Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 December 2014

Billy on the Box: Fond farewell to little Willie and big Frankel

Willie Carson pictured with Clare Balding
Willie Carson pictured with Clare Balding

Saturday was a day for farewells at Ascot as a racing legend took his final bow from the parade ring — and some horse called it a day too.

Yes, Frankel had to share centre stage with a slightly smaller equestrian giant in the shape of Willie Carson, who at 70 is unlikely to join his four-legged friend in being sent to stud, as the stalls opened and shut for the last time on flat racing on the BBC.

It was quite an end as Champions Day brought down the curtain on Frankel’s unblemished career with Clare Balding stressing that it was a ‘fabulous day of racing, but it’s about more than that’ as she cleared her desk destined for a new start on Channel Four.

As she hauls anchor though, and in a neat plot twist Eastenders would have been proud of, a little Willie was left up a creek without a paddle, although there were thousands of them to be seen as punters showed their colours in support of Frankel.

This caused all sorts of problems. Clare was for once flummoxed and the best she could muster was waving ‘little whatever they’re called’, while Willie suggested ‘pallets’ before realising that’s what he was standing on.

“You see, Willie, this is why I have to be with you. You give me the words that I miss sometimes,” she said, even if they are the wrong words, but at least we could rely on Rishi Persad to get it right but all he could only manage was ‘er, billboards. Urrm, little souvenirs’.

The paddles may have come in useful as Frankel’s final hurrah threatened to be wetter than a trip to Lourdes, but Lord Grimthorpe, Prince Khalid’s racing manager, assured us that Swinley Bottom was soft but manageable.

It turns out this is a corner on the track and not a condition.

Then again when Olympic dressage ‘star’ Carl Hester, one of Team GB’s medal winners on show, and more posh than a Spice Girls reunion, explained that a good horse had ‘an arse like a cook’ I began to wonder and Nigella Lawson’s lawyers went on standby.

But then it was time for a trip down memory lane as Clare reflected on 14 years with Willie in a lovely montage, mainly of Willie saying the wrong thing and cackling like a demented chimpanzee but it was from the heart.

“You are funny, completely unpredictable, with moments of incredible wisdom and always managing to make sure it’s entertaining,” she said, and Willie nearly fell off his pallet while Clare pondered life with John McCririck.

And so onto the race and despite sportingly emerging from his stall like a moody teenager coming downstairs for his dinner, Frankel did what he did best and won for a 14th and final time.

Commentator Jim McGrath called him ‘the greatest of the greatest’, while Carson described him as ‘the best horse I’ve ever seen. The best horse ever’.

“He is the British champion, a World champion, the champion of all time,” added Clare and there were so many champions on show, you were waiting on Ron Pickering to come along and shout ‘away you go’ as Frankel galloped into the sunset with Willie on board.

It wasn’t to be and nor was it to be a great ending for the BBC.

Time constraints meant there was very little time for reaction except for jockey Tom Queally to comment about the conditions that ‘you’ll never see a F1 car win on anything but tarmac.’

It’s okay, the Beeb probably wouldn’t have been allowed to show it live anyway.

The final word belonged to Clare, slipping on a Channel Four jacket: “Thanks to everyone at the BBC who’ve worked here at Ascot for the last 61 years and particular thanks to this man (Willie, whose pallet was being dismantled), Frankel has given us our finest finale.’

Well said, stick Willie in your pocket, and bring him with you.

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