There are more shenanigans in the morning at the Best Western Kings Head, but my spirits are soon revived as the A698 up to Jedburgh is spectacular. It swoops and cambers, with sweeping bends and tight hairpins. If it formed a natural loop I am sure it would become our own version of the Nurburgring, but this doesn’t stop a variety of bikers from enjoying its unique charms on a Sunday morning.
I decide to put Tiny through his paces, and discover that he truly is a gutless piece of junk. On the uphill sections it’s like someone has left the handbrake on, although my friends might suggest that I am the handbrake and the poor car is labouring under extenuating circumstances. I switch on the radio and find BBC Newcastle. The presenter, Sue, has recorded a sound she has made and invites listeners to guess what it is. It’s clearly a thick paper bag being rustled, but the good people of the North East come up with a variety of conspiracy theories, including dice being shaken in a Tupperware. Then Yazoo comes on – you don’t hear them very often nowadays.
The border crossing offers stunning views over the Scottish borders. Somehow you can sense the change in the landscape even without the big flags to mark it. I try to keep momentum up for a punishing climb as Bryan Adams begins telling me that everything he does is for me, but as he croons to a finale Tiny has virtually ground to a halt and I am holding up a cyclist. Then Sue reveals the answer that has kept us on tenterhooks for the last half hour – she was opening a packet of nail files. Tough one, that.
I pull up at the second Roxburgh Hotel in three days. It is a handsome thing, no doubt, with a roaring log fire in the impressive lobby, but it has a tough task ahead to better its Edinburgh namesake. I am shown through to the wonderful Library Bar for a spot of lunch before the races. This is a proper library too, rather than bought off Ebay by the yard. I hadn’t realised when I hastily booked last minute that I would be dining Chez Roux; Albert of that dynasty in particular. I order a sandwich in order to expedite things before heading to the track, but they seem to be growing the wheat and catching the chicken, such is the French infatuation with doing things properly.
As the minutes tick by, in exceedingly pleasant surroundings I must add, I realise that my Placepot shall be put on hold for yet another day as I shall not make the first race. Half an hour later a very fine sandwich appears and I am on my way. The satnav is in my room, so I decide to test my skills just for old times’ sake and find my own way to the course in double quick fashion – yes, you’ve still got it, Neil.
Kelso is “Britain’s Friendliest Racecourse!” I am told by a big sign at the entrance to the car park, so imagine staff high-fiving me on the way through the gate, and locals offering this newbie a wee dram in the bars. Neither happens, and although it is pleasant enough, perhaps there is something of an ‘expectation gap’. At Catterick yesterday I had no expectations, and was pleasantly surprised, but plenty of people have told me how much I’d enjoy Kelso and I’m sad to say I am left slightly cold.
There is a big crowd for Ladies Day, and as usual the ladies have made a fine effort, and as usual the gentlemen haven’t. It’s a little tricky to move around. The cosy facilities produce a good atmosphere, and the people here clearly love their racing, but trying to walk from A to B is like trying to cross central Paris at rush hour. It’s £25 to get into Members, but worth it I would suggest. You can climb some stairs to a little, tiered wooden structure on top of the stand where you are rewarded with panoramic views over the course and town.
It’s another track where the on-course opinion holds more sway than the accumulated off-course perceived wisdom. Just Awake should be clear favourite for the second race according to the Racing Post, but is freely available at 4/1 and I can’t resist; he is going ominously well before tipping up at the third last fence. The third race is delayed for more than 15 minutes as the groundsmen make running repairs to the track. They are putting down sand on the bends, presumably after reports of some loose turf. This is the right decision from a safety perspective, but the wrong one for my Discoverie who clearly goes well on good ground, but not sandy. In the fourth I back Neville Woods, who comes a cropper on the walkway out to the course and is withdrawn before even starting. It’s not going well today – three bets and none of them have even finished!
I retire to the hotel where I am invited to dinner, in a still-paying-for-it kind of way. Why not? Back in the Library Bar I am treated to a Haggis bon-bon whilst selecting my supper. I get confused with all the veloutes and confits. I know this sounds odd, but I’m not that hungry and just fancy a salad, although Monsieur Roux clearly doesn’t approve of that sort of thing. I force down a couple of plates of rich and unusual concoctions, but I have to say the food is nowhere near as beautifully balanced as the Edinburgh Roxburgh. Gilding the lily is no substitute for simple classics cooked well, but perhaps my palate doesn’t have enough Michelin stars to understand.
The food takes an age to arrive as well – don’t they understand a man eating on his own wants a quick steak and chips before going up to watch Match Of The Day? I amuse myself in between courses by examining the racing paintings on the wall. Blink Bonny looks at me through the centuries with scared eyes bulging from her tiny head. Perhaps she too was worried about the veloute? The frame tells me she won both the Oaks and the Derby in 1857, but I didn’t even know that fillies ran in the Derby! It just goes to show how far I have to go in horse racing, despite being just days from the end.