I share a taxi to the course with 3 lads from Liverpool University. I’m not sure they’ve been racing much before, because they have a carrier bag chinking with lager and vodka, which is unlikely to be waved through the turnstiles. They are finance and business students in their last year, about to find their way in the world. One is intent on trading in London, following in the footsteps of his uncle who retired at the age of 39. Another has a job lined up with the accountancy firm Baker Tilly and is interested in my previous life as an auditor in London. I tell him of how I can’t think of a more worthless thing to do; he is slightly taken aback but is young and will shrug it off, I’m sure.
It’s a bit of a bunfight at the course with various poorly signed entrances all bedecked in a slick of wet Cheshire rain, and I join a queue that trudges forward slowly. Umbrellas seem to be the new must have fashion accessory and manage to temporarily save some of the painstakingly planned summer outfits.
It’s £35 to get into Tattersalls, and to be honest the facilities really don’t merit the entrance fee. An already crowded enclosure resembles an episode of the Mike Reid vehicle of the 1980s ‘Runaround’ as huge clusters of racegoers congregate under isolated shelters like refugees clinging to a raft. Perhaps it’s unfair to judge Chester when it’s hosing it down, but this is an outdoor event in England and the management really don’t seem to have had any contingency plan in place. You could argue that the course which has reputedly been racing for almost 500 years has limited space to play with, but in that case numbers need to be similarly limited.
I arrive just before the first race, but the bottleneck after the turnstiles resembles a herd of wildebeest reluctant to tackle the river crossing, so it’s impossible to make progress and get a bet on. The one success in all the drenched chaos seems to be a smattering of ‘bottle bars’ where, without the hassle of pouring a pint, the turnaround is almost instant so therefore astonishingly queueless on a feature day. Or is it perhaps that at £4.50 for a small bottle of Stella (yes, really) nobody can afford to buy one?
The adverse conditions lead to a weird Dunkirk spirit and despite the weather there is a pleasant atmosphere. The queue for the gents stretches to enormous lengths and means that I also am fractionally late to fight my way back out to the ring and get a bet on for the second race. Packs of young men are respectful and almost sympathetic to the reams of young ladies whose outfits are getting slowly ruined. It’s like the final of Miss Chester is being played out on the set of It’s A Knockout with pantomime chefs throwing buckets of water over the unfortunate contestants below.
As the going on the famous Roodee turns very soft the form is turned upside down and outsiders win. It’s a course which is always sharply turning left, normally favouring those drawn on the inside rail, but now it’s a case of whichever horse can cope best with the mud. I decide it’s time to get up high in one of the covered stands, but thousands of others have had the same idea. I am left stood by a chilly brick wall with no view of the racecourse, trying to study form with a wet newspaper and no idea of which horses are still attempting to run in the next quagmire.
Then something really very strange happens. I leave. This is quite a sudden, almost subconscious decision, with a violent exit reminiscent of David Cameron marching out of shot at one of his recent on-site interviews. As I search for a taxi I begin to consider what I’ve done and attempt to find reasons to turn back and see it out, but there are none. When I find one, the cabbie jokes that the jockeys must be wearing wetsuits by now.
After Ffos Las became my first ever one-bet racecourse, Chester breaks new ground and becomes a no-bet racecourse. I have spent over £50 to stand in the rain for an hour, interrupted briefly only by a reassuringly expensive small lager and a long trip to the loo. Nobody, it seems, predicted the election result, but surely somebody here should have guessed it might rain in May and planned accordingly? People deserve more for the money they are spending and the effort they are making.