Lanky the Giraffe has laid down a tall order to potential challengers as he guns for a third Mascot Derby crown at Edgbaston tomorrow.
The Old Trafford ace was head and shoulders above the rest of the field at the Rose Bowl last year, winning the race by a country mile from Yorkshire’s Max Mynah.
Lanky added to his 2004 trophy, and is in confident mood as he looks to seal an unprecedented third title.
“I won the race last year because I was utterly fearless at the first hurdle,” said the ten-foot titan. “Where the other mascots played safe, I flew over the obstacle, feet first, and was able to open up a massive early lead.
“It’s my tactic again this year, and it should leave my competitors quaking in their boots. I am challenging the others to be brave from the outset; I wonder who will rise to the occasion?”
Lanky admits he has been training hard for the big day, which could herald a Red Rose double if Peter Moores’ men can beat Leicestershire and then either Hampshire or Somerset in the final.
Moores has helped him with conditioning for the physically demanding challenge, while he has also run in heats during the North Division fixtures, raced against Bolton Wanderers mascot Lofty the Lion, who is one of the region’s toughest competitors, and competed in the Greater Manchester 10KM race.
Lanky will have competed four times when the team has been present come tomorrow afternoon.
And, despite not being shy to reveal his confidence, he does admit that there is added pressure on such occasions, whilst also having a pop at some of his opponents to boot (or should that be hoof?)
“On Saturday I’ll defend my title in the mascot race, and I’ve got to say I’m very nervous,” he continued.
“There will be a lot more Lancashire fans there than in recent years, so I need to do well to make them proud. After last year’s epic victory, I’ll be a marked giraffe with shady characters such as Sid the Shark and Max Mynah out to get me from the start.
“You might think it’s all sweetness and light at these occasions, but most mascots like nothing more than sticking out a sly hoof or paw and tripping up an opponent.
“Don’t even get me started on the ‘clothesline’ wrestling move commonly employed by Kent’s Spitfire.”
Part of Lanky’s training for the big day also involved an impromptu sparring session with a storm trooper during a Clydesdale Bank 40 clash with Gloucestershire at Old Trafford earlier this month.
And he will be glad to know that he has the backing of one of his heroes, Mascot Race guru David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd, whom he celebrated a Red Rose result with at the end of the Rose Bowl triumph.
He believes the rest of the field are certain to ‘feel the force’.
“I think Lanky’s red-hot favourite,” said Bumble, who will commentate on the race for Sky Sports from the comfort of the groundsman’s buggy due to injury. “They’ve been doing heats all through the Twenty20 competition, and they can’t get near Lanky.
“Home advantage could give the Bears from Warwickshire, Carmen and Hugh, a chance. They might even employ one of them as a pacemaker, but I just can’t see past Lanky.”
“To have Bumble’s support means a lot to me, he’s a Lancashire legend!” continued Lanky.
“My hug with him after I won last year is one of the high points of my career as a mascot so far. I hope that he’ll be yelling ‘start the car’ as I storm ahead in the race on Saturday!”
Despite the backing and his own confidence, Lanky has given his rivals a glimmer of hope ahead of the afternoon showpiece.
“I’d be supremely confident if it weren’t for my fondness for Eccles cakes,” he explained. “Every giraffe has a vice, and I have to say that those buttery, fruity discs of goodness are mine.
“The coach has been trying to encourage me to replace them with fresh fruit, but who are you kidding Peter? Bananas don’t quite ring my bell in the same way.
“Whatever happens though, I will remember my motto, an old Italian saying: ‘the higher the head, the higher the glory’.
“I will leave with my head held high (as it is most of the time, if we’re honest), knowing I’ve done my best.
“And I know the players will too. I would, however, trade a second victory in two years for the team to lift that trophy in an instant. But maybe, just maybe, we’ll all return as champions.”