A Day At York Races: Like A Very Drunk Carry On Film

Hysterical egos, squawking women and toilet cubicle liaisons, it's business as usual on John Smiths day...
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Hysterical egos, squawking women and toilet cubicle liaisons, it's business as usual on John Smiths day...


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York racecourse isn't dark and depraved but it is drunk. Very drunk. By 2pm it as if every moral value and temperance had been collected in a huge religious sack and emptied down a sinkhole. Middle aged women  communicate with their ruddy faced husbands through a series of squawks and shrieks. They hold on to their champagne glasses with red painted claws and laugh at the jockeys walking past like busy midgets. The jockeys have seen it all before. They look tired and drawn like ivory chess pieces. Their coloured jodhpurs make them resemble angry jack in the boxes.

This is John Smiths day. A famous meeting here, where first grade horses will fight it out for the finishing line for prize money and standing. They are the best behaved animals on show. Their trainers have carefully nurtured these beasts like great steam pistons. Their bodies are like one great muscle snake. They parade the ring with a mixture of arrogance and boredom. They know nothing else. Everything for them is geared for one thing. An explosion from the gate, a great stride to heaven or hell. The faint sting of a held whip on top. The release of kinetic energy like a firework.

Alternatively, there are slower beasts here too. Old grizzlers in long overcoats and trilby hats. Traditional men. The bookmakers. They play the pantomime role to the public with wide grins, but deep down there is granite in their veins. They have experienced it all in their time on the course. The high rollers. The last chancers. The hysteric egos. Their satchels have deep pockets anyway, rubbed  raw with green and silver. Bad choices made mainly, but for them it hardly matters. They shrug indifferently at it all. The music of chance usually plays out well for them.

From time to time there can be magic here though.  A great displacement in the universe between the carefully chosen odds and a simple truth. They are betting on beasts after all. Cartilage and sinew and slight madness. Horses are like Hispanic women clawing at themselves in the paddock. The professional gamblers slide along the paddocks and study them carefully. It is a science for some. Like sergeant majors checking a soldiers uniform they search out the brown skeletons for any sign of weakness and promise. It is a forensic rule that relies on natures gifts. Muscle formation. Sweat. Breathing patterns. Pigmentation.


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For others it is more a case of alchemy. Irish gamblers call a great winning streak 'the touch'. It is whispered about in pubs and clubs all over Britain. Everyone seems to know someone who has seen the touch. Here at Johns Smith Day, it could happen. Like a great lightning bolt, the seasoned gamblers hold their wallets  up high in the hope that it might strike them somehow. These people are held together like strands of spaghetti with their various systems. If you laid them all out on the York grass it would resemble the Tube map of London or a binary code from a computer at Nasa. Later some will break even and walk away thinking their system has a future. Others will cry to the high heavens that 'never again' will they reduce themselves to such a plight. But they will arrive again. Another gate. Another race course. The curse of gambling and social curse is tattooed on them.

Such a tattoo disappears into a tardis toilet cubicle on another part of the course. A girl, maybe 19 or 20 at most. She looks drunk and wild. A can of strongbow flares up like a firework as she drags her fella behind her. He has a suit on. He enjoys this occasion. A suit for him usually means a funeral or a job interview but not today. Today it is something else. His A-game. He flashes a message on his phone as he enters. A social network. A bunch of mates more probably. Something secret only he is aware of. Soon the cubicle is rocking with young passion. Nothing erotic, like you see in the films. Nothing sophisticated, like those sex education videos. More like a Carry on film if the truth be told, as a crowd gathers and begins to clap in a building crescendo. It gets louder, like a working class tribal drum. The girl inside, stops and looks confused for a second.

'Is the race off?  I wanted to bet on the race?' She says.

'Nevermind that,' the guy replies.

'Just keep going will you'