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27th May 2024 4:50 am

“A difference of opinion is what makes horse racing and missionaries."

No more Big Mac and that’s a crying shame.

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A proper racing chap

There is a tale told in Channel 4’s corridors of power, that the reason behind John McCririck’s removal from C4 racing, was that he had upset the “right-on”, liberal, feminist, wife of a senior C4 executive and that she had simply demanded that her husband, if he knew what was good for him, have him removed. If it is true then I hope she feels the better for it, rather than as I do, which is bitter. It was a sadness that John got the heave-ho after 25 years and it is sadder still that he has today forever left us after 79.

All the papers’ obits carry words such as flamboyant, eccentric and colourful and much mention is made of his misogyny, deerstalker, eccentricity, sideburns, and cigar smoking. He was also, however, intelligent, hard-working and dedicated. He could be fearless, argumentative and objectionable, and he could make you gasp, laugh and lose your temper in the time it takes a 5f sprinter to cover half a furlong.

We all know about Harrow and early bookmaking failures and Julian Wilson being his fag or vice-versa. But few people remember the terrier-like journalism and extensive body of work that resulted in two press awards and the near removal of the ghastly Woodrow Wyatt who, as Chairman, single-handedly kept The Tote in the dark ages for most of his tenure. He also exposed the abuse of the old Extel betting shop commentary system which allowed crooks to place bets on dog races, despite the race being almost over.

As Sir Mark Prescott might have said, McCririck was a good dog man – the first desk he acquired at The Sporting Life, but he was a better racing man and between himself and Howard Wright there were no better people at researching and exposing sharp racing industry practices.

I remember him standing to ask questions at the old BHB AGM when Peter “we need more money” Saville was Chairman, with the late Sir Tristram Ricketts his CEO. As John rose to his feet, there was an audible moan from the Chair and several from the Owners section of the audience, as Big Mac suggested that Owners might care to underwrite Bookmakers losses if, as Saville was suggesting, Owners be subsidised for providing the actual betting medium. The question had not been asked with any serious intent, other than perhaps to provoke a revealing insight into the character of The Chair. John, as was so often the case, achieved the reaction that allowed many to question their original judgements.

The Booby and The Memsahib were good friends and I hope will remain so. She would often drop by during the shooting season, having worked her dogs picking up for one of the local estates and often dropping off a brace of birds. Her love of dogs carried over to John, who had in his earlier life perhaps seen them as simply something to bet on, but his affection for “the brutes” was never seen more clearly than after a horrific accident at Kempton.

Big Mac and The Booby were in the old George Ward, Bonusprint box at the course after Channel 4 had come off air and Booby had collected the dog from the car. The box had a large Balcony overlooking the course, possibly some 30′ deep – certainly enough space for a stupid dog, to get a run up after some pausing pigeon, which he did. In the leaping, the Lab simply plunged over the edge of the balcony and dropped the sixteen or twenty foot down to the ground. The Booby of course took charge, but my memory suggests that John helped with vets on-course and removal to vets hospital and eventual and surprising recovery. That doesn’t happen unless you work and live as a team. The Booby will be heartbroken at the breakup of her team. She has been a total rock for him these last few years and more so these last few months.

John is irreplaceable. He bought the sport and the industry to the fore. He questioned its behaviour both in and out of the public eye and he was fearless when he thought he could see injustice to punters, He cared deeply about the horses and did a huge amount of work for Greatwood which was never mentioned or publicised. He was a good egg and much, much better, more memorable, more caring and brighter, than some self-righteous, politically correct people at Channel 4.

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