Mike Cattermole: Deadly Daryl
Mike Cattermole discusses Daryl Jacob's hot form, the SPOTY list and more in this week's column.
Daryl Jacob: On fire at the moment
Daryl Jacob riding the crest of a wave
A treble at Newcastle last Saturday, a double at Plumpton on Monday and another treble at Lingfield on Tuesday, fellow sportinglife.com columnist Daryl Jacob is the hottest jockey around right now.
His strike-rate for November was an outstanding 18 winners from 58 rides, that's 31 per cent and, dare I say it, things are going pretty well.
Jacob was a name frequently mentioned a few years ago as a possible heir apparent to AP McCoy, especially when he was given the number one role at Paul Nicholls's after Ruby Walsh decided to spend more time in Ireland.
In spite of a memorable Grand National last-gasp triumph on Neptune Collonges in 2012, it is fair to say that the association with the champion trainer never seemed to catch fire and then it all came crashing down, quite literally, at Cheltenham in 2014 when Port Melon careered into a rail and TV camera. Jacob sustained horrific injuries, including a broken leg, knee and elbow and was off for months.
Now he is retained rider for businessmen Simon Munir and Isaac Souede who have their high-quality string spread across some top yards, including Nicky Henderson, Nigel Twiston-Davies and Alan King.
He is one of the strongest and most stylish riders in the business, as well as being one of the most approachable, and there is no doubt that there are plenty more big race successes awaiting him in the now familiar green silks of his bosses.
Top Notch, I thought, was particularly impressive at Plumpton on Monday especially as I believe the Nicholls team think quite a bit of Romain De Senam. The five-year-old is a proper professional and is yet another speedy novice chaser in the Henderson camp which currently includes Altior, Different Gravey and O O Seven.
Meanwhile, with the likes of Emma Lavelle, Dr Richard Newland and Ben Case all keen to use Jacob's services, his hot streak is likely to continue for some time yet. It's no more than his talent deserves.
Neal Wilkins, a man of integrity
This has been a bad year for losing colleagues. Neal Wilkins was only 68 when he passed away earlier this week, after a short illness.
Few have spent as much time on a racecourse as Neal, who for over a quarter of a century was returning SPs for both the Sporting Chronicle and Press Association. Then, for over a decade, he was racecourse PR for Victor Chandler and then Apollo Bookmakers.
Neal always cut a dashing figure on the track, being kitted out in beautifully fitted suits and stylish silk ties and usually smoking the finest cigars. He loved good food and fine wine but took his job very seriously and was the ultimate professional, being extremely well connected and totally dependable and reliable. He was, ultimately, a man of integrity.
However, Neal loved Arsenal probably more than he adored Lester Piggott and was never short of an opinion regarding the fate of Arsene Wenger's side. He had long grown frustrated at Wenger, who he considered well past his used-by date, and was often seen – and unashamedly heard! – at the Emirates Stadium.
Legendary Gooners Liam Brady and Charlie George both attended Neal's 60th birthday celebrations. That was a party I will long remember.
I will be joining my mate and colleague Geoff Lester, who has known Neal for over 40 years, at the Arsenal/Southampton game tonight and we will be calling in at the Highbury Barn en route before enjoying some fish and chips opposite. This routine is something that Neal did countless times and we will be raising a glass to him.
My sympathies go to Neal's wife, Inger, his sons Dan and Mark, stepdaughter Izzy and Bob, his 90-year-old father.
Martin Harley and Rebel Lightning
Martin Harley's ride on the Richard Spencer-trained Rebel Lightning at Chelmsford a fortnight ago, has caught the eye of the BHA's internal post-race review team, meaning that the talented and likeable Northern Irishman will be facing the disciplinary committee imminently.
He will be asked whether he took "all reasonable and permissable measures" to ensure his horse ran on its merits.
Rebel Lightning finished in fifth place, running on well after never getting into contention. When all of the other riders were urgently pushing away with just over a furlong to go, Martin was sitting still in the rear on Rebel Lightning before pulling him wide and bringing him home under hand riding.
Perception and transparency is everything in our game and, although there may be a perfectly understandable and reasonable explanation – perhaps it was just an ill-judged ride – it didn't look good, so full marks to the team at High Holborn for following it up.
Through his solicitor Rory MacNeice, Martin is said to be "looking forward to discussing the ride with the panel."
Good news all round then.
SPOTY list is tainted
Even though the BBC's sport portfolio is a shadow of its former self, it seems that the title of Sports Personality of the Year still matters.
That is why there is always a bit of a kerfuffle when the shortlist is announced. If there wasn't, it would be a sure sign that nobody cares anymore.
This year's list was announced on Monday and contained 16 names, meaning it is the longest "shortlist" ever. But maybe it could and surely should have been even longer. Why not 20?
The list is dominated by Olympic and Paralympic athletes, at the expense of some of the nation's truly world-class athletes, such as Chris Froome who won his THIRD Tour de France, and Carl Frampton who defied the odds to become a two-weight world boxing champion this year.
That they, just off the top of my head, were omitted, beggars belief. There will be many others too. One of my rugby-loving mates said that Saracens superstar Maro Itoje should have been a certainty for the list.
And what about our own Richard Johnson? Why not? Champion at last and what a way to do it, finishing over 100 winners in front of his nearest rival.
I don't doubt it was very difficult in an Olympic year to compile a list that would please everyone. However, the one I feel most for is Froome who has never received the credit he has deserved for winning any of his Tours. While Bradley Wiggins received a knighthood not long after his Tour win, Froome was made a mere OBE in the 2016 New Year's Honours list.
Perhaps the fact that he was born in Kenya and raised in South Africa doesn't help us to connect with him but, even so, this has the look of a snub of Group One proportions to me and I do hope that there is something in the pipeline to make him feel a bit more loved by the country of his blood.
So Andy Murray should win it again, shouldn't he? He is rightly long odds-on to do so but this has been a mighty strange year. Brexit and Donald Trump have gone before us, so I am recommending a little bit each-way on Alastair Brownlee at 8-1 (1/4 odds to finish second) with SkyBet.
The retaining of his Olympic triathlon title was one thing but his later act of pure sportsmanship, when he sacrificed his own race to help his brother Jonny over the finishing line in Mexico, was something else. That was a genuinely great sporting moment and will live long in the memory.