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What's on the box: Hats off to whoever it was who won the day at Epsom

By Billy Weir

I was never a huge hat fan as a child, an unfortunate incident with a horse and a Manchester United baseball cap rendering me nervous of both for quite a long time.

The cap could not be saved, I know not of the welfare of the horse as we did not keep in touch, but gradually through the passing of time I have dabbled with headwear with mixed success.

A beanie hat gives me a look of someone who has escaped from somewhere, a cloth cap the look of the Hovis boy after a lengthy spell on DLA, and anything else is quite simply too ridiculous to even annoy you with.

And this brings me to top hats. My experience of these is limited, there was the one in Monopoly, the one Lord Snooty wore in the Beano, Abraham Lincoln wore one of sorts and I have been to a couple of weddings where people who should really know better had decided it would be great craic to make someone carry a cloth bucket around with them all day.

I'm not sure of Ed Chamberlin's history with this piece of millinery but it was a big day on ITV Racing and he wasn't going to make the mistake I made and turn up in a Man Utd baseball cap.

"It's one of the most iconic sights in sport, there is nothing quite like it," said Ed, looking resplendent under his top hat as he welcomed us to Epsom on Derby Day.

If you were being a bit pedantic you'd say there was something quite like it, the Grand National or Gold Cup Day for example, but if you turned up in a top hat in Liverpool or Cheltenham you would be trampled underfoot and no-one would lift a hoof to help.

Ed was joined by someone who is jolly posh and I would wager has no such aversion to top hats, or indeed any headwear, in Francesca Cumani, who told us it is 'the ultimate test of a thoroughbred' and I'm sure she meant the horses and not Mister Ed's hovering hat.

"To our left we've got the famous buses, to my right the finishing straight. Who, at 4.30 this afternoon, will write the latest chapter in this great race's history," mused Ed, and my money was on Reg Varney or two horses turning up at the one time right on the line.

You would have needed a bus to accommodate all the ITV staff on duty; Derby legend Mick Kinane the special guest of the day, joining a cast of thousands, including Sir AP McCoy, Jason Weaver, commentator Richard Hoiles, roving reporter Oli Bell and betting bosom buddies Matt Chapman and Brian Gleeson, in a bizarre opening sequence where Chapman's top hat was run over by a dodgem. He will be scarred by this - I know his pain.

And they weren't finished: weather lady Lucy Verasamy was also there, as were Charlotte Hawkins and Lorraine fashion guru Mark Heyes and, as far as I could see, the only one not there was AP's brother, Tony. Probably no room on the bus.

I have deliberately left one name to the last, Brough Scott. For years he was the face of ITV Racing before that stabledoor was cast asunder, and it's nice that when we thought he had been put out to pasture to find he's back with us. His words on the late Walter Swinburn would have brought a tear to even the hardest of souls.

We also had some features on the likely winners amongst weather and fashion reports, but at no stage did anyone mention Wings of Eagles or Paddy Beggy.

Indeed as they made their way to the start we didn't even get to see him as another camera-hogging horse pushed in front of him, but Chapman reported that there was worse news for stablemate and one of the favourites, Cliffs of Moher.

"Even if Cliffs of Moher is a free sweater, 99 times out of 100 when a horse sweats like that it is bad news," he said, and what do you expect if you put a horse in a sweater, free or not, you'll be making it wear a top hat next.

"The bookmakers are reacting, no-one wants to back Cliffs of Moher when he looks like a swimming pool at the start. It puts you off, just imagine if all the ITV team were sweating now," he added, and he was right, but there were to be a lot of people losing their shirts very shortly.

Still no mention of our gallant hero Paddy and Wings of Eagles, and suddenly with a furlong he finally rose to prominence.

"Wings of Eagles sweeps to conquer, Wings of Eagles came from the clouds," gasped Hoiles quickly grabbing his Big Boys' Book of Aeronautical-based Quips before Kinane grabbed it off him and confirmed 'he flew home'.

"I don't get to sit on too many beasts like this so I'm going to enjoy it," said Paddy, probably the most grounded person at Epsom.

"He'll not know what's hit him," suggested Ed to Kinane.

"He'll know what hits him when the cheque arrives at the end of next month," he sniggered as Paddy made plans to buy a top hat and a can of deodorant for Cliffs of Moher.

The good, the bad and the ugly

THE GOOD: Suzi Perry wandering around the country roads of Cookstown, no, not too much cheese before bedtime, this really happened as the face of MotoGP went back to her roots in the excellent BBC documentary Queens of the Road where she caught up with that rarest of breeds — the female road racer. Great show, but I’m staying off the cheddar just in case I made that all up.

THE BATTY: A learned man once said ‘there’s wiser eating grass’, and I’m not saying it applies to Joe Brolly, but the RTE pundit could well be in the same pasture. On Sunday he was at his brilliant best when describing Armagh forward Andrew Murnin at half-time against Down. “Murnin is like a fairground attraction, roll-up, roll-up, see the amazing ball-winning man. He’s like a sort of hyper-active greyhound,” said the man who never keeps his trap shut.

THE UGLY: So defeat for the British and Irish Lions against the Blues and things won’t get any easier this weekend against Crusaders. With that in mind, coach Warren Gatland has made a few changes to the itinerary and next week they are up against Lisburn Distillery and Barn United.

Super Mario's strike was child's play but Macca puts his foot in it

I was never a huge Subbuteo fan as a child, I could never quite get my head around the ball being bigger than the players and I preferred the cut and thrust of Striker instead.

However, had I been brought up in Liverpool and hung around with Steve McManaman then things could have been very much different, although the sight of me in a cream suit would have people wondering if the wee lad from Fantasy Island was back on the scene.

I digress. McManaman, not a cream suit in sight, was the co-commentator in Saturday night's Champions' League Final on BT Sport and, like the rest of us, was gobsmacked by the sheer affrontery of Mario Mandzukic's leveller for Juventus against Real Madrid.

An airborne attack was launched in an effort to cancel out the fabulous Cristiano Ronaldo's opener, which was as text-book a Subbuteo goal as you could wish to see, all along the floor and then hammered home, although thankfully avoiding the greatest pain known to man, setting a slipperless foot on your substitute.

So it went, in the air, from Dani Alves to Alex Sandro to Higuain to Mandzukic and one mad overhead kick later the ball was in the net and commentator Darren Fletcher was losing the run of himself, or perhaps impersonating Chrissie Hynde.

"Ohhhh, that's special, that is so special," he said, and McManaman, giving us another glimpse into his childhood, added 'Super Mario to the rescue', that was fair enough, but then came the confusion with 'it was like Subbuteo football'.

It wasn't Steve, it wasn't, unless you had the special levitation edition, but even then it would be a nightmare to keep all the players in place and not even Super Mario could rescue that.

As it happened it will go down as possibly the greatest losing goal of all time, or as presenter Gary Lineker described it at half-time, foot volleyball. But it mattered little as Real scored three more goals in the second-half to win the trophy for a ridiculous 12th time.

"They are the first team to retain the trophy in the modern era, they really are the Real deal," concluded Lineker, while back in the studio McManaman was trying to explain to Rio Ferdinand and Steven Gerrard how the other three goals were like Buckaroo, Guess Who and Ker-Plunk.

Belfast Telegraph

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