Snide broadside at Scahill completely unwarranted

LAST Saturday morning, I got a phone call from well-known racing photographer, Pat Healy, asking if I’d read page 24 of the Racing Post.

I’m sure, I actually had read the Post, but somehow managed to miss the paragraphs which had moved Healy to a state of apoplexy.

“I am disgusted”, said Healy, as he indicated I go and take another look at an article by Lee Mottershead.

The first half a dozen paragraphs or so were, well, boring and, for that reason, I had not originally bothered with the rest of it.

But soon came to the part which had irked Healy. It had to do with legendary course commentator, Des Scahill.

This is what Mottershead had to say: “Both the Bishopscourt Cup and best-dressed lady competition are fine Punchestown Festival traditions. So too is the sound of Des Scahill as racecourse commentator, but some traditions have to come to an end and this is perhaps one.

“For many years Scahill has been the excellent voice of Irish racetracks, but compared to British big-race counterparts, like Richard Hoiles, Simon Holt and Ian Bartlett, he is now lacking.

“All too often the Manchester United and golf-loving Scahill sounds bored and disinterested. Moreover, in Richard Pugh and Jerry Hannon, Ireland has two superior and more enthusiastic commentators, but both are denied the chance they deserve by Horse Racing Ireland.”

The Post, of course, had to subsequently issue a correction, because the commentators in Ireland have nothing to do with HRI and are the responsibility of the Association of Irish Racecourses. It was a poorly tasted piece of writing by Mottershead, but that notwithstanding, you have to wonder if darker forces are at work here?

Are we to believe that Mottershead suddenly rolled out of the bed on Friday morning and decided that having a go at Scahill should be on his agenda that day?

Scahill is an institution in this country: who will ever forget his commentary on Dawn Run’s Cheltenham Gold Cup success of 1986, and how Mottershead can conclude that he “sounds bored and disinterested” defies logic.

I mean, how can you measure something like that?

I watched every race run at the five-day Punchestown Festival this week and listened to all of Scahill’s commentaries.

Essentially, they were flawless and if he was bored or disinterested then did a bloody good job of covering it up.

When Hugh Grant was best man at a wedding in the film Four Weddings And A Funeral, he said he was “in bewildered awe of anyone who makes this kind of commitment”.

The words have stuck with me ever since and would readily reach for when describing my own attitude to people who have the expertise to commentate on horse racing. Their ability to instantly associate a horse’s name with a set of colours is an extraordinary skill and one the vast majority of us simply do not possess.

Mottershead talks about Pugh and Hannon.

I know little of Pugh, other than the fact that the only time I ever hear him is from Down Royal. Hannon is a terrific commentator, who very much represents the future. I do know Hannon well and would suggest no one was more embarrassed by Mottershead’s attack than him.

Dessie Scahill is far from perfect, nor would he claim to be, and, no doubt, has his share of critics here at home.

But day after day, throughout Ireland, does what can simply be termed a good job. Contrast, for instance, his performance at Punchestown with what goes on at Cheltenham.

Scahill did every race every day at Punchestown, whereas Cheltenham use two racecourse commentators.

Mottershead, who incidentally was one of the major noise polluters at Punchestown, repeatedly cackling from the parade ring, has had his go, the motivation for which remains a mystery.

Scahill, like the rest of us, will have to put the binoculars away at some stage. But, when that time comes, an English tourist will have no say in the matter.

A HORSE like Sea The Stars arrives maybe once in a decade, but there are plenty who think St Nicholas Abbey could be destined to achieve similar greatness.

Today at 3.05 at Newmarket, Aidan O’Brien’s unbeaten son of Montjeu faces easily his stiffest test to date in the English 2000 Guineas. In brilliant Newmarket Craven Stakes winner, Elusive Pimpernel, and talking horse, Canford Cliffs, he faces tough opposition.

But my information regarding St Nicholas Abbey could hardly be more positive and there will be some serious head-scratching at Ballydoyle should he fail to deliver.

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