Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Clare Balding now rules the world

Claire Balding of Channel4 Racing

Here she was in all her regal, hat-wearing pomp and circumstance at Epsom Downs, looking down on the assorted mix of toffs and toughs who universally acknowledged that long would she reign over us.

Yes, Queen Claire I's power knows no bounds, even over-shadowing some wee pensioner accompanied by some old codger as Derby Day became just part of the ongoing Balding domination of the airwaves.

It was fitting that Ruler of the World was to go on to win the big race as it's beginning to feel a little like that as Clare seems to be on telly more now than the test card.

Everywhere you looked last week she was on. She even popped up with that wee pensioner, a Mrs Windsor of London, to look at her love of four-legged creatures, while in the background, an old codger with a shotgun was seen looking unchuffed that horses can't fly.

Fresh from dealing with the Queen it was then on to meet Alan Carr for chats about winning BAFTAs mainly and in between times a special look as to whether Emily Davison was a heroine for suffragettes after throwing herself in front of a horse at Tattenham Corner a century ago, or a bit of a wrong 'un. The latter seemed to be the conclusion but largely glossed over on Saturday as Channel Four's coverage of the Derby began with a look back at the event that rocked the world a century ago.

There were other anniversaries to remember too. It was 60 years since Sir Gordon Richards won his only Derby and 30 years since Lester Piggott won his last, and in the 233rd year of the event, we had our first German entrant. Unless you count the Windsors of Saxe-Coburg.

"A horse only has one chance, this is the original, the first and the best, welcome to Epsom," said Clare and we were off, and there was definitely a feel that women were taking over.

The music was provided by the Military Wives and we had an all-female sky diving team (any jokes about their parachutes being beautifully ironed or that they landed at Ascot, will not be entertained), and you sensed relief all-round that John McCririck was no longer around to say very much the wrong thing.

There were other females on show, Emma Spencer, never a good surname to have around when there are royals around, and Tanya Stephenson among the bookies, and the 12 colts taking part were looking a little worried just what that man in the white coat with the garden shears was up to.

Across the track in Channel Four's mobile home, there was a sanctuary for men, Nick Luck joined by Gordon Cunningham and Jim McGrath, relieved to be out of the way of the shears, while Rishi Persad was buzzing around like a bluebottle to evade capture.

When he stopped it was to do the jockeys' fitness test (he failed) where the Top Gun T-shirt he was wearing should really have said Top Bun, while the man culled when Queen Clare took over, Alastair Downs (brother of Epsom) was allowed a drawn-out monologue. It was entertaining stuff and concluded with 'if you ever tire of Derby Day then you're tired of life,' and was it me or did suffragettes across the globe wince a little?

There was the chance of a first-ever horse trained by a woman to win as Elaine Burke's aptly-named Libertarian took part but, like the event itself, still has a little to do, coming up just short behind Ruler of the World, or Aiden O'Brien as he's better known.

For all the 'we used to be chauvinists but we're okay now' feel to proceedings, there is still someway to go. She was only the seventh female trainer and there have only ever been two women jockeys and the race has been running since 1788, but I suppose we can't rush these things.

Unlike Kevin Manning on the favourite, Dawn Approach, who had punters thinking it may as well have been Bernard Manning on Dawn French, as he didn't go at all well, in the blink of an eye commentator Simon Holt was screaming 'Ruler of the World is on top of the world in the Derby'.

Out of shot, tears streamed down the Queen's face remembering the good old days when her family had that title, but times change, the crown now belongs to Clare and who knows, in another 233 years, there may be a woman winner.

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