I’ve never seem anything like the coverage of yesterday’s Epsom Derby. What happened was this: the Queen owned the favourite, Carlton House. Carlton House ran well and came third, so was beaten by two horses, one of which, Pour Moi, the actual winner, was delivered with a blistering late run in which he made up at least four lengths in an eighth of a mile. His jockey, 19 year-old Sasha Distel-a-like Mikael Barzelona, stood up in his stirrups and raised his persuader in victory before the horse had even crossed the line and while he was the merest of short heads in front. He effectively pulled the handbrake on the animal while the second horse still appeared to have a chance of collaring him. It was a sensational piece of sportsmanship and horsemanship which positively reeked of sang froid. Mikael’s ‘antics’ were later to be characterised as exactly that, and as foolish, unseemly, and dangerous to the animal. All of which is nonsense. It was marvelous. Had Pour Moi belonged to the Her Majesty the Queen then Barzelona’s ride would have been hailed as the finest piece of riding in living memory. As things stood, the only surprise was that no one called for him to be taken to the Tower.
The ensuing post-race analysis turned into a post-mortem and rather took on the atmosphere of a wake. Presenter Clare Balding, who had earlier impartially twitted: Every time I think about the reality of the Queen winning the Derby I get a rush of nerves/butterflies/adrenalin. This is why I love my job could scarcely prevent herself from blubbing at the iniquity of the outcome. And then she had to interview the winning connections, a gig which normally lasts a minute but to which she devoted two whole seconds, and then she had to oversee the presentation of the trophy at which she did a terrific impression of a lady in waiting trying not to throw her breakfast up. As they re-ran the tape pundits queued up to explain to us poor baffled loyal subjects what the hell had happened – the Queen’s horse had been forced to run wide because of the path that it took! Those dastardly French, except: Pour Moi had run even wider while Barzelona took a look at the place and both horse and rider were always behind Carlton House until the moment it mattered. How they had managed to impede the royal animal from there was totally unfathomable. In the end Willie Carson summed the whole scandal up. ‘I have to admit it,’ he said, ‘…sadly, the best horse won.’
It was by a distance the most craven sports coverage I have ever seen, disrespectful of a magnificent sporting performance and disrespectful to a field of twelve further animals, jockeys, trainers, connections, the lot. The name of the second horse was never once mentioned – Treasure Beach (25/1) was relegated to a silent footnote in the narrative of the whole tawdry fix.