Monday, 9 April 2018


'Scu, Francome and Jonjo:Three great jockeys who never won the Grand National.' was a short piece broadcast on ITV racing during Aintree 2017. It promised more than the run of the mill educational material aimed at the general public, but turned out to provide a classic example of how out of sync those that pull strings in the sport are with this imaginary fresh audience they want to welcome aboard.

Hugh McIlvenny suggested it was an unfortunate omission in the riding careers of Francome, Scudamore and Jonjo not to have ridden the winner of the Grand National. But the piece contained another omission that was a truly shocking exercise of tampering with history.

Moreover, they have gone and swept away their crafty prints from the video,  which can be found on the ITV racing site with a few notable seconds erased -  the part where Jonjo is asked how close he ever got to winning the Grand National as a rider.

Jonjo's reply was that he was never in with a chance was worrying confirmation that a body of people, maybe topically a ' leadership group', want to bin parts of the sport's  history that they believe won't sit comfortably with the illusory masses they wish to invite in

Alverton was a chestnut gelding with a white marking down his face. He ran in the pink and green cheque Snailwell Stud colours and once ran in the Ebor. In the Spring of 1979 he won the Cheltenham Gold Cup, led into the winner's enclosure by future Ayr Gold Cup winning apprentice Kevin Hodgson.

Run in a snowstorm, he may or may not have still won if Tied Cottage had not come down on landing at the last but off a mark allotted without this improvement taken into account,  connections  allowed him to take his chance at Aintree for which he would be only the third Gold Cup winner since World War Two to run in the Liverpool race in the same season as his Cheltenham victory.

Starting favourite, Alverton travelled supremely well from the outset under Jonjo. Down to Bechers for the second time, racing towards the outside where the drop was less severe than the inside, he was catching the eye travelling with ease when tragedy struck.

The visual facts are that short of room, Alverton took off early, clipped the top of the fence and broke his neck on landing. It was an incident that took up more news coverage than the rest of the meeting put together.

The back page of the most of the Sunday Papers displayed a photo of Alverton laying dead with a distraught Jonjo knelt alongside him. It was a bad news day for the sport if ever there was one and came at a time when the animal liberation activists put more numbers, more regular demonstrations and more spite into their attacks on the sport than is the case now.

So, the question is who connected to ITV decided that this was something that would serve no purpose to revisit and that it would be best for all to pretend that it never happened, and then as an afterthought to cover their tracks edited out the part where the rider was asked about whether he was ever in with a shout of winning the event as a jockey.

Those of us with long memories will remember Jonjo affirming the visual impression that Alverton was lobbing along and was adamant that he would have won. He was also quoted as saying that he thinks the horse may have had a massive coronary or haemorrhage and been dead before hitting the ground.

The Grand National was a hell of a test. A dangerous one for both horse and rider but let's put things into perspective - all equine sports carry a degree of real danger. In relatively recent times Kieren Kelly, an emerging talent who had partnered Hardy Eustace in all of his hurdle races during his novice season, a partnership set to continue, lost his life after being injured in a fall.

Worldwide, there have been numerous riders who have not survived from injuries sustained during a race. In eventing there have been over fifty deaths worldwide in the past twenty years.

And in show jumping, it's scary to think that thirty five years have passed since Caroline Bradley collapsed and died at just 37 years of age shortly after dismounting during a competition in Suffolk . It was a coronary but her body had gone through a hell of a lot of punishment in her life, breaking most bones at some time or another.

The show jumping personalities were household names in those days.Paul Shockemohle, Man About The House ( pictured),  Rigsby, Caroline Bradley, Chicory Tip, Bowie, Harvey Smith, Are You Being Served, Gillan, David Broome, Peter Cleal,Eddie Macken and Boomerang, Brian Connolly, Nick Skelton, Gordon Jackson, Sparks, - hard to believe but those show jumping names where not out of place in that mix.

There was no real forewarning that the sport would lose its mainstream popularity in the years that have passed since. If you search hard enough you may find it on TV.The priority is not high though. When was the last time you heard it mentioned on Sky Sports News? That runs wall to wall for twenty-four hours but show jumping does not exist. Many people have to actually be told what the sport comprises of. The Puissance hmm .....

Don't ever doubt that a similar fate could not await racing. Some clueless people with too much power want to paint a cosy John Craven's Newsround picture of the sport. For reasons without foundation, they believe a rose garden image will attract more interest and increased betting turnover. Alverton, by Christ, lets forget what happened to him.

They are pandering to an audience that exist only in their imagination. They should go out and speak to normal working people, the category of persons they need to bet on horses to safeguard its future. They should ask them whether they believe horse racing is cruel. If they did they will find they don't have an opinion either way. Many of these will pack out the cult courses but will bet on sports other than horseracing when away from their visits to the course.

The anti-racing brigade reached it's summit in the 1970's and continued strong to the 1980's. But the modern emerging generations that wish to change the world are more preoccupied with the pollution of the Oceans, and rightly so too.

Horse racing should embrace and proudly boast of it's rich in depth fascinating history, warts and all. It does not want to be led astray by misguided individuals with more power than brains because soon, as with show jumping, it may fall to a tier so low that newspaper editors will not guarantee space for racecards, and who knows, like show jumping the sport may not be considered worthy enough to merit a mention on Sky Sports.

image fair use c Thames Television

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