I have been to Haydock Park once before as part a friend’s Stag party a long time ago. There was a punch up in the car park at the end of the day, the brouhaha apparently starting over who would get on a minibus first. Later, we managed to lose the Stag in a Liverpool club under slightly dubious circumstances, but that’s another story.
I’m meeting Ivan at the course, even though he’s also travelling via Chester. We’ve had a minor disagreement about the best way to get to Haydock. I’m going to Newton Le Willows which is 38 minutes on the train and then a short taxi, and he’s going via Liverpool and St Helens and then getting the bus. He rightly points out that my route is just a means of getting from A to B, whereas his is a journey that takes in a good pub he knows in Liverpool. Ivan’s journeys usually involve a good pub he knows.
Like Pontefract, no ticket is issued on entry so again I find the racecourse office and explain my predicament. The lady offers to give me any uncollected ticket at the end of the day and as I thank her I already know it to be a 100/1 shot that I remember. There is a decent crowd and they clearly like a drink, but food options are severely limited unless you want a burger, in which case you can have it single or double, with or without cheese. This is the only mixed card in my eighty day window since Sandown decided a few years ago to split it’s end of season action between two separate days of different codes, and I quite like the variation.
The punting progresses in frustrating fashion. My only winner is a silly bet on an outsider in a flat race which I haven’t studied and only choose because the flat races are giving weird results. In the penultimate contest Ivan has a decent wedge on Cloud Creeper for the Hobbs-Johnson combo which he describes as his nap of the day. I like it too, a progressive 8 year old since going chasing, and follow suit. But they are backing Big Casino from 9/2 into near favouritism, and Ivan has “a saver” on him just before the off, which actually turns out to be another decent wedge. Of course, Big Casino beats Cloud Creeper a shade cosily and Ivan collects a nice wad.
So the last race becomes the “Getting out of a bit of a hole” handicap chase and it’s a good betting opportunity because I don’t like the favourite. I’m sure it’s between Bincombe and Glen Countess but it’s a real struggle to choose. The former won well at Chepstow last time, the latter has been off the course for almost 500 days and has switched to the Sue Smith stable who had a winner earlier. I wait to see if there is any money for Glen Countess that would indicate he was ready after his long absence, but if anything he drifts out in the betting and I secure 7/2 on Bincombe.
Just before the off I pop back to the ring to torture myself with the news that late support for Glen Countess has finally come, and I know even before the halfway point in the race that I have chosen wrong. We go back Ivan’s way, and on the bus to St Helens I realise that I have secured the final loser of my afternoon as I have completely forgotten to go back to the office for a ticket.
In Liverpool Ivan leads me to his pub past a big building wrapped in blue plastic. He explains that it was an eyesore. “So they’re rebuilding?” I enquire. “No, it just looks better covered up.” If encasing a building in blue plastic improves the appearance goodness knows the monstrosity lurking underneath the wrappers. It must have caused crashes and had people vomiting at the sight of it.
The Ship & Mitre is an unassuming prospect from the outside, but once inside offers such an enormous range of beers that I can’t help but love it. Sections of the busy pub are in raucous spirits, but there’s a decent atmosphere and a wide range of clientele. Ivan sticks to his hoppy stuff but I can’t resist a Belgian beer called Kwak which sadly doesn’t come in it’s trademark test tube glass but tastes lovely all the same. The food looks good too, but it’s time to move on to Chester.
Ivan has planned a little pub crawl near the station and we start at Old Harkers. It’s a little pretentious, but the Thirsty Moon bitter is lovely. We move on to a Camra award-winning watering hole and I sample an extraordinary dark and fruity concoction. I’m not sure it entirely works, but I simply love the extraordinary wealth of beer riches we are treated to in this country, surely better than anywhere else in the world. Perhaps that’s a thought for the next ludicrous venture?
Ivan explains that his last minute bet in the penultimate race was because he had been “kicked in the goolies” too many times when not backing a Twiston-Davies trained beast. I take this to mean metaphorically rather than getting too close in the parade ring, but the pain of this is obviously raw enough for him to plough in on a horse he really hadn’t considered or fancied. I call it insurance, and give Ivan the benefit of a full exposition on how buying insurance when you are not legally required to do so makes no sense – the five year extended warranty on your TV is where they make their profit. Ivan listens patiently but then declares “Yeah, but I don’t do the logic like that, I’m just more emotional than you.” And he’s probably right.
“Why didn’t you back that Glens Melody in the last?” he insists. I explain that I don’t like backing horses when I’ve missed the better price, and he comes out with the old “a winner is a winner” line. I had also run out of cash, but I could have borrowed some from Ivan and probably should have in hindsight. We come at betting from slightly different angles but are both true gamblers – the pain of situations such as these burns deep and long. Somehow it’s not the money, it’s the getting it wrong. But if it doesn’t hurt I suppose it doesn’t matter, and conversations later in the evening remind me that, in the overall scheme of things, backing the wrong horse really isn’t such a big deal.