During the early hours of 25 November 2016 I received an email from Ebay reminding me, as if it was possible to forget, that it was Black Friday and I should “act accordingly”. I presumed ‘acting accordingly’ meant behaving like a rabid dog in my determination to secure a quite good deal on an item I hadn’t realised I wanted ten minutes previously. I filed it in the bin.
However, Black Friday is like writing a blog – it expands to fill the space available, like the foam around newly-installed windows, and then seeps around the edges, staining whatever is in the vicinity. For some it started days before its official incarnation, and for many it has been followed by Cyber Monday, Tawdry Tuesday, and For Chistsakes Wake-Up To Yourself Wednesday.
My wardrobe will attest that I am not a materialistc man. I loath spending money on mere frivolities like clothes and electrical goods, preferring to invest in more worthwhile pursuits such as gambling and drinking. Accordingly, I celebrated Black Friday in the most appropriate way I knew, by going to Newbury races.
Mike accompanied me on this increasingly regular pilgrimage, and like our last visit in March, we promised to pace ourselves in order to squeeze the most value possible out of our Black Friday bonanza. I had already been aided in this quest by my bookmaker Bet365 who were sponsoring the card – as I spend an enormous amount with them each year, their deal of the day was £15 off our tickets.
The train at Reading was reminiscent of Mumbai Central, so we were all advised to get the later Swansea train that would make an unscheduled stop at Newbury Racecourse. This one turned out to be reminiscent of Kolkata Junction, but our spirits couldn’t be dampened and we were soon filing into the famous venue with half an hour to spare before the first race.
Newbury does almost everything really well. I must admit I am biased in this analysis, as I interviewed the Chief Executive and Head of Communications last year and two finer racing people you could not hope to meet. Entering the course is easy, as is watching them in the paddock (the horses, that is, not the Chief Exec and Comms Director). Ditto moving around, getting a drink, and a bite to eat. And of course the racing (which is the point of it, after all) is easily accessible with tremendous views.
It does all of this well, in my opinion, because of the space it luxuriates in. Space to continue its building project that will eventually see 1,500 new homes lining the hallowed turf – the unfinished frames of three sentinel-like blocks rose from the two-furlong marker as the latest time-frame addition to the ongoing development of the venue. However, it would seem that developers David Wilson Homes had not entered the Black Friday spirit, and I needed to have a very good day in order to secure just the deposit on the £600k 3-bed apartment on the top floor.
Mike fancied Jenkins (that’s a horse) in the first. I explained, over a Guinness in the Outside Chance Bar, that Evens was a dreadful price when there were so many unexposed sorts in the maiden hurdle. Mike sensibly changed tack to Capsy De Mee at a generous 40/1. Jenkins won well. In the second race Mike fancied Knockgraffon despite my assertions that Sirabad was a good thing at the weights and trainer Paul Nicholls was literally on fire. This time he couldn’t be dissuaded. Knockgraffon won well.
It was time to eat and we both modestly opted for the salad, which was partnered with chips and a whole charcoal-roast chicken. The cleverly designed wooden cutlery added to the outdoor ambiance as fork prongs splintered off to enhance that back-to-basics flavour. Over lunch I elucidated to Mike that although he had already chosen two winners, and even backed one of them despite my sage guidance, he was fighting against the irrefutable logic of value – if he kept winning on Evens shots that should be 2/1 he would lose in the long run.
My generous advice seemed to fall on deaf ears and he backed Clan Des Obeaux in the third and Unowhatimeanharry in the fourth at thin odds. Both won well. Mike seemed to be enjoying backing winners and even seemed happy to have large wads of notes in his pockets*, oblivious to the fact that they were poor bets. Some people just don’t understand.
(* If Mike’s wife is reading this, please disregard bets and amounts won)
We were at least pacing ourselves, which allowed me to find a value selection in the last. Mike eventually heeded my counsel and joined me. Reigning Supreme won well. To celebrate the triumph of value over chaos, and to let the crowds go down on the station platform, we returned to the Outside Chance where a DJ had started playing loud music (I think he was allowed to do so, and may even have been paid as such).
As other bars closed this became a magnet for all and sundry, the tweeds and the denims, the successful and the stragglers, who came together to sing and dance away a few hours to the old favourites. There were no Black Friday deals apparent at the bar, and at £5.10 a pint you could even question the value, but by that stage of proceedings neither seemed to matter.
There are no Black Friday deals on my book either, but it remains extraordinarily good value and the perfect Christmas present for lovers of journeys. Some things real people who have really bought my book have really said about Around The Races In Eighty Days:-
“I enjoy racing but enjoyed the story that developed. Always like reading books penned from the heart and this one is. It’s terrific. Read it in one long day. Partner laughed ‘What’s that rubbish about, bloody horses?’ She then proceeded to read it in a very short time.” R.D. – Facebook comment
“This book initially captured me on the intrigue of the grand tour of all the British racecourses, an idea which had always appealed to me, if not in quite such a short period of time. However the story which unfolds over the subsequent 80 days is so much more than just horse racing. A must read not just for racing fans but for lovers of journeys, both physical and emotional.” Amazon customer
“Just finished the book. Utterly brilliant.” P.M. – Facebook comment