Ahh… who doesn’t like a day at the races? A few gentle beverages with friends, watching horses gallop through manicured fields while making a tidy profit off the hapless bookie… what’s not to like?
The reality: It’s half four in the afternoon and you are drunkenly staggering round a multi-storey concrete maze, searching for members of your social group that you haven’t seen for an hour. There’s an empty compartment in your wallet that once contained money but now holds a plethora of losing betting slips and you’re busting for the loo.
You finally spy a friend through the crowd and head over slightly reluctantly as you can tell from their beaming face, they’ve backed a winner in the previous race.
‘Did you get on it?’ they ask, as if it was almost impossible that you didn’t.
‘Err no… not this time…’ you reply having foolishly lumped each way on a 25/1 shot that you didn’t see or hear referenced once, during the entire race. Your friend looks at you as if you’re the village idiot and grabs the battered rolled-up newspaper from your pocket. The Racing Post - A publication second only to the Financial Times in terms of containing almost total nonsense.
‘I’ll pick you a winner in the next race’. The self-appointed expert tipster scans the form while you force down the remnants of warm bland lager from a flimsy plastic cup and the vicious circle of a day at the races continues: Pint – Bet – Race – Piss - Repeat… on a continuous half hour loop.
One of the many packs of lads in attendance passes by. Emboldened by the mob mentality, they are in full nauseating stag party (truly Britain’s gift to the world) mode. Obnoxious swaggering expletive-ridden vacuums of personality each clad in shades and sporting identical haircuts. The gang stop and eye-rape a passing posse of females, then turn to nod and grunt at each other, drool dripping from their gaping mouths.
But having decided to dress as if it’s Saturday night in a provincial town’s premium nightclub, the girls can’t exactly be shocked by the lecherous stares. They appear to be partaking in a competition as to who can wear the shortest skirt and reveal the fakest looking tan while tottering around on high heels… for no reason at all, other than it’s a day at the races!
Your good buddy has picked out a horse. ‘A banker’. Of course it is… when has a racing tip ever not come in? After queuing at the Desert Orchid Bar and picking up a fresh pint for £5 from a grim faced minimum wage paid barman, you step outside and enter the field of battle.
The line of enemies is long and deep: Barry Smith… Harry Black… Barry Bishop… Terry Shaw… Harry Bond… the names, like the bookies standing in front of their different coloured boxes, are from another era. You and your fellow punters scan the electronic price boards hoping that one of these characters has a better price than the rest so you can maximise your undoubted winnings.
The crowd surges forward as Terry Shanks, sporting a Graeme Souness moustache, offers another point on the favourite that your mate has skilfully picked out. You rush towards him, negotiating discarded food trays and cracked plastic pint glasses. You weave between pink-faced old men wearing pre-WWI coats and toffs clad in an unbelievable array of tweed garments until you’re at the back of your twentieth queue of the day.
Eventually you come face to face with Tel who looks like he’s survived more muggings than you’ve had microwave dinners and place your bet. Terry repeats your bet to some hidden gimp behind him. Then, clutching the golden ticket you head up into the stand for a vantage point. Surely… you are due a win. This run of bad luck can’t continue much longer. It is after all a game of chance isn’t it? Albeit based on a mathematical system weighted against you.
A ripple of excitement passes over the crowd and then they’re off! If it’s a National Hunt meeting you at least get a few minutes of hope as the horses jostle for position over a couple of miles. However, if it’s a 5 furlong flat sprint then enjoy the 30 seconds of action while you can.
The horses enter the home straight and you spot your selection’s silks at the front of a pack. Your heart starts to pound as they draw nearer. It just needs to hold on for a few more seconds. Although you won’t breakeven, the winnings will severely cut your losses and that sweet moment when Terry Shanks has to hand you a fistful of cash will live long in the memory. But as the daydream takes hold, one of the other beasts switches up a gear and yours starts going backwards backwards backwards… like it’s running in concrete with legs of lead. Despair washes over you as the winner crosses the post and you feel sick as your sorry looking nag finishes third.
‘You did go each way yeah?’ enquires your chirpy buddy who obviously did. ‘OK day so far…’ he continues as you contemplate ways to commit suicide. ‘I’m up fifty… maybe sixty quid…’
There is some comfort in the knowledge that nobody ever reveals their true losses and anyway, there’s one more race to go. One more chance. This run of bad luck can’t continue much longer can it? You pat the Racing Post in your pocket reassuringly and head to the toilets… then the bar… then back to the bookies.