Monday, 25 June 2012
The Day The Australians Lost Their Sense Of Humour
The excitement at the Jubilee Royal Ascot of seeing Black Caviar run was perhaps the most anticipated and best advert for the sport of horseracing. Everyone seemed to be talking about this colossal Aussie mare who had won her last 21 races. 'You could hold a dinner party for 12 on her backside!' said Frankie Dettori in The Sun.
Here she was, coming to England to put the Poms in their place. She was brave. She was dour. She was strong. All like The Minstrel (pictured above). She was unbeatable and would win by many lengths in a hack canter.
She didn't. But she still won, in a workmanlike performance. Her jockey obviously realised things were not going to plan and tried to conserve Black Caviar's energy and nurse her home. He nearly overdid it and she was nearly nabbed on the line by two French horses. But her bravery won through and she did it.
What a celebration there is going to be, I thought, especially with several thousand visiting Australians visiting Ascot. They would be on the beer and cheering. 'A short head? No worries, mate' 'She had to work for it - but she did us proud'. etc etc.
But not at all. It was like watching the closing stages of a funeral. The trainer looked as if he had been punched severely for three minutes by Manny Pacquiao. The jockey looked as if he was being led to the gallows. The owners looked as if their grannies had pegged it. The crowd looked as if they had smelt someone's two day old socks.
It was extraordinary.
Imagine if Black Caviar had lost. There might have been a queue for the lifts to see who could jump off the roof of the grandstand first.
It was never like this in 1979 when I visited Australia and the fun and laughter for all sport went hand in hand with the competitiveness and will to win. I found this Australian Tourist Board brochure. You will see, it began:
'Australians are the most curious of people.......'
It went on to ask all Australians to act as ambassadors when they travelled abroad and promote the country as best as they could.
It talked about 'many homesick Australians' weeping 'over an Earl's Court grate' and generally described the humour and enthusiam of their fellow countrymen.
This had all but vanished at Royal Ascot, 33 years later. The air was filled with seriousness, excuses, apologies and rudeness. The media circus which surrounded Black Caviar was a surprising affair. The pressure was enormous. The trainer was obviously feeling it. The stable lad leadiung up the winner gruffly told people to get out of the way. There was a minder/bodyguard who accompanied the horse. There was special treatment too: a special blanket, a flown in official who oversaw her wellbeing by the starting stalls and the minder who was allowed to stand with her, stroking her ears as she sat waiting in the stalls. He was wearing a jacket with an Australian bookmaker's logo and website printed on the back, getting full worldwide tv exposure via the BBC.
I was waiting to see if a Psychiatiris, Psychologist, Nutritionist and Private Investigator would turn up and complete the team.
Luckily Black Caviar was oblivious to all this. She was truly wonderful.
But it felt like the day the famed Aussie sense of humour died. I suspect it is temporary and not forever.
I always wonder if the cooking at the Daly Waters Pub is the same. I hope it still has the same sense of fun. Give me a Steak Samidge any day over caviar .... unless it is to watch Black Caviar.