#28 – Enjoy a Day at the Races
On Saturday 27th August I attended Ladies Day at Windsor Races to tick off the 34rd of my 40 before 40. A first for me – I’d never had a Day at the Races before so I felt this was something I should experience before reaching this milestone birthday. I wasn’t too sure what to expect, especially as I’m uneasy about gambling, so it’s not a world I’ve really ever wanted to venture into.
Nevertheless, on the day we checked into our B&B in Windsor, got dressed up in our finery and wandered into town to catch a water taxi down to the racecourse. Apart from the lengthy queue for the water taxi this was a very pleasant way to arrive. Luckily I had taken some flat shoes with me as standing around for 40 minutes in my stilettos would not have been fun!
We arrived at the racecourse shortly before the racing started, so only had time for a cursory inspection of the various bars and food outlets before making our way trackside for the first race. We started studying the programmes with their information on the recent form and parentage of the horses but found them largely incomprehensible! Luckily a fellow punter took pity on us and explained that the first race comprised young horses being raced in their first season so they were unknowns and really anything could happen because they were relatively untested and inexperienced. For this reason he suggested that a bet on a horse with long odds wouldn’t necessarily be misplaced because sometimes they did come in.
Although I’m uneasy about gambling (and a generally unlucky person when it comes to games of chance) I had decided that I should bet at the Races, since that’s part of the experience of the day. I had allocated in advance the money I was prepared to lose and put it in a separate purse. Luckily my Dad had briefly explained the betting to me so I was placing £5 or £10 each way bets; these are actually two bets – one on the horse to win, and one to be placed – so a £5 bet costs £10. The placing depends on how many horses are running. If there are only 5-7 horses, the bookies only pay out on 1st and 2nd, whereas if there are more than 8 runners then 1st, 2nd and 3rd are placed. The tote, which is apparently some form of pool betting, remains a total mystery to me! (Although I’ve subsequently found this useful webpage which explains it: http://www.tiptime.co.uk/guide-to-tote-betting)
Since I know absolutely nothing about horse racing I had decided to place my bets by choosing horses which had names I liked. Accordingly, my first bet was for Orange Gin. The race start was on an area of the track which wasn’t visible from the Grandstand, but there were big screens so we could watch the action. We saw the horses being loaded into the stalls and then with a minimum of fuss, the race suddenly started. The whole race lasted only about two minutes!
In no time we were seeing the horses chasing down the final straight and across the line. As the horses approached, the noise behind us swelled as everyone in the Grandstand stood to shout and cheer their horse on. Our new-found friend had warned us that we would have absolutely no idea which horse was in the lead as they approached and that was indeed the case. It was all over so fast and once the race finished and we had to check the big screen to see which horses had placed.
Orange Gin came second to last.
We were a little unsure as to what would happen next. The second race was in about half an hour so we had a little time to explore. There were various bars and food stands scattered about, along with the tote betting and the bookmakers. We managed to grab a drink and check out the horses in the parade ring, place a bet on the next race then head back to the finishing post to get a good spot to watch the race.
That really set the pattern for the day, although for races four and five we gave up and decided we needed a sit down, so we sat in the sunshine on the grass drinking our bubbly and watching the racing on the big screen.
For the last race of the day we decided to snag a spot in the Grandstand, and because of the job I do, I backed the horse Fairway to Heaven. As they raced down to the winning post, Fairway to Heaven was in the lead and there was I jumping up and down, shouting and screaming and waving my arms around with the best of them. It won! Unfortunately it was also the favourite so the odds were only 2-1 so although I finally had a win on the day I didn’t make back what I had gambled. But it was good to end the racing on a high.
Once the racing was over there was live music from the Human League. It was a good way to round off the evening.
It was a pleasant day out doing something different but I actually found it quite hard work. I was on my feet all the time, queueing for drinks, queueing to put bets on, fighting my way to a vantage point to watch the racing – because with just two of us it was virtually impossible to hold a seat anywhere. Friends have told me that actually what you usually do is find a spot to sit and stay there, watching the races on the screen. But that seemed a bit pointless to me – without seeing the actual horses you might as well be at home watching it on the TV! Given my unease about gambling, I didn’t find the betting exciting, I was just doing it because it is what you do at the Races. I enjoyed experiencing the wave of noise as the horses approached and everyone started cheering their horse on, but I’m not sure I’d bother going to the races again unless I was either with a large group (and therefore someone could hold some seats) or I was offered hospitality with someone else paying for me to enjoy the day in comfort!