Monday, April 02, 2007

The gee-gees...

Saturday dawned bright and early and after a "neet on tha toon" we were off to Newcastle racecourse and the first flat meeting of the season, not that it meant anything to me, a day at the races is one of the most boring events in my life calendar, being that I've never placed a bet in my life and have no intention of handing over my wallet to a grinning bookmaker - I have three females at home who own my wallet without some toerag in a camel hair coat and trilby wanting it too.

I don't understand the betting thing either, my travelling companions were well into it, studying the Racing Post form guide and spotting the on course bookies who were giving the best odds, quoting unknown language like "10-1 there, 12's on this one, make it each way" and other assorted crap.

I left them to it, went to get a coffee and a kit-kat and wandered down to the parade ring which at Newcastle is just yards from the finishing post meaning that you can watch the horses walk around for a bit then simply by turning around 180 degrees, watch them as they race past the winning post.

Standing at the rail on the parade ring gets you up close and personal with the horses, very close, very, very close - I was less than two feet away from them as they were led around the ring by their scruffy, hard looking stable girls who, if it wasn't for the fact that they had to wear what was possible described as a "smart suit" on the course, looked as though they'd be happier in shell suits and trainers - the word "chav" wasn't misplaced.

The horses were beautiful though and I found myself wishing that I'd brought my sketch book more than once.

As it was the first outing of the season for them all, and for the first race of the meeting it was the first outing ever for the two year olds, the horses were obviously interested in the attention and as they were led around the ring every one of them was looking at the crowd gathered there which meant that as they walked past my position I was staring them straight in the face often less than a foot away, they are gorgeous intelligent animals, tall and muscular, highly alert, some very nervous, all obviously up for a good run out and I loved being so close that you smelled of horse when you left, and indeed got covered in gob from one of them when it sneezed as it walked past me.

I stayed there for the whole meeting, taking phones calls from my party asking where I was, did I want a beer (no), and did I have any tips, until I told them that number 15 in the second race had the waggiest tail in the paddock so maybe he would be worth a punt, they didn't bother asking again after that.

Another observation was that the jockeys were obviously all midgets, but that they were either 12 years of age and hadn't yet started shaving or were 90 years of age and had faces like a 3D contour map of the hymalayas - and they were without exception Irish - and another good thing about being stood so close to the action is that you get to hear what the trainers, handlers and jockeys are saying as they mount up and if I'd had half an interest in the proceedings then I could have told my mates not to bother putting money on one particular horse who's jockey was told, in my hearing range, by the trainer to "stick in the middle and try to keep up with the pack", theres one horse that wasn't expected to earn its hay that day and yet I'll bet (not that I do bet mind) that thousands of pounds of mugs wages went on that nags back on saturday.

The one thing that I really don't understand about gambling is the totally random nature of it all - the punters will tell you that you can study form and come up with the winner more often than not, but of course that is all so much crap - one of the favourites on saturday unseated his rider when three furlongs from the winning post - the form book never predicted that.

When I rejoined my companions at the end of the day they were still stood where I'd left them in the betting ring with all the bookmakers, except this time they were nearly knee deep in thousands of used betting slips - every one of those betting slips was a lost betting slip and they must have numbered into the tens of thousands - my companions didn't buy them all of course, the thousands of other punters stood around them were responsible for most of them but our party had spent its fair share too.

We'd all thrown five pounds into a kitty when we walked into the racecourse and with six races someone had placed a bet on each one, when I asked how we'd gone on I got the reply "not bad actually, we've got £20 left", we'd lost on five races and got a place on one and apparently that "was not bad", whereas in my reckoning we'd actually lost £20.

Likewise six of the other lads wouldn't discuss how much they'd lost but two of them were in good spirits, one had won £140 but on close questioning admitted staking £110 in total through the day and the other had won £80 having staked £70 - in reality both of them were lucky that they had picked one winner on the day, if they hadn't then they would have both lost a considerable amount of money (in my eyes) - and again that is why the bookmakers flock to the courses in such large numbers, they simply wouldn't be there if it wasn't for the fact that a few thousand people are prepared to give them a decent wad of money for no particular reason at all other than a faint chance that they might just win something - most people don't.

Still, I had a good day, spent nowt except a couple of quid for a coffee and a kit kat, stared a lot of horses in the eye, got gobbed on by one of them and burnt my head in the sun, not a bad day at all.

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