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Horses for courses

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Dan Walker | 19:46 UK time, Wednesday, 13 April 2011

"Watch the eyes! Watch the eyes!" Those were the words of BBC horse racing pundit Richard Pitman before he pushed me out of the way of the galloping Tidal Bay at Aintree.

I was watching the Grand National from inside the track beside one of the fortified plastic railings by the start. The field had completed the first circuit and, while the rest of the horses were quite keen on turning left to go round again, Tidal Bay had had enough. He crashed through the railing - five feet away from us - before being subdued by a quick-witted marshall waving a massive towel in front of his face.

We took the decision to present Football Focus from the Grand National meeting a few weeks ago. Personally - and I know many agree with me - I love taking the show on the road and pushing the boundaries a little. Being out of the studio brings a freshness and vitality that is hard to replicate on the sofa.

I know that some people have little time for horse racing but 90% of the programme was still football and our guests, Steve Claridge and Rafa Benitez, offered some real insights into the issues of the week.

I had arrived at Aintree early on Friday morning. I remember from my time of covering the Grand National for the BBC that the horse racing team always held a meeting at 9am and that bacon and egg sandwiches were usually on the menu. Naturally, I made sure I turned up to listen to their plans for the day.

I had received a phone call the previous night from one of the BBC editors in charge of the horse racing coverage. Suzi Perry was unable to make it and they wanted to know if I could step in on Saturday and help out with the coverage.

My first job was to present the Aintree Style Contest on Friday - Ladies Day. There are always some stunning beauties out there but also one or two who have confused the bottle of fake tan with the tub of Nutella! The three finalists were particularly snazzy but it was the girl in the middle of this photo who eventually went home with the prizes.

Pictures from Aintree

On Saturday, as soon as Focus ended, I legged it to the production office to change into a suit for the BBC's coverage of the Grand National. I grabbed a brace of Bourbons and headed out into the 70,000-strong crowd.

My job was to get in amongst the punters, a task that can go horribly wrong. That is why I follow these simple rules:

1) Tell the viewers where you are - the finish line or by the first fence. A little bit of geography goes a long way.
2) Prepare the ground. Make sure you have a chat with the people you are interviewing before you interview them on air. Tell them roughly what you are looking to achieve.
3) Think of something to say at the start of the interview and something to say at the end. The middle will take care of itself.
4) Be interested in what people are telling you. If you're not bothered what they are saying, how do you expect the viewers to be?

After nearly five-and-a-half hours of live television, I celebrated with another brace of Bourbons before starting the long trip home to watch the Masters golf on television. Shame Rory McIroy did not win.

Anyway, this week's Football Focus is shaping up nicely.

We have got former Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher talking football ahead of the all-Mancunian FA Cup semi-final, while Adam Johnson will give us a view from inside the City dressing room. To preview the second semi-final between Bolton and Stoke, we have spoken to Kevin Davies and Matthew Etherington.

If you've got any questions about this blog, last week's show, this week's show, a brace of Bourbons, or anything else, then let me know and I shall try to respond. In the mean time you can find me on Twitter at


  • Comment number 1.

    What flavour bourbons...? Strawberry, lemon, toffee, or is there another flavour you had that I've not heard of before?

    Willy Wonka

  • Comment number 2.

    Bourbon creams're dreaming of bon-bons, and now i'm drooling

    anyway, couldn't you find any famous bolton or stoke fans and will mr gallagher be giving a typically biased view of citys chances

    Jack Daniels

  • Comment number 3.

    I think I was half asleep when I wrote that last night... doh!
    You're right of course, I was thinking bon-bons whilst Dan was thinking bourbons.

    Maggie Simpson

  • Comment number 4.

    Nice work again Dan, especially getting into the horse racing team's meeting for a bacon sarnie, very sneaky tactics! Similar to what I do at work, any meeting loosely based on something I might have something to do with where there is food, I'm there. It's very easy to nod and smile politely while eating.

    Shame Suzi Perry couldn't be there, pass on best wishes should you cross her path Dan!

    Chandler Bing's third nipple

  • Comment number 5.

    Dan... surely a bourbon is not a good choice before the camera starts rolling??.. leaves that door open for rogue brown bits in your teeth..

    Will you be covering the last Celtic Rangers game on next weeks show at all? Its being billed as a title decider and with whats going on up here the now with the Sfa making a mess of things again its building up as usual..

    Maid Marian Pahars

  • Comment number 6.

    did you have a winner at the national or do you not bet, bourbons are ok for a biscuit but fox's cream take the biscuit (no pun intended), what on the road shows do you have left for the closing weeks of the season be interesting if you were to pop into chelsea to see what morale or little of is left after a trophyless season, anyway i will miss saturdays show as wembley beckons but i will sky+ it, come on the reds,

    Ralphy Milne

  • Comment number 7.

    Always more interesting than McNulty's blogs!

  • Comment number 8.

    I've never been a fan of racehorses. They always taste too chewy, I much prefer venison.

    Dan, my wife blames you for my fig roll addiction (as mentioned in the Martin Laursen interview ages ago). It was a good call, my friend. They are now my travel food of choice.

    Ned Flanders.

  • Comment number 9.

    Top blog Dan.
    Question - Why was Mr Pitman saying "Watch the eyes! Watch the eyes!"
    Sorry slightly confused on that one.

    José Pekerman

  • Comment number 10.

    Glad someone can afford venison in a recession.
    We can't ... it's dead dear.

  • Comment number 11.

    #10 Salford Red from the Height,
    I can assure you that venison is a great food for the recession, if you just harvest your own. Even if you do not butcher your own, it still works out at $1 a lb. Got to live on the other side of the world though....

  • Comment number 12.

    Dan man,
    Glad you had your 'day at the races'. Sounds as if it was hard work, hope the horse racing fans appreciated it.
    Let's get back to footie. I want your opinion on the way the EPL & Championship is shaping up with less than 2 months to go.
    Also PLEASE PLEASE can you get the Beeb boffins line up some more big football pieces, the trips to Cardiff and Aintree are moderately interesting, but you excel at those big interviews, or those historical pieces centering around great events- even tragedies.
    By the way you and Raffa must be pretty tight after hanging out together so many times. You wangled a family vacation in Spain out of this yet?

  • Comment number 13.

    Dan I've got a great idea!
    Basically we get together as many gnomes as we can, hire a group of donkeys and then.......

    Oh hang on I best pull over and see what this strange nervous looking man at the side of this dark and isolated road wants.

    How can I help you?

    You, you what?

    You've come from where?


    I best lock my doors so he cant get in.

    Look, i dont want anything to do with your or your business, im just having a drive and Im gonna carrying on driving and pretend we never met.



    Flaming salesmen.

    Any way,

    Oh yeah,

    so yeah dan then we could save the rainforests. You in?


  • Comment number 14.

    why do we continuously tolerate Andy Connor going off topic?

    ah, given that we all seem to a sweet tooth, I guess you can never go off Topic ?!?!?!

  • Comment number 15.

    14. At 16:03pm 14th Apr 2011, celery_shtick wrote:

    ah, given that we all seem to a sweet tooth, I guess you can never go off Topic ?!?!?!

    Well, somebody was Bounty make that joke...

  • Comment number 16.

    if I was struggling for a riposte, would I be Twix a rock and a hard place?

  • Comment number 17.

    That's terrible.

    Any more like that, and you'll get a kick up the Mars...

  • Comment number 18.

    Hi Dan,

    enjoyed the blog (fake tan joke went down a cracker with the wife) and FF, but doing it from Aintee didn't float my boat. football is football and horse racing is horse racing. When was the last time the warm up programme for Wimbleton Tennis or a Golf tournament come live from the FA cup final venue etc... It just doesn't happen. I see your producers point and enjoyed the show, but just didn't get it. It looked like the BBC were getting a two for one in using you all day.

    Keep going on the road to Footy venues. Off this Saturday, so looking forward to FF. Keep up the good work. I'm sure you were drained on Sat night.

    Still trying to find "the girl in the middle of this photo ". Is she hiding behind the bloke in the tie or the dame in funny hat beside you.


    Ronnie Stam

  • Comment number 19.

    Greetings comrades.

    Thanks for the comments thus far. Glad to see many of you enjoyed the Aintree and no I didn't win anything - I keep the coins firmly in the pocket!!!

    Mr Pitman said "Watch the Eyes" because - although Tidal Bay was running away from us, he was looking straight at us and Pitman knew he was going to come our way!

    Welsh man... really looking forward to the last few weeks of the season. Premier League is going to be tight at both ends (apart from Manchester United) and the championship will be a cracker. The good news is that Crawley are already up!

    Andy Connor - you are unhinged young man... but I love it.

    Well played everyone.

    See you soon.

    Jake The Snake Roberts

  • Comment number 20.


    Is it too soon or cheecky yet to ask/challenge you, Lawro, Dixon and Keown to order he top six and bottom 3 finishers in the PL come what May. Have you's done this yet or going to?? Bit like the way you did the WC england Suad guessing game.


    Mr Tumble

  • Comment number 21.

    Welfare 4 wobblers.
    Great idea about top 6 & bottom 3 but include the championship in it too. But... will the creepy crawley giant read this and benefit from your wisdom?
    PS what is a suad guessing game?

  • Comment number 22.

    Nice Dan (think the Aussies encouraging Shane Warne, "nice Shane")
    Not a lover of Steve Claridge, think his head is full of magic at times. Has he not been pushed out of two managerial jobs in part due to his strange methods? To be fair he knew where the nets were as a player, if perhaps not his shin pads.
    I give blood 3/4 times a year and the highlight is the Bourbon trio I get for my trouble, reckon they should offer a glimpse of them on the blood donor ads.
    Good luck to the Wanderers, come on Bolton!
    ASBO Rooney

  • Comment number 23.

    blaenorynyclwyd, apoogies. I mean't the England Squad guessing game that featured last year before the 2010 WC by the MOTD folk. You should be able to find it with a big of surfing.

  • Comment number 24.

    Hi Dan

    Great piece. It must of been a little scary as Tidal Bay came crashing through !

    On another subject do you have any plans to visit Argentina in July for the Copa America ? Would have thought it was right up your street. Let me know as a couple of buddies and I are traveling out on 6th and coming back on 18th.




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