were quick to ask whatever next, the Arthur Daley 2000 Guineas?
Snobbery has always been prevalent in racing, so a “second-hand car dealer” sponsoring the Blue Riband met with criticism. But entering into a multi-year agreement with a thriving and growing online business, an agreement which would be the envy of many other sporting organisation, is a coup for the Jockey Club.
I was going to say beggars can’t be choosers, but that doesn’t do justice to a deal that has huge merit, is prestigious for racing and could encourage others to follow suit.
Trophy misses the mark
I can’t say I’m a fan of this year’s Grand National trophy. Unless you have iconic cup, such as the one presented to the winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, then I think such a creation should bear a reference to the sport.
If there is any discernable reference to sport, this years structure looks better suited for the cabinet of a golf, snooker or cricket club, but it doesn’t evoke anything about racing.
Maybe Aintree should think about commissioning a permanent trophy that becomes recognisable as depicting the magnificence of the race.
And the name of the sponsor should be engraved and not look like a tacky piece of added on plastic.