Cooper dodg­ing ice­bergs

The Racing Paper - - Front Page - ROBERT COOPER At The Races pre­sen­ter and com­men­ta­tor

“Some­where, I pos­sess a record­ing of my one and only ap­pear­ance on Baker’s Ra­dio One show. I’ve never plucked up courage to lis­ten to it”

It will be a few months be­fore the first swal­low ar­rives, so we must bat­ten down the hatches, hope­ful that the Beast from the East and his re­la­tions don’t dis­rupt the sport­ing cal­en­dar. What­ever sport you fol­low, with the pos­si­ble ex­cep­tion of darts, cheer­ing about some­thing adds some colour to the mono­chrome sea­son.

There was cer­tainly an un­ex­pected sharp­ness and clar­ity to my TV when tun­ing in to the launch of Sky Sports Rac­ing [SSR] on Tues­day. I make my High Def­i­ni­tion de­but at Ling­field this af­ter­noon, which prob­a­bly ex­plains why I re­ceived so many blem­ish-mask­ing cos­met­ics in my Christ­mas stock­ing. My lux­ury SSR win­ter jacket ar­rived yes­ter­day, so at least 80 per cent of my body will be hid­den from view.

Joni Mitchell’s oft quoted line from Big Yel­low Taxi: ‘you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone’ rang true on New Year’s Eve when I steered At The Races, avoid­ing all ice­bergs, on her fi­nal voy­age. It was more emo­tional than I had en­vis­aged, made more so by a del­uge of stir­ring and heart-rend­ing emails. Nev­er­the­less, I be­lieve the friendly vibe has al­ready crosspol­li­nated to SSR.

That’s not al­ways the case; re­mem­ber when More­cambe and Wise made the switch from BBC to ITV? One minute, it was 28 mil­lion view­ers, the next one man and his dog. My own mi­cro-ex­pe­ri­ence was when I used to bum­ble through the day’s rac­ing news on BBC Ra­dio 5’s break­fast show, on the morn­ings the cur­rent correspondent Cor­nelius Lysaght fan­cied a lie-in.

Launched in 1990 as Ra­dio 5 – prior to the award-win­ning brand­change to Five Live in 1994 – the early morn­ing lis­ten­ers were treated to Morn­ing Edi­tion, a mag­a­zine pro­gramme hosted by Sarah Ward and Jon Briggs – so an­o­dyne, it made the One Show look like News­night.

In a change of di­rec­tion, DJ and co­me­dian Danny Baker was then signed up and the new show soon ac­quired a cult [usu­ally code for minis­cule] au­di­ence. The mix­ture of ban­ter, mu­sic, news and sport proved very pop­u­lar and I en­joyed chat­ting to Baker af­ter the rac­ing bul­letin, prior to be­ing booted out of the stu­dio to make way for the news.

Lis­ten­ing fig­ures were so good that in 1993, Baker was shunted up­wards to Ra­dio One, tak­ing over the 10 til 1 slot from The Hairy Corn­flake, Dave Lee Travis.

Some­where in Cas­sette Cor­ner, I pos­sess a record­ing of my one and only ap­pear­ance on Baker’s Ra­dio One show; I’ve never plucked up the courage to lis­ten to it. I was hired [50 quid and a cou­ple of CDs] to add ‘witty’ com­ments along­side Baker, Danny Kelly and Al­lis Moss [What be­came of Al­lis? She’s prob­a­bly say­ing the same about me]. It was pure tor­ture; I’ve un­der­gone root­canal den­tal treat­ment that’s been more en­ter­tain­ing. For some rea­son, the chem­istry ele­ments had shifted and the thrill and spon­tane­ity had van­ished. The pre­vi­ously suc­cess­ful for­mula of ‘trivia and grown up mu­sic’ fell flat­ter than any pan­cake.

My part­ing words that Sun­day from Baker were, ‘yeah, that went re­ally well, we must do it again soon’. No, it didn’t Danny, and we most def­i­nitely mustn’t. Maybe some rac­ing tips would have helped.

The first cold snap of 2019 means the frost cov­ers were de­ployed at Sandown last night, so fin­gers crossed the green light shines. One of the most pop­u­lar va­ri­eties of steeplechases is the vet­eran race and we are in for a treat to­day with the fi­nal of the vet­eran series.

The pun­ters love these races be­cause most of the horses are old friends, none more so than the Char­lie Longs­don duo PETE THE FEAT and LOOSE CHIPS. The former, now a very sprightly 15 year-old, won this race in 2017 (LOOSE CHIPS was third) and fin­ished sec­ond to BUY­WISE (LOOSE CHIPS 5th) twelve months ago.

The Sandown roof would be raised if ‘PETE’ or ‘CHIPS’ pulled it off, but I’m pre­dict­ing the hand­some £62,000 first prize could be head­ing to Cum­bria where CULTRUM ABBEY [3.00 SANDOWN] is trained by Nicky Richards. Richards has been bask­ing in a pur­ple patch, peak­ing when an­other re­mark­able old­time SIM­PLY NED won at Leop­ard­stown last week.

CULTRUM ABBEY won a qual­i­fier at Kelso last month, his first out­ing since the spring when he en­joyed a fruit­ful sea­son in hunter chases. These old times are thor­oughly ex­posed, but Nicky Richards’ 12-year-old should be plug­ging on strongly up the Sandown hill.

The ‘class’ race on the Sandown card is the Grade One Tol­worth Hur­dle. Only six of the orig­i­nal 14 en­tries stand their ground but it’s a strong re­newal. The ‘jug­ger­naut’ yards of Hen­der­son, Ni­cholls and Tiz­zard are strongly rep­re­sented and Colin Tiz­zard’s tough front-run­ning ELIXIR DE NUTZ will be tough to over­take, how­ever my eye was caught by Dan Skel­ton’s IDEE DE GARDE’s [2.25 SANDOWN] hur­dling [and sta­ble] de­but at New­cas­tle be­hind a sub­se­quent win­ner, CHAM­PAGNE PLAT­INUM. He re­fused to set­tle early on but de­spite his keen­ness, was beaten less than two lengths un­der a con­sid­er­ate ride. He’ll need to im­prove in a far stronger race but I’d be dis­ap­pointed if this son of KAPGARDE [sire of King Ge­orge win­ner CLAN DES OBEAUX] didn’t go very close. OUR MER­LIN [3.35 SANDOWN] fin­ished run­ner-up in this race last year and should go well again.

Jan­uary cer­tainly isn’t my favourite month, not so WICKED WILLY [WIN­CAN­TON 2.40]; three of his four vic­to­ries have come in Jan­uary. He ar­rives in good form af­ter a good ef­fort at Chel­tenham last month, de­spite los­ing a shoe.

I had a chat with jockey Char­lie Ham­mond the other day about CATA­MA­RAN DE SEUIL [3.15 WIN­CAN­TON] fol­low­ing a fair run in a top hand­i­cap at Chel­tenham. He feels the horse will ‘come good’ when the mud is fly­ing. Well, the mud won’t be fly­ing at Win­can­ton to­day, so what do we do? It’s a weak­fish race, so I’ll give him an­other chance!

Should go well: Our Mer­lin

Cult fol­low­ing: Danny Baker

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