The day starts unravelling early with news that the tram will be replaced with a bus at Reeve’s Corner. And my search for a Racing Post has proved unsuccessful. Simon’s local newsagent thinks it only comes out on a Sunday. If he’s right it’s an unusual move for the once popular daily, but I don’t think he is, even though I can’t find any evidence of it coming out on a Good Friday in the Wimbledon and Croydon environs.
As we walk through the Manhattan of South London, as Simon describes it, a lady hands me a booklet which asks “Whatever Happened To Discipline?” It’s a good question, and one that I make a mental note to answer later in the day.
Eventually we are on a train to Lingfield and at approximately 1:34 Simon loses volume control as he recounts a story from his recent building works. I’ve never seen him so animated, but builders can do that to you. Then, for a reason I can’t remember, we swap curry jokes. Simon takes the prize with his “I was in the curry house the other day and the waiter comes up to me and says ‘Curry OK?’ and I say ‘oh alright, but just one song and then leave us alone’.”
Simon has selected the unusual betting strategy for today, horse 1 in race 1, horse 2 in race 2 etc. It’s simple, I’ll give it that, but it’s also spectacularly unsuccessful, we discover as the afternoon progresses.
There is an astonishing amount of prize money on offer for the All-Weather Finals Day. This fixture was introduced last year to general scepticism, as is the way when anything new is introduced in horse racing. I understand that racing needs to cherish its history and traditions, but in a few years time going racing on Good Friday will seem as normal as going to Sainsburys on a Sunday.
It’s easy to be disparaging about new initiatives, but change can be a movement towards the better, as long as it’s not altering the recipe for Creme Eggs, or only publishing the Racing Post on a Sunday. There were quite a few dissenting voices about the fourth day of the Cheltenham Festival, but those noises have now gone quiet. I’m not saying that every new initiative works (witness, also at the Festival, the quiet dropping of pop music to greet them back into the winners’ enclosure), but like any other sport and business racing needs to evolve without losing its essence. It has certainly pulled in a big crowd, but again there are plenty of places to settle and get a drink easily.
Because of the tram fiasco we arrive after the first race and head to the paddock where they are rumoured to be selling the Racing Post on a Friday. The rumours are right. Simon is intrigued by the concept of a pre-parade ring, and suggests a post-parade or heckling ring where losers can be roundly abused. If there were such a place we would certainly be frequenting it this afternoon. Staff appear in the parade ring carrying signs and stand in random places, as if in silent worship of the Gods Of Probability. I’m not sure what it’s all about, but it’s strangely reminiscent of a BBC2 weirdo drama.
Simon is a tall chap who spends a lot of his life banging his head. He manages to find a low-hanging stanchion to walk into. We stage a Crimewatch-esque reconstruction of the incident for the benefit of the camera, with loose designs on suing the racecourse management for changing my eloquent and intelligent friend into a drooling imbecile by the end of the afternoon, but fear they would argue that was the Kronenbourg rather than the bang to the head.
The Simple-Simon-system seems to be a method of haemorrhaging cash but it is at least easy to employ. In the fifth race, despite giving myself several good talkings to over the last few weeks about betting at odds on, I can’t be dissuaded that Tryster is a good thing and steam in at 8/15. It wins, but not like an 8/15 shot, and I castigate myself for being so silly. As the pamphlet predicted, whatever happened to discipline?
After the last we linger in the food court. I acquire a box of noodles that is so enormous that it defeats two grown men. Perhaps it’s the chips that I’ve added to the melee? Mark my words, combining carbs will be the next big thing on Masterchef, and there’s very little in the culinary world that can’t be improved by adding chips. Except, perhaps, a bag of chips.
Simon wins an epic game of Scrabble by the narrowest of margins after placing ‘vapor’ in the corner over the triple word score. I protest as the game is being played in England not America, but he produces some spurious book to say it’s allowable. The definition of vapor, apparently, is “a vapour”. He at last has his first winner of the day, but he surely can’t be happy with himself this morning?