Mike Cattermole: Time for change
Willie Mullins, Lizzie Kelly and that goal from Olivier Giroud are all covered in the latest column from top broadcaster Mike Cattermole.
Lizzie Kelly deserves more opportunities
WILLIE MULLINS IN A CLASS OF HIS OWN
So, you lose dozens of good horses after a fallout with a big owner; on the face of it, a huge setback. How do you respond? In Willie Mullins' case, just get on doing what you do best. Train more good winners, lots more.
Watching the Closutton maestro go about his business over Christmas week at Leopardstown and Limerick was almost supernatural. Winner, after winner, after winner. Across the four days, Mullins' staggering achievement of 22 successes may never be matched and surely only threatened in the future by himself. Some good trainers don't send out 22 winners in a season!
What a way to end what could have been a difficult year.
Irish racing is blessed with two of the greatest of all time right now with Mullins continuing to set the bar higher over jumps and Aidan O'Brien dominating on the Flat.
Going forward, the challenge is for their rivals to respond. I am sure Gordon Elliott is under no illusions, while, when the Flat returns, Dermot Weld will be as keen as ever to try and back up a Derby-winning season as effectively as he can.
The other thing about enjoying those Mullins winners last week was to marvel at the talent of Ruby Walsh, who surely is as cool a jockey as there's ever been.
LIZZIE KELLY NEEDS MORE CHANCES
Lizzie Kelly can ride, no question about that. And she can do it on the big stage, too, as she showed once again with a superb double at Cheltenham on New Year's Day thanks to Coo Star Sivola and Agrapart (and she was unable to claim her 5lb allowance).
Both winners are trained by Nick Williams, her stepfather, as indeed were her other three winners this season.
In fact, of her 36 career wins under Rules in the past five seasons, 29 of them have come from Williams, six from Neil King and one from Richard Woollacott. No other trainer has supplied Lizzie with a winner and only seven other trainers have given her more than one ride.
"Some in the world of jumps racing still find it difficult, perhaps, to accept that a young girl can make a go of it. Lizzie is living proof that she is more than up for it and indeed up to it. Sadly, it is clear that attitudes need to change."
These astonishing statistics may come as a shock to those who perceived that the pretty and personable 23-year-old was doing well. After all, she has got plenty of media attention since becoming the first woman to win a Grade One over jumps with Tea For Two at Kempton just over a year ago.
And yet, since achieving what even the likes of Nina Carberry and Katie Walsh have failed to do, the world of National Hunt here in Britain has clearly not moved on. Some in the world of jumps racing still find it difficult, perhaps, to accept that a young girl can make a go of it.
Lizzie is living proof that she is more than up for it and indeed up to it. My goodness, she still claims 5lb so what isn't there to like?
Sadly, it is clear that attitudes need to change.
TALE OF TWO BRIANS
I was up at Musselburgh on Tuesday and the racecourse team was buzzing after its successful New Year's Day fixture, which attracted over 6,000 paying customers.
Tuesday probably had around a third of that figure but there was still a feel-good factor about the place and there is no question that Musselburgh racecourse is a very different venue to the one that opened its doors to jump racing exactly 30 years ago.
A six-figure sum has been invested in the facilities up there and it shows. Even The Queen was on hand to open the newest of its grandstands back in 1995 and racegoers clearly enjoy the whole experience, judging by the number of happy faces I saw there.
None were perhaps happier than Brian Hughes who, for the second day running, rode a treble in Scotland to add to his trio at Ayr on Monday. Hughes is enjoying his most prolific season yet and, on 90 winners at the time of writing, sits second in the jockeys' championship, albeit a distance behind runaway leader Richard Johnson.
He is, however, odds-on to beat his personal best of 106 recorded two seasons ago and there is no question that he is out on his own up north. It only needs a few more wins in the showpiece races – perhaps one or two from Seeyouatmidnight – and he will surely be in demand all over the country.
Meanwhile, it was an up and down day for the evergreen Brian Harding. Unbelievably, this is the 25th campaign for the 44-year-old who won the 1998 Champion Chase on One Man. I know, 19 years ago!
He started the day well with a win on the well-backed Dream Flyer for Keith Dalgleish but then suffered a nasty-looking fall from Shotofwine and got a kick from another runner as he fell to the ground.
As I watched him moving very gingerly into the ambulance, I had to admire his bravery and longevity while also acknowledging, for the hundredth time, how brave these men are.
To compound the setback, Harding was stood down for the day and had to watch as Craig Nichol replaced him on Mixboy who promptly ran his rivals ragged in the day's feature chase over two miles.
You could not fail to be impressed with Donald McCain's young chaser who dismissed three in-form rivals with disdain is now unbeaten in three over fences. Definitely one to follow and one that Mr Harding can look forward to again when he recovers.
"Olivier Giroud's scorpion kick finish against Crystal Palace was the best goal I have seen "in the flesh". It was inspired and drew gasps of appreciation from those at the Emirates when they showed the replay on the big screen."
Olivier Giroud's scorpion kick finish against Crystal Palace on New Year's Day was the best goal I have seen "in the flesh". It was inspired and drew gasps of appreciation from those at the Emirates Stadium when they showed the replay on the big screen. Giroud had started the move with a sublime lay-off, too.
However, the charismatic Frenchman picked the wrong time to enjoy his late equaliser against Bournemouth on Tuesday night with a scorpion-kick celebration. Sure, it completed a great recovery, but as some of his team-mates realised, there was still time to rush back and try and grab an unlikely winner.
It was painful listening to the first half of that topsy-turvy match on 5Live as Arsenal just didn't show up. Why not? Because they had had a game two days earlier is no excuse. For me, they were coasting for the last 20 minutes against Palace, presumably to save themselves for the Bournemouth game.
They are at times such an enigmatic and unpredictable side.
But it sure is shaping up into a great second half of the season in the Premier League!
There is no question that Steve McClaren has made a difference since returning to The Rams but has the revival got legs? Scoring one goal – and that from the penalty spot – in their past three games suggests that maybe the honeymoon period is at an end.
The home game against Birmingham was woeful to watch but Darren Bent's spot-kick won the points. Then, they couldn't find a way past a massively out of form Wigan before being thrashed 3-0 away by the inconsistent Norwich.
Struggling to score is not a good sign and they desperately need more fire power up front. Will Chris Martin return from his loan spell at Fulham? If not, they need to find a striker in this transfer window, fast. How about Matty Taylor of Bristol Rovers?
I didn't see ITV's debut. I have, however, read many comments on their first show.
Let's get some perspective on this. This was just the start. There will be hundreds of more shows to come over the next four years, whether on ITV or ITV4. I suspect that things will be looking a little different even in 12 months' time, so let's give it a chance to evolve. It's a marathon, not a sprint.
I will look forward to watching some of their output soon and wish them well. After all, racing urgently needs ITV to succeed.
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