Why we couldn't care less for a careless sport
TIPPING POINT: Times have moved on since showjumping was part of our sporting consciousness and it’s chances of getting back there are fading fast
EMBARRASSMENT AVERTED: a 2012 sports calendar which this space consults every so often said the Hickstead showjumping derby was on this week. It seemed timely, a convenient segue into the real showjumping story that continues to rumble in the murky jungle of gee-gee medication and Olympic disqualification.
Except the Derby took place earlier this month. Margie McLoone, this paper’s equestrian expert wrote that Paul Beecher from Waterford won it, on a home-bred horse, and became the first ever to win it going first. Margie also wrote that few people outside of the horsey-set were aware of this. To which one can only say, no-shit Sherlock – and thanks Margie.
But it has come to this. There was a time when the Hickstead Derby felt like a big deal, a bit like showjumping as a whole in fact, something that didn’t just slip past everyone.
Hickstead’s signature was a large bank, which the horses clambered up on, before stopping and peering down the other side. Since the gradient was damn near sheer, there was usually quite a lot of equine dithering, along the lines of “is the monkey on my back bleedin’ serious”, before a sharp skid downwards where a large fence had to be covered in a single bound.
There were other landmarks too, like the Devil’s Dyke and The Cornishman, which was a wall with a pole running along the top. Actually that doesn’t sound too sexy now. Maybe when the youthful mind is confined to a handful of channels, the televisual pole isn’t set very high. But showjumping always made an impression, even on those of us who cared little or nothing about it.
Eddie Macken won the Derby four years running on Boomerang. Sorry, Carrolls Boomerang. Those were also the day when horses could be named after fags: and anything else for that matter. There was even a beast called Sanyo Music Centre, ridden by Harvey Smith, a name everyone, but everyone, knew was slang for giving someone the V fingers.
Another horse called Pele got turned into butter, aka Kerrygold, around then. And the Aga Khan Cup at the RDS mattered, to the extent that figures like Paul Darragh and Heather Honey became household names. They had profile.
Macken was a Cool Hand Luke figure, an obvious stylist even to those of us whose horsey knowledge extended no further than betting each-way at Kempton. Captain Con Power looked like a long, thin whip on Rockbarton. The stockier Captain Gerry Mullins rode Rockbarton too, and managed to look like a uniformed Weetabix.