Those who know the M1 understand that it can be a cruel mistress. 50 limits abound, often for no particular reason, and traffic that flows suddenly stops, often for no particular reason. This will make me sound like a geek, but if I had my chance again I quite fancy studying the dynamics of traffic.
So I missed the first race, and things were not looking great with a Huntingdon-esque entrance that works up an appetite. Perhaps this is the new blueprint for racecourse design, making sure that you are ravenous after your three mile hike from the car park as you come through the gates. If so, I’m sure the designers got the idea from the M1, where the service stations always seem to take you on the most convoluted loop before you can fill up – those extra 400 yards of fuel add up when multiplied over millions of cars a year.
Once inside though, all is forgiven. Leicester really is a lovely course. You are greeted with a wide open vista, a lawn generously sprinkled with picnic tables to view the horses in the paddock, and a relaxed ambience. Oh yes, and a roast beef stand for those who have worked up an appetite. Luckily I’m on a diet and my steely discipline can ignore such temptations (yes, I’ve weighed in, weighed in, a few pounds over this week).
I refuse to bet in the second race. No form, and a friend dislikes the two-year olds going racing. Instead I find a quite extraordinary…..sculpture? exhibit? thing? Someone has parked a truck full of giant…..lionesses? Made of…..fabric? Next to the children’s’ playground, just to keep the nippers in check. They prowl and growl, in a mute and still way, spying invisible prey on a distant horizon with their strangely beady eyes. The only piece of information on offer to explain this absurd folly is a tiny plaque that reads “In loving memory of Micheal Barry Burbidge”. Whoever he was, he must have been a great man for someone to do this on his behalf. In true British fashion, most racegoers simply ignore this elephant in the room standing only yards from the bookmakers ring, and focus on the next race.
Nobody knows who wins the next race and the bookies go 9/2 the field in an eight horse race. Everyone has a guess though, but not many guess right on the 40/1 outsider. The old guy in front of me says the bookies will be happy, and the lady next to me says “That wasn’t in your paper was it?” as I stare confused at the pages of the race just gone. Correct on both counts. The grey filly almost fails to sell in this seller, but then a frenzy of late bidding sees her go for 4000 guineas. I wonder if the buyer had £100 on her at 40/1?
There is no giant TV screen in the middle of the course. It’s quite refreshing as it somehow makes the action more real. I quite like it, but I’d like it more if I hadn’t left my binoculars in the car. However, there are a variety of good viewing options of the rollercoaster course, and it’s quite cosy with all of us eagerly listening in to the intonations of the commentator like we’re huddled around the radio.
I don’t fancy the odds on favourites in the next two races. Too much could have happened since last season and horses progress at different rates as they mature from two to three year olds. I’m right in my thinking; they both run poor races, but I’m not so right that I pick the winners. It’s small stakes today though, keeping the powder dry for the Grand National tomorrow. Another loser in the next race and I head for the exit, past the manicured lawn and roast beef stand. As I begin the expedition back to the car park I muse on the litmus-test of a racecourse: if you can walk away without a winner and still have enjoyed your afternoon, it must be a good one.