A Day at the Races
Posted on December 2, 2014
There are not many sports that I don’t understand, but along with Formula One, a strange kind of race where the best car nearly always wins, horse racing has never really tickled my fancy. I am not really sure why, it may be my deep seated fear of getting addicted to gambling or it could simply be my general apathy to anything that is associated to the aristocracy. Horse racing, I am reliably informed, is the sport of kings.
I have been before of course, notably on three successive occasions to Royal Ascot, once at Sandown Park and another at some bitterly cold all weather track where I stood alongside desperate individuals who wore the look of men carrying years of addiction to roll ups, betting slips and Guinness; a distant cry from the Gold Ring at Ascot on Ladies Day.
So, last week when I was asked by my friend Pete to join him and a group of old footballing fiends for a taste of the Hennesey Cup at Newbury, I was reluctant. However, I then remembered that I had Harry (my 16 year old son) with me on that day and I also remember how much he had enjoyed our trip to Sandown (probably because his first ever bet won him £35.00).
When I mentioned Newbury Races to him (Harry) he jumped at the opportunity, confirming to me that he must have inherited some of the Irish gambling DNA from his half Irish grandfather, Colin, who, as far as I can recall likes the ‘odd flutter’. So the deal was done and on Saturday morning we took a train journey from Basingstoke to Reading, then from Reading to Newbury which seems a bit arse about face, but that’s how the network is in the south, it is all a bit of pickle.
Remarkably, it is the first time that I have travelled to Newbury by rail and it is amazing how different everything looks from a train track; nothing is recognisable despite the fact I must have driven along the adjacent A4 a thousand times. It might seem a bit sad but I quite enjoyed looking at scenery I have always lived within a few miles of but didn’t know existed.
When we arrived, there was just enough time to get a swift pint from the beer tent and lose on the first race, which was an unfortunate start but hey, there were still six more races to come so we were bound to get one win between us to level up the coffers. Weren’t we?
Still seething with envy that Pete had got off to a flier by backing the winner, we went off to meet Paul, Dave, Mark and Dan. Dan apart, these are the same group of lads I used to go to Reading football matches with and it soon dawned on me that we were at the races for the same reason we used to meet at the football. To have a drink and use horse racing as an excuse to have an extended version of our proletarian behaviour that used to happen every fortnight at the Madejski Stadium.
I was beginning to realise horse racing was indeed, a good thing.
As the afternoon wore on and the drink flowed unabated, the alcohol content in my bloodstream made me more blasé about a succession of hopeless horses that I had backed. I began to care no longer that the majority of them might as well have been shot in the paddock, especially as Dave, a keen follower of the sport, had informed me that in the big race ‘Home Run’ was a thoroughbred of such excellence, that it could not lose. As it was a heavy favourite, the odds we very poor, so to get a return on our certain winner, we all pitched in with a tenner each, safe in the knowledge that the winnings could be added to our beer and curry kitty.
“All this horse has to do is avoid falling and it wins,” came Dave’s confidence boosting rallying cry. “Thank goodness for Dave”, I thought, as I really needed the some repair work carried on the open wallet surgery that had preceded this certain winner.
You know where this is going don’t you? Yes, you are correct, it lost, something that Dave tried to maintain was a physical impossibility, despite what he had witnessed with his own eyes.
After 15 consecutive years at the Hennessey, Dave could be regarded as a veteran, whereas I was like a hopeless virgin stumbling into a brothel wearing a blindfold. However, I should have known better, for Dave, despite his kindness and good nature, is a man who is beset with the kind of blind optimism that I have seen too many times to count at Reading games.
“We might be 3-0 down with 20 minutes to go, but I reckon we could sneak this.”
So, along with Paul, Dave and Dan I carried on, with my son as my loyal partner in failure, sending good money after bad. Pete and Mark had both had winners, in fact Pete had two, enough to cover his day out, the bastard. The last race failed to save our bacon with ‘Solar Impulse’ our best effort so far, coming second behind ‘Monetaire’ which was backed by Dan, meaning our failure rate was now down to 50/50 with just me/Harry, Paul and Dave left without a pot to piss in.
We then retired into Newbury for a few beers and curry before getting picked up and taken home, where I performed my now obligatory weekly trick of falling to sleep in front of Match of Day before waking up with a cricked neck a couple of hours later.
Despite abject failure, it was a great afternoon out with plenty of raucous laughter with people I have known and loved for years, plus a new face who Harry and I got on with instantly. Harry is not into cricket and football like his brother, so to find something that he enjoys doing with me is great and he laughed along and joined in with all the boys who, as is their nature, made him feel part of the group.
No, horse racing isn’t really my thing but the odd day out boozing with the lads is, and as a consequence, I will be doing it again next year.
I will just have to remember not to listen to Dave!