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Confessions of a racing virgin

PUBLISHED: 15:52 22 June 2011 | UPDATED: 19:35 20 February 2013

Confessions of a racing virgin

Confessions of a racing virgin

Last month's 1,000 guineas at Newmarket was the first day at the races for EADT Suffolk editor Richard Bryson. This is his view from the stands

Last month's 1,000 guineas at Newmarket was the first day at the races for EADT Suffolk editor Richard Bryson. This is his view from the stands




I know what you are thinking. Journalist gets invited to a day at the races, nice work if you can get it.
But despite living only half an hours drive from the home of racing this is my first raceday visit. To put it rather insensitively, I like sport with balls; competitors kicking spherical objects between posts, or hitting it with bats, rackets or clubs. Horses and riders trying to get the better of each other in a race that flashes by in a matter of minutes may offer momentary spectacle, the thrill of the chase, but little of the finesse, tactics and lasting drama of other competitive pursuits.
That said I am here to be won over. I may have some preconceived ideas but I dont mind being educated in the ways of the turf.
The first thing that strikes me is that, for a spectator at the course, this is a sport viewed from afar. Until the riders close in on the finish line they are specks in the distance.
Yes, you can watch them on TV monitors (and view the horses, then horses and riders, in the pre-parade and parade rings) but the punters only really engage in the closing furlongs.
And, as already mentioned, for someone who likes the staccato movements of football and tennis, or the fine detail of cricket, it all happens so quickly.
But, as Newmarket Racecourse racing PR manager, Tony Rushmer, had told me before our visit, its all about the racing experience and not just that frantic charge for glory.
There is a real buzz about the place on a raceday the people, the fashions, the constant hum of conversations and a real sense of occasion, of being at an event.
For every owner or sponsor in an immaculate, tailored suit there are others who look like they have squeezed into a three-piece, loosened their ties, and dont give a monkeys if they are smart or not. Similarly there are women sporting killer heels that would have delighted Ian Flemings Rosa Klebb, and dresses that only just cover their modesty a high risk strategy on a day when the wind is up.
Its an intoxicating mix and you cant help but smile at the style and sheer cheek of many a spectator.
We spent the afternoon of the recent Qipco 1000 Guineas experiencing both sides of a race meeting. Initially we were up in the gods, enjoying the privilege of a table in the excellent Champions Gallery Restaurant, three floors high in the Millennium Grandstand.
If you wanted to and some did you could spend the entire afternoon tucking into a gourmet lunch (then afternoon tea and cakes) with a superb view of the race.
Service is first class and you can place bets without even leaving your seat. Every table has a small TV screen next to it for you to access the changing odds and listen to the pre-race interviews. Its the height of indulgence and a great gift for the racegoer in your life.
From our vantage point we watched some jockeys walking the course, testing out the ground, and no doubt visualising the best route to the finish line. And after each race a dozen or more attendants sprang out to pat down divots.




There are women sporting killer heels that would have delighted Ian Flemings Rosa Klebb, and dresses that only just cover their modesty a high risk strategy on a day when the wind is up.





I learnt that a tight race can bring out unbridled joy or anguish in the most well-mannered of spectators. One moment our besuited fellow diners were locked in quiet conversation and savouring their lunch then suddenly they are standing up and bellowing, Come on my son.
There is good humour too. A group behind us, who have backed a horse in one of the last races, dont seem too despondent that it is way behind the pack. It struggles to finish at all but when it finally trots across the line an ironic cheer goes up.
Appreciating that watching from the glass bubble of the Grandstand is divorcing us a little from the action, so we get down to the rails and the parade rings.
A large crowd has gathered around the pre-parade ring ahead of the main race, the 1000 Guineas Stakes. The horses with two handlers are the ones that may need a bit of steadying, says my wife, who has considerably more equine knowledge than myself. She even picks a winner for the next race on the basis of one horse having a bit of spirit about it.
All of them looked potential winners to my eyes.
Its just as interesting watching the trainers and owners glance at the horses as they go by. Theres a comment or two and a knowing nod. I just wish I could lip read.
Placing a bet is easy (there are plenty of totes around the course) and if you are unsure what to to do the bookies are invariably friendly and helpful.
If there were any celebrities among the days 11,000-odd spectators they were not very noticeable. I did, however, spot former Southampton footballer turned racehorse owner Mick Channon and a still sprightly Lester Piggott strolled past at one point. No-one pays them much attention. I suspect it is not indifference to their fame, but simply that they are regulars in an environment that tends not to stand on ceremony.
Newmarket, it seems, is ever broadening its appeal. Beyond the parade rings there are pony rides and a mini farm on the Hyperion Lawn and an array of painted, lifesize model horses that catch the eye. There are also stalls selling all manner of refreshments and gift items. Fortunately there is no fun fair.
If this is a little area of peace and tranquility, the terraces around the finishing line are heaving with people and alive with expectancy.
Moonlight Cloud youve got no chance, shouts someone to a passing friend. You wont want a drink at the bar if it does win then, comes the reply.
Binoculars are raised, cards are nervously inspected for the last time, and the race starts in the distance.
Closer they come, then the sound of thundering hooves rises along with the crowds murmurs and shouts of encouragement.
Then they are just yards from the finish.
This is racings heart-pumping, freezeframe moment, the equivalent of a goal, a try, or hit for six. Its undeniably exciting and exhilarating if you have won.
In the next race my wife cant help but let out a shriek as her horse beats the rest, then looks faintly embarassed at making a spectacle of herself.
At least she had something to shout about. I should have backed Frankie Dettori (Newmarkets world famous jockey who we interviewed in our December issue) but went for an outsider.
At the end of the day we emerged 50p down on our flutters having at one stage been 50 up. But that, as any racegoer will tell you, is the reality of betting.
You should also know that racing in the flesh can be great fun and an experience everyone should try.


Lunch and tea packages at the Champions Gallery start at 65 + VAT.
For more information go to
www.newmarketracecourses.co.uk

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